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Spritzing the bonobos

In a post late last night I complained about those vile fragrance dispensers in men’s rooms, saying, “It’s rather as if someone went to the zoo and spritzed the bonobos with Dollar Store perfume.” Not too long afterward, the estimable John Cowan, one of my most regular readers and commenters, remarked, “I hope that ‘spritzing the bonobos’ will become a new expression for futility. I certainly intend to use it at the next opportunity.”

I would be honored to contribute a phrase to the language, the more so since the originators of many expressions that gained currency are unknown to lexicographers, and you are more than welcome to make use of this phrase as you see fit.

But I recall that in the early years of the Letterman show, David Letterman once tried to plant catch phrases in the language—as a copy editor, I was much taken with “They’re pelting us with rocks and garbage.” None of them took off, though Letterman enjoyed viewers in the millions.

We have also seen the dismal failure of publicity campaigns to persuade the Oxford English Dictionary to include words that have not gained a place on their own momentum, and there is a rich history of failed attempts to manufacture an epicene pronoun in English to avoid the use of they in the singular. No need even to mention the simplified-spelling people.

So I am afraid, readers, dearly as I love you, all and severally, that you probably do not have the muscle to plant “spritzing the bonobos” in the language. But if you want to have some fun with it, no one can stop you.


Posted by John McIntyre at 2:18 PM | | Comments (16)


Are you are saying that trying to plant a new phrase in the english language is like spritzing a bonobo?

Seems to me if "jumping the shark," which only makes sense if you've seen that particular episode of "Happy Days," could make it into the popular lexicon, why can't "spritzing the bonobos"? It's readily comprehensible to anyone who's visited a zoo. I can think of any number of sentences I could easily use it in: "Convincing birthers that Obama is American is like spritzing the bonobos." Etc., etc.

Linda Felaco,

With all due respect to you (and Prof. McI.), as much as "You Don't Say" is, IMO, a consistently superb blog w/ hopefully a pretty wide blogosphere 'footprint' as one of several Baltimore Sun 'new media' interactive sites, I would argue that "Happy Days", in its prime, had massively higher audience reach, into the tens-of-millions per episode at its peak. Basically we're comparing apples-to-oranges here.

Little wonder that the Fonzie-inspired "Happy Days" catchy phrase "jumping the shark" eventually became almost de rigeuer code for a TV series that had pretty much run its course, and was qualitatively fast going downhill from that point onward. Ironically, after that "jumping the shark" episode had aired in 1977, "Happy Days" continued to air original episodes, w/ little appreciable dip in the ratings, for six more successful seasons.

So if say The Fonz, back in the day, had come up w/ "spritzing the bonobos'", and not our esteemed blogmeister, Prof. McI., I'm sure we might still be using it to this day. The Fonz was a very persuasive dude. HA!

Hmm......... perhaps if the affable Columbus Zoo impresario, Jack Hanna, had originated, "spritzing the bonobos", on a guest spot w/ say Conan, or Letterman, whose late-night talk shows get large viewership, it might have a chance to catch on w/ the masses. Just sayin'.

At least we "You Don't Say" regulars can 'get jiggy with it', and use it, without prejudice, when the occasion warrants.

Dr. Sheldon Cooper's "bazinga", his pet exclamation on the popular TV sitcom, "The Big Bang Theory", seems to be catching on, at least w/ the "TBBT'" aficionados. His silly , slightly stifled giggle is pretty infectious, as well.

Homer Simpson's "Doh!" has managed to worm its way into the popular lexicon. "Dyn-O-mite!" (comic Jimmy Walker's J.J. character on "Good Times"), and before that, "Gee Wally", care of 'The Beav' on "Leave it To Beaver" appear to have resonated w/ the American TV viewing audiences back in those seemingly more innocent, laid-back, 'good' times.

"To every season....... turn, turn, turn......" HA!

Ducky "Turn The Channel" isaksson.

The fact that this post arrived in my RSS feed with an embedded googlead for 70% discount perfurmes struck me as quite perfect.

A friend of mine invented "mungus" when he was in college, publicized it on the campus radio station and later in basic training. Vox pop picked it up and merged it with "huge" to make humungus.

You have at the very least, Mr McI, scored a small linguistic goal: the verb "to spritz" was new to me. I would have had to use "to spray" - is spritzing of shorter duration than spraying? Is it connected with fizziness (and the spritzer?).

In the circa-1987 issue of the "Editorial Eye" newsletter, I read of an expression that I still hope will somehow catch on. It's used when someone has stated the obvious.

"It looks like the clouds are here to stay until the sun comes out."

"Well, now that we've climbed Mt. Kansas ..."

Ah, Picky, is it possible you have never been assaulted in a department store by those purveyors of perfume, who insist on spritzing each and every customer with their product? It used to be they would catch you unawares just as you stepped off the escalator, but I think maybe that sort of surprise attack has been outlawed. Perhaps they never went in for such indignities in your realm.

Nice job, bag boy.

...assaulted in a department store by those purveyors of perfume...

Wow, LL! There are so few department stores left, and they, in turn, have so many fewer salespeople. This was like a visit back in time.

@Laura Lee, I would suspect w/ the general rise in awareness of perfume allergies these days, that the department store scatter-shot spritzing of unsuspecting customers has gone majorly out of favor, or as you've pointed out, has just been plain "outlawed"------basically deemed an unwarranted physical assault, all be it by the seemingly innocuous perfume spritzer.

I recall during the bustling Xmas season here in L.A. when the storied, very classy, sadly now defunct Bullock's Wilshire department store* would designer-fragrance-spritz away to their heart's content, while gorgeous professional models strode, runway-style, up and down the store aisles in haute couture fare, adding a festive, stylish ambiance to the Bullocks Christmas shopping experience, while perhaps providing a little psychological nudge to some of their more well-healed patrons to part w/ their shekels.

For a time, I even thought Spritzer was just one of Santa's spare reindeer. HA!

*Thankfully the historic, art deco style Bullocks Wilshire building remains-----it's amazing exterior pretty much in tact, whilst it has been reinvented, back in the 90s, as a fully functioning university law library. I can report, w/ certainty........... no more spritzing going on. HA!

@Picky, what about the London Spritz? (Ugh!....... sorry about that gallows humor. The actual "Blitz" was definitely no joke, as you, and many surviving 'golden years' Londoners can attest.)

Ducky "Foot-In-Mouth" Isaksson..................... on 'Spritzer', on Dancer, on Blitzen, on Prancer!

I think, Laura Lee, that over here they always asked permission first - and even then they would have sprayed, not spritzed. What they do now I can't tell, because I keep well away from those glass and chrome alchemists' lairs. They strike a terror to my fainting soul.

Picky, old lad......... reminds me of that long-forgotten bygone adage, "Alchemists who live in glass and chrome lairs, shouldn't spritz willy-nilly".

Ducky "Philosopher Stoned" Isaksson.............. 'phlo' gently sweet 'giston', upon thy green braes......... HA!

On a side note, I'm amused by McIntyre's choice of bonobos as victims of spritzing rather than the much more common chimpanzees. I'm not sure I have ever seen a bonobo in a zoo, which is too bad because most people are unaware of them as a separate species.
I almost did a spit-take upon reading the phrase "sprizing the bonobos." Let me explain. While Chimps are patriarchal and prone to inter-clan fighting, bonobos are matriarchal and use sex as a social grease. Which is to say they have a lot of it. So one must wonder why and to what effect anyone would want/need/dare to spritz them with perfume in the first place and what their response would be to the aphrodesiac.
I've often mused that if Tarzan had been raised by bonobos the Edwardians would have shot him before he got off the boat.
Sorry for the tangent. Still giggling.

A Korbel,

Interestingly, I too questioned Prof. McI.'s choice of the quirky bonobos as fragrance spritzing targets, as opposed to other more common zoo primate species, in my post following our blogmeister's recent article, "Up the nose".
Didn't exactly lose any sleep over it, though.

My comment appeared on April 13,'11 @1:08PM, if you may have missed it. (I unwittingly had misposted my comment, since it should have run following Prof. McI.'s, "Spritzing the bonobos" article, above. Oops!)

I also made note of the bonobos hyper-sexualized social behavior in my earlier post. Also brought up the subject of pheromones, and their possible factoring in in the bonobos sexual preoccupation Bonobos have taken the notion of social intercourse to a whole new level. HA!

I appreciate your distinction between the patriarchal chimp, and the matriarchal bonobo social dynamic. Your phrase, referring to bonobo interaction, namely "(they) use sex as a social grease", is a most descriptive, and appropriate one.

Different strokes, for different folks.............. or in this case, different primates. HA!


I run from those people - due to allergies. (I raely do department stores, I mostly do Target, KMart, and occasionally Walmart) Undeterred, they shove their inserts in my magazines and newspaper.
Hi Alex, no the footprint here is not wide - my friend Pam posted a link, on Facebook. I assumed this was the place you spoke of and dropped by
I'm three posts (and sets of comments) behind on Werny Gal's blog, and haven't even touched my email, so off I go.

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About John McIntyre
John McIntyre, mild-mannered editor for a great metropolitan newspaper, has fussed over writers’ work, to sporadic expressions of gratitude, for thirty years. He is The Sun’s night content production manager and former head of its copy desk. He also teaches editing at Loyola University Maryland. A former president of the American Copy Editors Society, a native of Kentucky, a graduate of Michigan State and Syracuse, and a moderate prescriptivist, he writes about language, journalism, and arbitrarily chosen topics. If you are inspired by a spirit of contradiction, comment on the posts or write to him at
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