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When He Wrote About Eric Catman...
The Fans Hit The Wit

The U.S. has a living Generic: Gen Eric Shinseki, Army Chief of Staff. Fifteen-year-old Wendy Fierberg, of Norwalk, Connecticut, narrowly missed being named Generic. And there's a real-life Eric Cartman in London Ontario, Canada. I learnt those three things as guest columnist of Anu Garg's "A Word A Day" newsletter last week.

On the very first day I suffered a baptism of ire because, in discussing generics and people named Eric, I had carelessly written "South Park's Eric Catman (who has more lives than any cat)..."

The newsletter, sent from Columbus, Ohio, late Sunday evening, landed in nearly half a million electronic mailboxes in 202 countries. For the next 24 hours, my inbox was swamped with emails, with a message every two minutes at the peak of the blitz, from as far away as Tokyo, Japan.

A correction from Karl G. Siewert was typical of many others: "Eric Cartman (not Catman) is not the South Park character who dies and returns to life each episode. That is Kenny (as in, 'Oh, my God! They killed Kenny! You bastards!')."

Dave, who lives @home.com, explained "Cartman, or 'Fatass' as he is affectionately known, is the self-centered manipulative little weasel whose persona (being so close to that of most South Park viewers) makes him the star of the series."

From Norwalk CT, Rick Fierberg emailed: "In a little more than two weeks my only child will turn sixteen. For my child, it's a countdown toward legal driving. For me it's a time of reflection. There was a brief pre-birth period in which I suggested that the baby be named Generic.

"I was very excited that Generic was gender-neutral, could later be compatibly shortened to Eric or Genny... [But] nobody shared my enthusiasm. The idea was universally rejected. My beloved Wendy is most relieved not to be a Genny with a weird first name."

Susan Olive sent me a crushing rebuke: "You obviously don't watch South Park... Please don't insult us with jokes about a subject you are obviously ignorant about."

Cooper Seeman delivered another telling blow: "Dude," he said. "It's Eric Cartman not Catman! I'm sure you've already gotten many corrections on this. However, given the severity of your mistake (especially the lame parenthetical - btw Kenny is the one who keeps dying), you deserve another."

Ed Buhl delivered the king hit: "For those who can't stomach all the erics, try enteric."

Eric Petersen wrote: "It is often difficult to understand exactly what the characters are saying because of their stylized cartoon voices - I myself originally misunderstood his name to be Eric Carmen." Mark Russakoff added: "I think he might better be called 'catman' because of his caterwauling voice and catty manner (the child is just plain nasty-tempered)."

Roger Dalgleish kindly offered a case for the defence: "In the 'original' South Park, before the TV show, it is actually Cartman that gets killed, not Kenny, so in essence you were right."

Gabe Jones offered me this out: "Surely this is just a troll to discover who among the erudite are actually watching lowbrow television! (Guilty as charged.)"

Mark Russakoff asked: "Since when is it so horrible to have committed the sin of omission with regard to a character from South Park? I should think it would be more a badge of honor."

Marie Halvorsen-Ganepola was even more forgiving: "Your mistakes regarding South Park only reflect well on you," she said. "I am ashamed to say that I watched every episode that I could during its first year, knowing always that it wasn't making me a better person in any way and may, in fact, have made me a little bit worse. Anyway, I have finally distanced myself from it. It truly is a horrible show with nothing good to be said for it."

When the flurry of emails had almost ended, I was delighted to receive a friendly message from Eric Cartman himself. He's Unix Systems Administrator, Information Technology Services, at the University of Western Ontario.

"No apology is necessary," he assured me. "People often misspell my name and have ascribed to me traits which clearly I do not possess. As for those others, perhaps they should seek to comprehend their true relationship with the universe rather than concern themselves with minutiae."

However, I did apologise to both the real and the imaginary Eric Cartmen, and to the latter's horde of loyal supporters, in next day's newsletter. Anu Garg later found a salutary quotation to add to my contribution: Oftentimes excusing of a fault / Doth make the fault the worse by th'excuse. -William Shakespeare, playwright and poet (1564-1616).

Tuesday's word ending with eric was CHOLERIC (easily irritated or angered: hot-tempered). Caroline Seydel, of Redondo Beach, California, a young journalist who writes primarily for electronic media, suggested: " Might those South Park fans not be called choleric?"

Thanks for that, Caroline.

Friday's word was SUBERIC (of or pertaining to cork), and the citation showing its use read: "Chufa de Valencia: Tuber of the species Cyperus esculentus. This comes in various shapes and sizes, has a thin outer skin, suberic tissue and a high fat and sugar content."

That item rang a bell for Keith Wingate, of Chicago. He emailed Anu: 'Your column never ceases to delight; often in weird and wonderful, if obscure ways ... the usage example for 'suberic' was the latest.

"Having spent one of the best years of my life as an exchange student in Spain, I first encountered 'horchata' [in] Valencia. Its chalky sweetness and milk-shake like consistency take some getting used to, then it becomes nearly addictive... I've always wondered about the mysterious 'chufa' (root, tuber) used to make [it], and now after more than 20 years I know!"

Finally, on a personal note: in the distant past, I slaved for several years as a sub-editor on Australian daily newspapers (in the U.S., subs are called rewrite guys). So, just as the U.S. Army Chief of Staff is a living Generic (Gen Eric Shinseki), I was once a suberic.

* To read more about the versatile wordsmith Anu Garg and his amazing AWAD, please click here.

Copyright (c) 2001. Eric Shackle


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