No Small Taters: Three Remarks on Lingo
by Justin Katko

Through encounters with language artifacts whose functions and affective structures differentiate themselves along a telescopic range of magnitudes, this article marks the stations of an autobiographic translation oriented geographically East, from the American South, to New England, to old England itself.

1. Taters

Once at my family's home, Kentucky, 2008, my mother left the house to run some errands. Rather than using a conventional goodbye (e.g. "goodbye sugar"), she parted with a phrase she had apparently learned from her high school-age clerk: "Taters!" I was compelled by the literal abstraction of this new goodbye, though not without some sense of disgust. Neither beans nor burgers, taters locks in the farewell function with a rhymatic sonic mirroring of later, and pluralizing it to boot. As if a prolepsis of good things to come: "God buy to you; potatoes!" Goodbye (originating from a sixteenth century derivation of "God be with you") is one of the listings under taters in the online Urban Dictionary (posted July 2006), and one may scan the sixteen entries therein to find such meanings as "something cool or good" (i.e. an exclamatory), "breasts" (no surprise), "anus" (slight surprise), "home run" (baseball), and the name given to the macho gesture of pounding fists (akin to giving a high five). While the spatial distribution of fists is roughly equal to that of potatoes, entry number five (posted March 2009) is of tangential and especial interest, reading: "Taters - A word originating from the Rowe dialect of Slidell [Louisiana]. Definition unknown, but usually said at random at almost any time."

The pleasurable sensation of randomness, as cultivated in the cleverness of spontaneity, is among the higher realms of human enterprise. More broadly, life itself is spontaneity manifest in the ecological particularities of the organism and its concentric communities of integrative organization. Those organisms with the power of speech often reveal a sweet tooth for spontaneous utterance (be it dialogue or poetry) and struggle dearly to generate as much of that pure mental stuff as they are possibly able. But the stupidity of any utterance whose frequency of occurrence (rather than actual speech content) is random, must be mired in a blank acquiescence to the mere good things of life, by which I mean nothing other than that comfort food practically co-terminous with the American South: mashed potatoes. The American South is not to be confused with South America, the origin of potato cultivation, while China, Russia and India are now ranked the three highest global potato producers. But putting geographical digressions aside, there is a proposal to be made.

Given the aforementioned ratio of randomized frequency ("at almost any time") to static information ("taters"), which revolutionary protocol would demand be tactically inverted, consider briefly a technological innovation capable of turning each and every speech monad into a fist-mashing home run, an orchid, an anus, a breast. Proposed is an extremely thin Dronabinol tube installed upon one's shoulders to form a ring about the neck, with malleable intake valves so that the good chemical may circulate in perpetual transformation between vapor, smoke, or gelled crystalline globules, allowing personal ingestion through a variety of transport media. Such constant and varied mode of heightened input would surely distinguish the speech of oneself and one's companions, most especially for the purposes of extending the ambiguous tokens of our spoken language beyond the vegetative: whether mashed, boiled, diced, or baked. Frequency is of little import; relevance is a function of sheer unpredictability.

2. All Set

Having learned to speak not among Americans of New England, but those of the Bluegrass region of Kentucky, my developing awareness of the spoken phrase all set was progressively dramatized each time that I heard it, its frequency seeming to increase in direct proportion to my awareness of it, imagining it to be a neophyte virus, proliferating upon the spuming imminence of emergent speech phenomena. And so this brief exercise is shaded by the hallucinatory ornament of paranoia, be not so quick to ignore such "aberrant calculi."

There are numerous spoken variations upon the meager unit "all set," lurking as it does among linguistic specimens across the social role phyla. The phrase may be shunted into any syntagm you like, causing the more pious of us to pray for an Academie Anglais, deus ex machina. Frequency of pedestrian usage gives it the aura of ethereal plinth-work balanced at the null-abscissa of the exterior curve of the very arching domus of imperial nerve tightening itself. And so it is appropriate that one hears it most in the dialogues attending commercial transactions. The strictly boolean functioning of the transaction is primed a priori for our singular phrase, which is no mere redundant descriptor of a positive outcome: all set. The economic fallout registers ever-greater negative values and customers are thought to be suspecting that every dollar might slip into their last. In times like this, solace emits from the service industry's qualitative blade. Customers are not only "right"; verbal coaxing accompanies their receipt: "all set." The good purchaser is assured that their own standing in the bound local equation is on stable ground, which is also temporary, as the banal phrasing also functions as an imperative: "Keep the line moving." Which we do anyway, hanging transactions being rare, and even then quickly recognized as but an augmentation of the typically successful event, all of it truly requiring spare if any verbal acknowledgement. There is nothing to wonder about when the groceries are bagged and the receipt is dropped in. To hear at such a moment the isolated speech unit at hand reminds one of more primitive reifications of closure, such as "Thank you" or "Have a nice day." Taken most literally, the cognitive mechanics of all set ward off that modal spontaneity which is the special privilege of organic interaction. Now for another scenario:


Cashier: Alright, you're all set.

Customer: But oh dear clerk, I cannot so discretely terminate our society!

Cashier: Uh, you're all set buddy.

Customer: Curse the implications on which you've just now made settlement by that sick heterogenous usage which I one day shall detourn! You must know myself opposed to the insensibilities installed herein by the order your singular figure of speech imposes, effectively shattering my heart, my rudder, my abundancies, my sensors, and even the lattice-rose enfoldings of my lungs. This is not an aeroplane and we are truly not in flight. To hell with metaphoric cybergnosis! I want the real thing!

All set: the purchase gone right capped by the utterance whose performance vaults the recipient subject up to the techno-empyreum, reifying the systematic order as programmed by "them", who, if we are in fact "all set," will always only remain "them," cloaked in the shadows of their deepest realm of thrones. We must peer hard through the refracting diamond spikes of our own language, as spoken and heard, cooked and eaten, to whip the spikes off their antipolar tension, driving through the slim fabrication of the glass shieldings beyond. With certain hostilities to be expected, the consumer may so turn the tables.

This speech unit's interest lies not only in the vector of historical value, but in the dialectic of its user's self-reflexivity. In ashamed confusion, a single phasic oscillation of your speech patterning comes to light. Stripped bare, you recall the pedestrian comforts of your alienating speech effect. The cultivation of this scientific turn of phrase has fastened all but the most resilient of speech economists into the safety catch of a Goffmanian positive feedback sphere. Such entrenched positioning within the mechanism of consumer role-playing is but negative aromatics bubbling up from our bloated military-industrialism. Though dependent upon context, usages of the phrase convey universally an extended state of psychological stress and disorder-management. This is no doubt a reflection of its militaristic origins.

But what of interaction? Migration beyond the lingo of the service industry brings our phrase into the realm of general usage. One may hear all set from such diverse social actors as the police officer on his pedestrian beat, the sexy youngish office manager, the university under-secretary, or even one's very own best friend. And when protocol does not hold its sway by way of single boolean operations (yes/no), all set achieves new abstractions, standing in for such language functions as: "How are you doing?" or "I think it's time to leave now." Within each speaker, granules of expectation accumulate in special inorganic idiosyncracies trained through the broad fibres of culture towards the tipping point of any transaction's "equilibrium to come." Arbitrary desire may be mounted and directed through a vanguard turn of speech, but person n's ordinate ideal of situation x will very likely be that ideal belonging self-apparently alone to person s, geographical features not aside.

Look, all set is the eminent surgery dream, except you're not the doctor anymore. Suddenly you're the nurse, getting operated on by yourself, who isn't the doctor, clutching your own lip. It's time to call it quits.

3. That Transatlantian Gunboat Patois

The language base of English poetry has more than a few hundred years on the American tradition. Asymmetrical wealth distributions, a function of this historical fact, imbue British English with a native base of speech operations not only foreign to the speaker of the American style, but philologically more robust. As such, national ignorance of the new vanguard transatlantian poetries means nothing less than isolation from the swiftly running fountain of English poetical history, unfolding as we speak, in the sweet jagged lingo—that "gunboat patois"—of its most articulate young poets, their angled vocabularies brimming under persistence of multiplicative expansion. For American writers to not seek out and restore the parched wells of the double language bank is to stifle the crude potentials of an internationalist English verse song. Dare we peer into the roaring tonal lacks hanging agape in America's weak ass busted up verse singing?

The most advanced English verse writing is strictly unimaginable to the majority of American readers. You don't know the poets' names, nor the journals in which they publish. You don't know the names of their most laudable poems. Your ignorance is vast, pure, exceptional. The few outposts of transatlantian recognition (obscure and academic) have little to no national impact, as the hyper-egos of graduate students in the scattered pockets of resistance wave the flags of their professors, their professors' favorite poets, and their enlightened friends, amounting for the most part to sweet fuck all. Angleterre is the anachronism, the patronising mythical value, recoverable only in time leaps like the emergence of G.M. Hopkins. As if the torque of the old tunes could not (and have not) been tweaked out along the styled curvature of, e.g., the algorithm for night vision. It is a rare exception for the real-time overseas connection to not dangle hopelessly in mid-air, like dust suspended, inconsequent.

Let me assure you: transatlantian transmissions, securely mounted for overseas broadcast, maintain only the highest of stakes, their piercing mentalities hooking in at deep registers of the shadowy diachronic Word, affording its poets sharper valence of Bark and Bite through Liberal ideology's thick network of Silence and Veils, critique of which the most badass of the transatlantes assume as something like ethical imperative numero uno. Among the many influences of these super-English speaking "badasses" is a previous generation of great Americans, the O'Hara–Dorn–Baraka triad being perhaps the most influential (or at least representative of that anthology which has been of such significant imporr to late modern British poetry, Donald Allen's New American Poetry). Continually, modernity will generate its tidal roll of vanguard front lines, incalculably quivering with asymmetrical ripples as it ever does, even when the historical synthesis consecrated by a fourth level spiritual group name (e.g. Vorticism, Maoism, Neoism) is lacking. What can never be inevitable is a real-time readership beyond the charmed circle of masters ever curving back into and through one another, intra-implicating in their systematic self-definition.

Let us not allow the bar to drag low, notable only by the dank light of recognition of the propped-up "best" of either national tradition. And let us not defer to that sad surrogate of knowledge and cosmopolity standing guard at the portal of nationalized ignorance, allowing all to pass freely, but only one way. Few poetic expressions will be of any value unless they significantly engage the long history of the English language, from the furthest reaches time allows, on up to the moment, in all its currency specifics.

Appended here is a list of relevant presses, journals, and digital resources, by which a nationalist reading habit may be augmented, shunting rude unknowing through the bubble of exception which looms at the threshold of the nation's perimeter. Choose your verses wisely.

      -> Imprints: Arehouse, Bad Press, Barque Press, ©_© Press, Critical Documents, Fly By Night Press, Grasp Press, Les Figues Press, Veer Books, Yt Communication.
     -> Journals: Axolotl, Damn the Caesars, Hot Gun, Lifecoach, New Cambridge Review, Pilot, Plantarchy, Quid.
     -> Websites: Archive of the Now, Faceplant, Great Works, HOW2, Meshworks, Onedit, Openned, Past Simple, Pores, Readings.

Providence, 2009


Justin Katko edits the small press Critical Documents. A pamphlet of his poems entitled Praxis Etudes is forthcoming from Grasp Press (England). His opera, The Death of Pringle, is forthcoming from The Press Gang (NYC). He received an MFA in Electronic Writing from Brown University in 2009.


All Material © 2009 The New Yinzer and its respective authors