Thursday, April 30, 2009

No Prisoners

I can't remember exactly where I read or saw or heard it, but I think it may have been on the radio when I was in the car with YFU when someone said something (vagueness is very refreshing, n'est-ce pas?) about taking a "no-prisoners approach." And from tone and context, it was clear that this individual thought of this approach as a good thing. I started to grumble to YFU, who knows enough not to listen, about militarism and misuse of language and God knows what all. I may have worked a rant about the price of lentils (Up more than fifty percent in the last six months! Where is the outrage?) into the diatribe. I have, as you have doubtless noticed, managed to free myself from the heavy shackles of relevance.

My earliest recollection of "No prisoners!" comes from an early 1980s screening, by the campus film society, of Lawrence of Arabia, in which it is used as a mandate to Lawrence's army not to take any prisoners: i.e., kill them all and let God sort them out. Perhaps either my memory or my analysis is faulty, but I don't believe that "no prisoners" was a good thing, either in general or in the context of the film. But who remembers either Lawrence of Arabia or Lawrence of Arabia these days? And who laments the ineluctable slouching towards hyperbole that infects our verbal and written communications in an ever accelerating manner?

Well, I do, but if I'm less guilty than other people when it comes to linguistic inflation, I'm still not innocent. I blame the Internet, of course. It's the lack of immediate feedback that encourages us (or fails to discourage us) to hyperbole because a) we don't see the raised eyebrows and b) we think it helps us get noticed above the background noise. Swearing is not specifically what I'm talking about here, but it's a related phenomenon. I still remember the first time when, prompted by an online acquaintance and unrestrained by the normal inhibitions of society, I first wrote "motherfucker." And nowadays, well, boy howdy: it's motherfucker this and motherfucking that. I don't even flinch any more, and nobody ever even seems to notice that I've just said something that, ten years ago, I would have considered unutterably foul.

It's the same way with hyperbole. In the past, if someone was aggressive about getting something done, you'd say that they were aggressive about getting something done. But now? No prisoners! The administrative director at your office sends you an email because it's 10 am, and you haven't entered your timesheet information for yesterday yet. Whoa: she takes no prisoners. It's probably an exaggeration, especially given that the administrative director at my office is almost certainly armed with nothing more dangerous than a New Jersey accent, and while I would probably not want to run into her and a stapler in a dark alley, I'm 85% certain that I'd survive the encounter and live to report her for appropriating the firm's office supplies for nefarious and (hopefully) unapproved purposes.

Anyway. I'm not really here (today) to lament the fact that so much hyperbole exists or even the related fact that the existence of so much hyperbole makes it nearly impossible to create noticeable emphasis without resorting to such gimickry as Artificial. Sentence. Fragments. Besides exaggeration is nothing new: it's just that in the past, it was something that children were expected to grow out of. I leave it to others to determine whether the Internet, in addition to being responsible for the near destruction of English, is responsible for the late (or non-) arrival of maturity.

In fact, I've decided to suspend the fight. I'm going to embrace hyperbole for today. After all, who else has so fully earned the right to be described as a no prisoners kind of guy? Who else lives his life so entirely on the edge?

As an example, take my actions of yesterday afternoon and evening. Please. I could reasonably have been expected to work until 5:15, but I left the office at 4:55 so that I could pick up YFU earlier than usual. No prisoners!

I needed to do some shopping because this weekend we're having a brunch to celebrate b&c's birthday, and I need to make, among other things, a birthday cake. I could have gone with something simple like chocolate, but everyone does chocolate. Not TED. Nosiree, Bob. I've decided to make a yellow cake flavored with lime juice and zest. I'll split the two layers into four, and I'll fill the layers with lime curd. Then I'll frost with a dulce de leche buttercream, with a layer of toasted coconut around the sides. And all from scratch, of course. No prisoners!

So other people would have gone to the supermarket (other people would have used a box mix and canned frosting of course: ugh) for the materials, but those of us who live life On. The. Edge. shop at Costco. Sure, you can make enough dulce de leche for buttercream from a single can of sweetened condensed milk, but the no-prisoners approach is to buy six.

(I also bought a four-pound bag of spinach and a five-pound bag of Persian limes, which -- in addition to using for the cake batter and the lime curd -- I may use for Margaritas even though we're having brunch and even though Margaritas are associated with Mexico. No-prisoners men laugh in the face of la grippe porcine. Through surgical masks, of course, but I always say that nothing makes a party more festive than brightly colored surgical masks. It's practically Venetian.)

If you listen to the so-called voices of moderation among the namby-pamby, life-of-quiet-desperation sheeple, you'll hear that dulce de leche has to be made very carefully in order to avoid shrapnel wounds from exploding sweetened condensed milk cans. And all of these warnings are out there basically because someone (I actually know this person: she was a friend of one of my roommates back in the 1980s) once tried to make dulce de leche and fell asleep and let the pot boil dry, causing a small fire that her overly excitable little brother unnecessarily attacked with a fire extinquisher, thereby creating a huge mess. If she'd left the lid on the pot, the water wouldn't have all boiled away, or, if it had, the fire would have suffocated and the only mess would have been some very burnt caramel.

Anyway. Other people may have been cowed into venting the cans or slowly cooking their sweetened condensed milk in a pie plate in the oven, but not no-prisoners TED. I got out my stockpot, filled it most of the way with hot water, put in three cans (even though I only need one: no prisoners!), turned the heat up to a boil, then reduced it to a simmer.

When the water seemed right, I didn't run around the house shouting DANGER WILL ROBINSON or put up signs warning people. I made sure the cans were submerged, I put the lid on the pot and, yes, I Left. The. Room. I went to the office, shut the door, sat at the piano, and tried to work out a three part a cappella arrangement for "Istanbul (Not Constantinople)," despite the fact that I have no experience with arranging and very limited knowledge of music theory. I didn't get very far, but no-prisoners men like myself learn a tremendous appreciation for the second half of trial and error.

An hour or so later, I checked on the pot, and there was still plenty of water in it, so I adjusted the heat slightly, and then I left the room again (I apologize, but I reckon I've already spent my quota of Artificial. Sentence. Fragments. for the next thirty or forty years.) and went into an adjacent room to watch 1.5 episodes of season 4 of Buffy with YFU. Then I sent her to bed, checked the pot again, and returned to the television room to watch last night's episode of Make Me a Supermodel. Jonathan is yummy, but I get the impression that he's the sort who would take prisoners. I would have been sad to see Colin leave, but I don't get attached to reality show contestants because I am just too far Out. There. out there.

Anyway, around 11:30, when I had finished taking my slightly damp shirts out of the dryer (no-prisoners men DO NOT iron) to hang them up, I took the cans out of the water and left them to cool overnight.

This morning -- despite the irrational impulses of my true, no-prisoners self -- I labeled the cans. I did that mostly to appease b&c who would otherwise scowl at the unlabeled cans for a week or so before removing them to the basement whence they would never emerge. He takes prisoners.


  1. That should have been titled "snark". I don't think I ever really understood the expression "take no prisoners" and it's still confusing given the war reference. Are we saying to do the task in the easiest and least moral way?

    Also, though I adored the sentence in which this word appeared, it isn't actually a word in that form. inelecutable. I figured out what you meant though after checking if this word existed.

  2. Yikes. I really have to start proofreading. Or at least running spell check.

    Given a little time, though, I'm sure I can come up with a reasonable definition for "inelecutable," but for now, I think I'll just change it to what I meant.