Remember Karen, the tropical system that flirted with us early last month? While it never amounted to much, it certainly stirred up one minor tempest. It all began the Friday night of the weekend that the depression was going to do whatever it was supposed to do. Toward the end of WYES, Ch. 12’s “Informed Sources” program, reporters go around the table and mention an upcoming news item to be aware of. (After years of trying to think of a better name, the segment is still called, “the thing at the end.”) One of the journalists, investigative reporter Gordon Russell of The New Orleans Advocate, predicted confidently that Karen was going to be a “shoo-shoo.” I, who was also there, knew exactly what Russell meant and was glad to hear it, but to my surprise, another reporter asked, “What is a shoo-shoo?” Suddenly a show during which the previous half-hour had been dedicated to discussing crime, politics and scandal, became lively in its last few minutes with debate over the origin and public familiarity of a phrase, which given the sudden interest was anything but a shoo-shoo.
Russell said he thought it might be a Cajun term. I mentioned it means roughly something that fizzle outs, but no one was sure exactly where the phrase came from. I was aghast though; I thought everyone knew shoo-shoo.
This story might have ended there except the next afternoon I got an email from a friend who was amused at a headline on Nola.com that proclaimed “Tropical Storm Karen becoming a shoo-shoo, judging from 4 p.m. update.” The friend, who had not seen “Informed Sources” the night before, was amused by the phrase and had even consulted the Urban Dictionary, where there were several definitions, the most pertinent being “to kill time talking about nothing.” That is about as good of a definition as there is.
Not that I relied on Google for my own personal research, but had I done so I would have discovered that within some cultures the term is also a polite substitution for a negative word that also begins with “sh”. More commonly, half the phrase, the singular “shoo,” means get away, as in “shoo, fly.”
Sometimes I have to remind myself that not everyone knows our colloquialisms. Many years ago I was in Chicago at a diner where I ordered a hamburger and asked for it “dressed.” The counter guy didn’t know what I was talking about. “Lettuce and tomato, and a little mayo,” I explained as though he was raised on the wrong side of the neutral ground.
As for Karen, let it be recorded that we along the Gulf never did have to wish for it to “shoo,” because ultimately it was, in fact, a shoo-shoo.