“It depends upon what the meaning of the word ‘is’ is,” Bill Clinton testified in 1998. Or did he?
Instead of ridiculing him as a gauche concealer of past sins, perhaps we should embrace the 42nd president as a prophet revealing future sinners. Might we have mistranscribed a cryptic verbal warning about the “the meaning of the word ‘ISIS’”?
One of Clinton’s successors won’t say “ISIS” — Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, preferring “ISIL” — Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. Some journalists, who Barack Obama often plays ventriloquist to, now say ISIL, too, as though the president referring to the UK as Grape Britain might similarly alter their use of language.
By one count — invariably conducted by followers of scientism prone to impose mathematics upon language and much else — “is” is the most popular verb in English. The word lazily appears too often, so placing the villainous two letters twice in a single word surely serves as an assault on language consistent with the group’s assault on living people and the gone-but-not-forgotten Beatle John. In a personal jihad against verbs of being, and as a personal protest against ISIS, my prose aims, with mixed results, to eradicate “is.” As the president says of double-is, “There can be no reasoning — no negotiation — with this brand of evil.”
ISIS not only offends grammarians, but Episcopalians, Swedenborgians, and even Nothingarians as well. “Christians wouldn’t want a terrorist group with the acronym ‘JESUS’ or ‘GOD,’” Mary Lou Schmidt told the Topeka Capital-Journal. “They would consider it an insult to their religion. The same with us.”
The pagan Isis, not unlike the Muslim ISIS, served as queen of the dead. Caligula reinvigorated the veneration of Isis, and the unfortunate citizens of Pompeii erected a Temple in her honor. Surely these weren’t the days when the press pried into the personal lives of gods and goddesses. Isis married her brother Osiris, an unholy but fruitful union that produced Horus, a falcon-headed god of war recently spotted in the blood besotted Levant. The ancients worshipped Isis. So do some backward moderns living near the Cradle of Civilization that has regressed as of late into the Incubator of Barbarism.
In an attempt to preserve whatever dignity Isis still grasps, Mary Lou Schmidt wants the word reserved for the goddess and rejected for the lawless. The proud pagan has launched an “Isis is a goddess, not a terrorist” campaign, evidently reaching 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue from Topeka, seeking to change the name we call the group so deserving of name calling.
Businessmen, a more pragmatic bunch than pagan priestesses, opt instead to quietly disassociate from the acronym assigned to a bunch of beheaders. A phone payment plan called “Isis Wallet” now goes by the name “SoftCard,” which lacks for consumers the unwanted connotation with donating to a terrorist organization. In West Palm Beach, condo developers, weary of attracting the wrong kind of buyers and repelling the right kind, disposed with the “Isis Downtown” moniker for their complex for the innocuous “3 Thirty Three Downtown.” America again snacks on Freedom Fries.
The confusing designations for the murderous al Qaeda inheritors follow confusing calls to intervene on their behalf in the Syrian civil war before the current calls to kill them. Last year, Barack Obama tried to rally the Congress to put an end to ISIS enemy #1 Bashar al-Assad. “We can supply the right kind of weapons to rebels and to establish a no-fly zone by moving patriot missiles up to the border,” John McCain told CNN thirteen months ago. “This can be done very easily.” It is what it ISIS.
Call it ISIS. Call it ISIL. Call the “Islamic State,” as Reuters and the Associated Press now do, IS. Hopefully soon call it ISN’T.