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Let's Retire the Suffix "-Gate."

Linguist Geoff Nunberg on the uses of suffixes to create new words.

05:11

Other segments from the episode on February 26, 1998

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, February 26, 1998: Interview with Simon Beauty; Interview with Denise Giardina; Commentary on creating new words.

Transcript

Show: FRESH AIR
Date: FEBRUARY 26, 1998
Time: 12:00
Tran: 022601NP.217
Type: FEATURE
Head: Simon Beaufoy
Sect: News; International
Time: 12:06

MARTY MOSS-COANE, HOST: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Marty Moss-Coane, in for Terry Gross.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

SINGERS: I believe in miracles
Where you from?
You sexy thing
Sexy thing, you
I believe in miracles
Since you came along
You sexy thing...

MOSS-COANE: Who would have thought that a low-budget film about unemployed steelworkers who hatch a plan for a strip show to raise some quick cash would become a big hit? "The Full Monty" has been packing in audiences not only in England and the States, but also in Mexico, Japan, Greece, Estonia, and Singapore. The film has received four Oscar nominations, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Screenwriter, and Best Score.

The film is about a group of men living on the dole in Sheffield, England. The steel mill has closed down and they find themselves faced with mounting debts and no prospects for work. Desperate for money, and inspired by the male stripping group The Chippendale's, they decide to go one step further and bare it all at a show for the women in their neighborhood.

Simon Beaufoy wrote the screenplay for The Full Monty. This is his first feature film, although he's made a number of documentaries and short films. I asked him where the idea for The Full Monty came from.

SIMON BEAUFOY, FILMMAKER, SCREENWRITER, "THE FULL MONTY": The producer of The Full Monty, a man called Roberto Pasolini (ph), became fascinated with the idea -- idea of male strippers. He came from Italy -- came to England and saw male stripping and was completely bemused and puzzled by it.

I mean, he came to me -- he said: "this would never happen in Italy. Italian men would never let their wives and partners go out and see men taking their clothes off." And he said: "what on Earth is happening in Britain that this is happening?" You know, what's happening to the British male?

Which kicked off my whole interest in the film, really. You know, the film is about what's happening to the British man.

MOSS-COANE: Well, we meet the men who become part of this stripping review early-on in the film, and they're sitting around and talking about their lives. Let's play that clip and then we can talk a little bit more.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP, "THE FULL MONTY")

ACTOR: I tell you, when women start pissing like us, that's it.

ACTOR: We're finished, Dave. Extinct-o.

ACTOR: Yeah, I mean -- how, you know, how...

ACTOR: Genetic mutations into -- they're turning into us.

ACTOR: A few years, and men won't exist, except in the zoo or somewhat. I mean, we're not needed no more, are we. Obsolete. Dinosaurs. Yesterday's news.

ACTOR: Like skateboards.

ACTOR: Button it, you lot. Some of us are trying to get a job.

ACTOR: Hey, and it says "no smoking" in here.

ACTOR: Oh, and it says "job club" up there. Remember the last time you saw one of them (expletive deleted) walk in.

LAUGHTER

ACTOR: You forget, Gerald, you're not our foreman anymore. You're just like the rest of us: scrap.

MOSS-COANE: Listening to that scene, it's clear that these men feel emasculated. And I wonder as you wrote that what you were -- what you wanted to say?

BEAUFOY: I think there's a very important thing happening in -- certainly in Britain, I reckon in every single developed country in the world, where women have changed the role that they used to perform, and men have lost the role that they used to perform. In days gone by, you know, men knew what they had to do in life. They had to go out, get a job, support the family, bring home the money.

And that's no longer the case. And I -- in my experience, a lot of men are kind of wandering around very lost, thinking, well: what is my role? If my wife goes out to work and I don't even have a job, you know, where does that leave me as the traditional breadwinner? You know, I used to have a role in life. I brought home the money. That's what I did. That's where I gained my respect from my family and from my colleagues, was to work, bring home the money, bring up the children.

And when that disappears, as it has done in Britain, I think a lot of men are lost and are kind of wondering, you know: what role is there for me? Where -- where do I go now without a job?

MOSS-COANE: We're having this very serious conversation and The Full Monty is also a very funny film. And I -- I really appreciated the way you went from humor to pathos; from something funny to -- if you thought about it -- something very sad. Is that what you were trying to do -- was to kind of play with those two tensions of humor, comedy, and something a lot more serious than that?

BEAUFOY: Yeah, I mean I very specifically wanted to write a political film -- not with a capital "P" but with a small "p." I wanted to write a film about gender politics and -- and stripping seemed a perfect example of the -- you know -- the way roles between men and women have changed. You know, 20 years ago, you would never get men taking their clothes off for women. It was always the other way 'round.

And so it seemed a very funny, but also a very poignant example of the way things are changing between men and women -- these role reversals that are happening in society.

MOSS-COANE: I -- I think one scene kind of typifies -- there are many kinds of humor in this, including an interesting and actually very funny physical humor. But there's a scene where the guys have stolen a video of "Flashdance" and they're watching that to get some ideas for their review. And Dave, one of the guys, is looking at it and basically criticizing her welding techniques as opposed to looking to -- at her dancing style. And I just really liked that -- again, that tension between -- between those two ideas.

BEAUFOY: Yeah, I mean all the way through, I want every scene possible -- I wanted the message to come through. As well as it being a funny film about men and a gang of people getting together to take their clothes off, I wanted that message always to be in the film about, you know, what is happening to men.

I mean, Dave sits there and watches this woman welding, and you know, to him that's incredibly insulting. That was his job. That was his father's job and probably his grandfather's job, as welders in the steel industry. And then to see this woman kind of shake off her hair and suddenly she's -- she's a woman who's welding -- you know, utterly insulting to a man like that.

And it -- I just had a lot of fun with that. I mean, it amused me to think Flashdance is seen about a dancer. It's also got welding in it. I mean, to me...

MOSS-COANE: Exactly.

BEAUFOY: ... that was perfect. That summed up -- summed up everything to me.

MOSS-COANE: Well there's another scene, too, and this is really a wordless scene. It's a much more physical humor, and again these guys are -- are together, waiting in line for their unemployment check. And they begin to hear some music and very slowly they begin -- just the tiniest snatches of their stripping routine. And it is hilarious.

BEAUFOY: Again -- and again, that summed up the film for me. When I -- I thought of that scene very early on in the writing process, and I thought, you know, come what may, that scene is going in the film, 'cause to me it just summed everything up. These guys standing in line to pick up their dole check, and just recognizing a song and just beginning to dance. And that kind of feeling overtaking them.

So -- so you got this sense that, you know, even though they're doing the most depressing thing that they, you know, in their lives -- which is standing their unemployed with the rest of their colleagues from the steel works. There's -- there's something going on behind they're thinking, "ahh, we can break out of this, you know. We're doing something. We're different from the rest of the people here."

MOSS-COANE: Does it disturb you though that -- that this film has been promoted largely as -- as, you know, a funny import from England?

BEAUFOY: Well it certainly surprised me, yeah. I mean, everyone sees it as a feel-good comedy about strippers, and there's -- I think there's three minutes stripping in the film, you know. It isn't a film about strippers. It's a film about men. I hope people get that. I hope they get more than the laughter.

Tony Blair, the prime minister back in Britain, is kind of promoting it as this great example of the kind of British get up and go spirit. These guys go out and go stripping and make some money. And it seems to me he's missed the point entirely. These people are so desperate that they have to take their clothes off. They don't want to do that. You know, and come the day after the strip, they're back on the dole.

And so for him to be sort of championing it as a great example of -- of British entrepreneurialism seems to me to be missing the point entirely. So, I don't know. I hope people are getting the message behind the laughs, but I'm slightly worried that they're not.

MOSS-COANE: You say you don't normally write comedy, but are there certain comedians or certain situations that you find humor in?

BEAUFOY: I grew up in Yorkshire, and there's something very specifically dry about the Yorkshire sense of humor. And you know, kind of the worse things get, they have this perverse enjoyment of desperate situations. And I love that sense of humor where the worse things get, the funnier the jokes get. It's that kind of -- the only thing we've got now is -- is humor to carry us through this situation.

And over the years, you know, the north of England's had a desperate time over the years, especially in the last 25 years. And there is this incredible dry humor that I thought was very specifically Yorkshire. I mean, in fact, you know, everyone in England gets it, everyone in Finland gets it, everyone in America gets it -- which is fantastic, that they understand the dryness of the humor.

But that -- that is my favorite type of humor -- that kind of in adversity, we'll crack a joke. And the worse things get, the funnier I'll be.

MOSS-COANE: Has this film been shown in Sheffield?

BEAUFOY: Yeah, interestingly, it was -- we premiered the film in Sheffield and for the first 20 minutes there was absolute silence in the audience. They -- they were looking at their city on the screen and thinking: "yeah, this is Sheffield. Yeah, we're unemployed. Yeah, nothing funny here."

And it took them an awful long time to sort of get into the spirit of watching a film, rather than watching their own lives on the screen. So it was really interesting. Myself and the director were, as usual, standing at the back, sort of listening to see what the audience were thinking. And we thought we were going to get lynched to begin with, because they just took the film very, very seriously.

You know, unemployment is not funny to them. And you know, by the end, they were all laughing. They loved it as much as any other audience, but to begin with they thought, you know: "this isn't funny. This is our lives."

MOSS-COANE: Simon Beaufoy is our guest. He just received an Oscar nomination for his screenplay for The Full Monty. More after a short break.

This is FRESH AIR.

Let's get back to Simon Beaufoy. He wrote the screenplay for The Full Monty.

You know, I didn't know what The Full Monty meant, being an American, and I wonder how many American audiences literally had no idea what they were going to get themselves into -- or literally what the story was about. Is this -- is this a phrase that's used in England by regular folks?

BEAUFOY: No, it's very specifically a north of England phrase. And bizarrely, it's associated with big breakfasts -- I beg your pardon.

MOSS-COANE: How do you mean that?

BEAUFOY: Quite often, on a menu, if you go into a cafe and want your eggs, bacon, sausage, beans -- you know, "the full monty," -- it's called a "full monty breakfast," meaning you get everything. So it survived in that form. But actually, the phrase was dying out. Interestingly, everybody uses the phrase now, but at the time, very few people even in Britain knew what it meant.

MOSS-COANE: Have you ever been to a Chippendale show? Did you have to do research for this?

BEAUFOY: Do you know, perversely, I didn't want to see them 'cause I really wasn't interested in the whole -- the strip act, per se, didn't interest me. When the producer came to me and said: "do you want to write a film about male stripping?" -- I thought no, I really don't. You know, I kind of had visions of a male version of "Showgirls" flashed in front of me, and I thought that is not what I want to write about.

So in this perverse way, I kind of steered clear of anything to do with stripping. Having said that, I sent my girlfriend along to...

MOSS-COANE: Oh, you did?

BEAUFOY: ... to see the show, and I just wanted to know what it felt like to be in the audience. That -- to me, that was more interesting -- what she felt like as a woman going to see a show like that.

MOSS-COANE: What did she say?

BEAUFOY: Well, interestingly, very different from men going to see a woman strip. It -- it's not a sexy thing. It's not erotic at all. They go for a really good laugh, you know, it's a classic thing that a lot of girls do after they get out of work on a Friday night. You know, go and have a few drinks, get a bit beered up, and then go and have a real laugh and a scream at the strippers.

But it's not erotic at all. It's just really good raucous fun.

MOSS-COANE: How much, though, did you think about being buck naked and in front of strangers? I mean, that -- what that's about and in a sense, the film is always leading up to this performance they're going to give and the kinds of nervousness and anxieties that they go through before the performance.

BEAUFOY: Yeah, I mean taking your clothes off is a tremendously good metaphor for the vulnerability of these men. You know, working class men, well men in general, they find it very difficult to talk about their emotions and feelings.

And when you have to take your clothes off with these guys, you know, and you all sit down in a room and say: "gosh, we're going to have to do this." It's a tremendously good kick-off point to start examining feelings and emotions.

And to get men to talk to each other, which you know, is one of the most impossible things in the world -- to get them to talk about, you know, serious things other than the football -- to get them to talk about, you know, sexual problems or problems at home with the family or, you know, these are things that -- that guys don't talk about. They go: "yeah, everything's find. No problem. 'Nother beer?"

MOSS-COANE: Mm-hmm.

BEAUFOY: And so -- and so when you get these people in a sort of almost life-threatening situation -- having to take their kit off in front of all their mates from work -- you're opening up people. You know, and you're laying them bare metaphorically and literally.

MOSS-COANE: Let me ask you a little bit about yourself and tell us where you grew up in England.

BEAUFOY: Well, I was born and brought up in Keithley (ph), which is a town about 30 miles north of Sheffield. And you know, spent most of my life in Yorkshire, and -- which is where all these characters come from. And then I started off in documentaries, which I think is why my films are very much character-led rather than sort of plot-led.

As a documentary maker, you get very interested in people, and you examine them very closely 'cause, you know, that's your stock in trade is people rather than big stories.

And then there was no work around -- in the same way there's no work for any steelworkers in Sheffield. You know, five, six years ago, there was no work for documentary makers, so I just sat down and started writing.

MOSS-COANE: Hmm. This film is about steelworkers, and in some of your other work, you've looked at blue collar workers. You're a writer, and I wonder whether you left that life behind? Whether you came from a family of blue collar workers and if that was ever an option for you?

BEAUFOY: I didn't come from blue collar workers. I came from a family of teachers. But you know, while I've been growing up, I've done a lot of blue collar jobs -- a lot of cleaning jobs, kind of rubbing down machines -- that sort of work. And that's where I came into contact with the Gazzys (ph) and Daves of my films.

MOSS-COANE: From people that you met -- you knew, that you worked with.

BEAUFOY: Yeah, yeah. And you know, quite often at tea breaks, you're sitting around with this -- a gang of men; a gang of blokes, all discussing the paper, discussing this, that and everything; sitting around, you know, a lot of banter, a lot of criticism, a lot of swearing at each other -- all of that stuff.

And that's where I -- that's where I got my desire to write about those people, 'cause they're very funny. They're very sharp and they're very vulnerable. And that's -- but they won't show their vulnerability and that's what's interesting. They'll all sit there and be, you know, God, big hunky men over their mugs of tea.

But actually, there -- you know, there are things going on in their lives which they would want to talk about, but can't. And -- and as a writer, that's a fascinating world.

MOSS-COANE: Did you lift some of those conversations and use them in the film?

BEAUFOY: No, I mean it's a funny process, writing. You know, half -- half of those characters are real people; half are imagined, you know, they're creations of mine. And they're amalgams of, you know, a hundred different people in one character. So, you know, and there are bits of me in all of those characters.

You know, Dave and his weight problem is completely me worrying about getting too fat and he's an amalgam of a thousand people I've met, you know. So, it isn't quite straightforward as that.

MOSS-COANE: Now, after The Full Monty and you got an Oscar nomination, how has your life changed?

BEAUFOY: The phone never stops ringing.

LAUGHTER

MOSS-COANE: What do they want?

BEAUFOY: I can't -- I've stopped writing. That's the problem. The Oscar nomination has meant now I can't be a writer anymore because the phone rings all day.

MOSS-COANE: Well what do they want? What are people calling you up for?

BEAUFOY: They want Monty's two, three, four, five, and six at the moment, you know. Can the gang go rock-climbing? Can they rob a bank? Can they become pastry chefs? You know -- you name it, they can do it.

So that's become a little trying.

MOSS-COANE: Is there an absolute "no" to a The Full Monty II?

BEAUFOY: Well do you know, the funny thing is that I no longer own those characters, though they came out of my head. The studio now owns those characters and there's an awful lot of financial pressure on them to do a Monty II. And I can't stop them. So maybe the best thing is for me -- for me to go along and do it in the hope that it will be at least me writing my own characters.

MOSS-COANE: Well when you have meetings, though, and I assume when you're in Hollywood and L.A. they're a lot of times in meetings. What do people talk about?

BEAUFOY: What -- to me specifically?

MOSS-COANE: Mm-hmm.

BEAUFOY: Well, we skirt Monty two, three, and four conversations, and obviously I've been writing for a long time and I have other projects that I want to get financed for. So -- and ironically, there's been a sort of reverse effect with the Monty phenomenon. It's now very difficult for me to give a script -- hand a script over the table that's a serious film, 'cause there's the expectation that I'm now a comedy writer. And actually, I've written a lot of very serious films.

And somehow, there's a level of expectation and a level of disappointment that happens when they get a film that isn't full of people taking their clothes off and lots of jokes. So I'm having to sort of overcome the Monty factor.

MOSS-COANE: What are some films -- what's your next film? Or what's the -- what's the film you're trying to sell right now?

BEAUFOY: It's called "The Darkest Light" and it's a very low-budget British film, again set up in the north of England. But it's about three children who see a vision on a moor one day, or what they're told is a vision. They just see something and they're not quite sure what it is.

And one of the children is dying of leukemia, and the other children think that this is a vision that must have come to save this child, you know. The logic of a vision is that there's got to be a reason for a miracle to happen, and that this child's going to get better. And being me and my rather tragic way, he doesn't get better.

So it's a film about faith and childhood, and big issues -- very difficult issues.

MOSS-COANE: Are these issues that -- that you personally have -- have struggled with or are struggling to understand?

BEAUFOY: Yeah, I think faith is a very, very interesting thing to write about. And it -- it seems particularly relevant as, you know, we're coming towards the end of the millennium. I think faith is -- is an issue that's uppermost in people's minds now. They're searching for something Christianity doesn't -- you know, it doesn't have the power that it once had, and people are looking for something. They want something to believe in. And they're not quite sure where to find it.

When Princess Diana died in England, there was this extraordinary upsurge of a kind of unfocused faith. They almost canonized her when she died. And I was fascinated to see, you know, the streets lined with flowers and these sort of religious messages to her. And she wasn't a religious person, but people need to believe. There's a desperate need in society for people to believe.

MOSS-COANE: What are you going to do on the night of the Academy Awards? Are you going to come back to the States? You gonna be watching on your telly at home or what?

BEAUFOY: No, no -- I'm coming back out here, myself and my girlfriend -- very much looking forward to that. That's just going to be a very good party.

MOSS-COANE: Are you going to wear anything in particular?

BEAUFOY: Well, as it's The Full Monty, I thought I'd wear nothing except a g-string to the evening.

LAUGHTER

MOSS-COANE: Well Simon Beaufoy, I want to thank you very much for joining us today on FRESH AIR.

BEAUFOY: My pleasure.

MOSS-COANE: Filmmaker and screenwriter Simon Beaufoy received an Oscar nomination for his screenplay for The Full Monty.

I'm Marty Moss-Coane and this is FRESH AIR.

Dateline: Marty Moss-Coane, Philadelphia
Guest: Simon Beaufoy
High: Simon Beaufoy wrote the screenplay for the film "The Full Monty" which has been nominated for an Oscar for Best Screenplay and Best Picture. It was his first feature film credit. Previous to this, Beaufoy produced several short dramas, a documentary, and written a play. He's currently writing the new feature film "The Darkest Light" for his own company Footprint Films.
Spec: Movie Industry; Arts; Writing; The Full Monty
Please note, this is not the final feed of record
Copy: Content and programming copyright 1998 WHYY, Inc. All rights reserved. Transcribed by FDCH, Inc. under license from WHYY, Inc. Formatting copyright 1998 FDCH, Inc. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to WHYY, Inc. This transcript may not be reproduced in whole or in part without prior written permission.
End-Story: Simon Beaufoy
Show: FRESH AIR
Date: FEBRUARY 26, 1998
Time: 12:00
Tran: 022601NP.217
Type: FEATURE
Head: Saints and Villains
Sect: News; International
Time: 12:35

MARTY MOSS-COANE, HOST: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Marty Moss-Coane, in for Terry Gross.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a German theologian who took part in a failed plot to assassinate Adolf Hitler. Bonhoeffer was caught and spent two years in prison and was executed by the Nazis just days before the war ended.

Years ago, writer Denise Giardina was given a copy of Bonhoeffer's letters and papers from prison. He became an obsession and his moral dilemmas and honesty led her to explore his life in fiction. Her two previous books, "Storming Heaven" and "The Unquiet Earth" were set in a land where she grew up, the coalmining country of West Virginia.

Her new novel is titled "Saints and Villains," and though many people might see Dietrich Bonhoeffer's heroism and sacrifice as saint-like, Giardina knew from reading his letters that he was full of conflicts and doubts.

DENISE GIARDINA, FORMER EPISCOPAL DEACON, AUTHOR, "SAINTS AND VILLAINS": I thought Bonhoeffer was much more interesting than -- than the image that we have of saints is that, you know, the pictures in the books -- with the halos around their head and that sort of thing. He was very much aware of his own failings and actually I think if you had said to him, you know, "you're some sort of saint," he would have been the first person to say not only was he not a saint, but he felt that he was one of the worst sinners possible.

He had done some things earlier, such as refused to do the funeral of his sister's father-in-law. His sister -- his twin sister had married a Jew, and when her husband's father died, Bonhoeffer was asked to do the funeral, and he refused because he was afraid of the repercussions.

And this sort of thing haunted him. He was haunted by the -- not having helped save a lot of Jews and not speaking out because of his family situation. And so, he felt that he was a constant failure. He had failed to get the church to really respond in the way that he wanted. And he felt that it was a sin to, in a sense, to try to kill Hitler, and yet it was something he had to do.

So he was very conflicted, and I feel that every step of the way he was much more interesting and much more dimensional than this good person who's supposed to be a saint. I think goodness is very one-dimensional, actually.

MOSS-COANE: He studied at Union Theological Seminary in New York, and as you write about it, and I think as others have said as well, that his time in America was an important time for him. How did that affect his faith, his theology?

GIARDINA: Well Bonhoeffer came out of this tradition of German theology which is very intellectual, and he came out of a family, first of all, which wasn't particularly religious at all. And his study of theology was an intellectual discipline to him, and this is true of many Germany theologians. You don't -- you could be a theologian in Germany and not go to church at all, for example. It was just very -- it seems very strange, perhaps, to Americans.

And so he came to Union Seminary and first was very put off because he thought it was intellectually shallow, and he was very critical of American theology for that reason. But he began to work at a church in Harlem and began to have a direct experience with African-American spirituality, and was very moved by that. And his exposure to that and then his experiences with racism in the United States caused him to say when he went back to Germany that it was at that time that he actually became a Christian.

MOSS-COANE: Hmm. So his theology became faith?

GIARDINA: Exactly right. His theology became very much faith-based and also he had come to the United States thinking that theology had nothing to do with the world and with the problems of the world. And he went back feeling just the opposite. And it was that change of mind which allowed him to look at the coming of the Nazis and what Hitler was doing, and say: "the church has to address this."

MOSS-COANE: And did he speak out? Did he speak out from his pulpit against what he saw happening in Germany?

GIARDINA: Bonhoeffer was very outspoken about what was happening in Germany, although he began to realize -- first of all, he was forced to leave the university where he taught -- University of -- in Berlin -- because his views were so outspoken.

And he tried to get churches -- he didn't actually have a pulpit so to speak because he tried to get church positions and was turned down 'cause he was considered to be either too outspoken or too challenging for the churches. They were probably not a lot different than a lot of American churches in that they wanted to go to church on Sunday morning and feel good, and not be forced to look at all these things that he wanted them to look at.

So, he actually left Germany for a while because he just couldn't find a place to speak out. He -- he was on the radio and was trying to give a radio talk criticizing Hitler and addressing what was happening, and he was cut off in mid-sentence. And I think in the early days, he was not a person who would have been arrested immediately because he didn't really have any history of political involvement. He wasn't a socialist, for example.

So he wasn't arrested, but he definitely was silenced.

MOSS-COANE: Well, he eventually joined up with a group of people with a plan to assassinate Adolf Hitler. Of course, this was well into the Third Reich. Was there any chance? Did he think that there was any chance for them to be successful? Was this effort doomed from the start?

GIARDINA: I don't think he believed that the effort was doomed from the start, and actually, most people are aware of the 1944 attempt to kill Hitler, where a bomb was placed under a table and went off and killed some other people, but Hitler was saved. But in fact, there were a series of attempts before that. There was even a plot which Bonhoeffer's family and others were part of at the time of Chamberlain and Hitler meeting over the Czech crisis.

And the generals -- the German generals were all poised to use what they hoped would be British opposition and the British threat of going to war as a chance to overthrow Hitler and arrest him and get rid of him. And when Chamberlain caved in, that sort of knocked the pegs out from under that. But that was the first of a series of efforts where they were actually contacting, trying to contact the allies. And there was a bomb put on Hitler's plane, for example, which for some reason that no one still knows, didn't go off.

And so they were very close so many times, and it really -- it would be funny if it wasn't such a horrible situation. So it was sort of like a Keystone Kops kind of -- everything going wrong for the plot. But there were definitely many points where it could have succeeded.

MOSS-COANE: Well, as you -- as you write and as he wrote too -- that Dietrich Bonhoeffer really struggled with this plan to assassinate Hitler. The question being that if you believe murder is wrong, it is ever correct then to murder someone like Hitler.

How did he struggle with that question?

GIARDINA: Well Bonhoeffer had been a pacifist in the 1930s. He actually had thought at one point he might go study with Gandhi and see if Gandhi's methods could be used in Germany to get rid of Hitler. But he came to realize pretty quickly that that wouldn't work and that it depends really on a committed populace, and that the populace not only would not nonviolently oppose Hitler, but actually liked what Hitler was doing.

And so he still struggled, though, with the idea that violence was wrong and he also had a pretty traditional belief in terms of salvation and feeling that there are things that you could do that could get you condemned to hell. And so, he began to feel that it's possible that trying to kill Hitler or killing Hitler would result in the condemnation of his soul, and yet it would -- that would be a selfish thing to be concerned about that.

MOSS-COANE: He was caught along with others trying to assassinate Adolf Hitler; imprisoned for two years and executed days before the war was over. Did he come to terms -- as you said, he thought of himself as a coward. Did he come to terms with the decisions, the choices that he had made in his life and what that said about his own faith?

GIARDINA: Well, I hope that he did. Bonhoeffer's letters from prison end before the last few months of his life because he was moved around from one concentration camp to another. In a poem, though, he wrote toward the end of the letters, he talks about -- it's a poem that's entitled "Who Am I?" and he talks about the people in prison look at him and see this brave person who's very calm and collected and isn't -- not outwardly afraid. But then, he knows himself how frightened he is and how he has failed.

And so is he -- which one of these people is he? The failure or the courageous person? And he finally says: "I don't know which I am, but God I'm yours."

MOSS-COANE: Hmm.

GIARDINA: And I think, to me that's his last word in a sense, because we really don't have his final words, so to speak. So I hope that he came to some sense of that. I think that as close as you can come, I think that he did.

MOSS-COANE: Our guest is write Denise Giardina. Her new book is a historical novel about Dietrich Bonhoeffer called Saints and Villains. We'll talk more after a short break.

This is FRESH AIR.

We're talking with novelist Denise Giardina. Her new book Saints and Villains is based on the life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

In writing this book, are you -- do you think differently about your own faith and the kinds of choices that you've made?

GIARDINA: Well, when I started writing this book, I wasn't going to church or actually paying much attention to my spiritual life. In fact, I was think -- very much sort of bitter toward religion and all that -- the hypocrisy that that seems to represent sometimes. And I began to feel as I wrote the book that I might write myself back into faith again.

MOSS-COANE: Did you?

GIARDINA: And actually that's what happened. I began -- I'm an Episcopalian. I began going to church again and getting very involved in -- I think in a much more mature way than I had before when I was younger, with much more of a sense of human failings. So that what I used to see as hypocrisy I think I now see as just -- this is just part of being human.

MOSS-COANE: Well let me ask you about your couple of years as an Episcopal priest. You were ordained as an Episcopal priest back in 1979, and quit a couple of years after that. Why -- what dissatisfied you about being a priest? Being a minister?

GIARDINA: Well actually I was ordained as a deacon, which is technically the first step to being a priest. And I really had gotten caught up in the whole question of ordination for women. I was in the first seminary class which would have been allowed to be legally ordained in the Episcopal Church and there was something very exciting about that. It was like being on this mission or something.

And I had felt this strong call to go to seminary. And I think didn't really look at what actually it meant to be ordained. And I had this horrific experience of actually kneeling before the bishop for the laying on of hands at my ordination, and feeling like the scene in "The Graduate" where, you know, that there -- she's marrying this one guy, but she just can't do it and she goes running down the aisle.

I just felt I should stand up and shriek "no", you know, and just run down the aisle, because it just hit me in that one moment that it was the wrong thing to do, and that's just such a horrible...

MOSS-COANE: Why though?

GIARDINA: ... at that time, I didn't know why. I really didn't, because I had thought it was the right thing to do and it took me a couple of years to figure it out. And I think it was just that I mistook my call and my gifts.

I'm not a pastoral sort of person, I think, and I'm -- I'm just very introspective and I began to find that my writing was what I was meant to be doing. And that I think actually to be ordained -- I know there are people like Frederick Buechner (ph) who are ordained and are writers, but not many.

And I think there's actually a sort of -- there are so many expectations about what ministers are like and what they should think, that I -- I found would be too restricting for a fiction writer. I need absolute freedom and no sort of self-censorship or censorship of expectations of others about what I write -- you know, what I should be writing about, you know, what sort of language I should be using; what subjects I should explore.

And it just began to seem that there would be a -- just an untenable sort of restriction.

MOSS-COANE: Are you a lay minister now, then?

GIARDINA: I'm a -- technically called a lay preacher. I'm -- our diocese has a process where you become licensed. It just means I can preach in any church in the diocese, and it's because I have some theological training that I'm able to do this. And also because I'm involved in spiritual activities in my church and so forth.

MOSS-COANE: So do you find more -- more freedom being a lay preacher that you can speak more from the heart as opposed to having to speak from the hierarchy?

GIARDINA: I think so. I think there's a pressure on priests, and I don't -- it may not be quite as true in the Episcopal Church as in other churches, but there's a pressure to come up with answers. And I think actually questions are more important than answers. And I think as a fiction writer, that's especially important.

I think it's one of the jobs of the fiction writer is to answer -- is to ask questions, and then let the characters go at it. And to not really have a final answer -- I mean, the characters have to sort of go at each other and explore and challenge and say things that are maybe sacrilegious even and, you know, heretical.

And I actually feel that as a lay person I can do that from the pulpit too. And I don't have the pressure that a priest has to be the comforter, in a sense. I can be a stand-in for the congregation and stand in the pulpit and say: "God we have these questions." You know, and that's much more fulfilling to me, I think.

MOSS-COANE: Let me ask you a little bit about growing up and living in West Virginia. Tell us about the town where you grew up -- a place called Black Wolf (ph)?

GIARDINA: Right. I grew up in a coal camp, which is a town that's owned -- built and owned by a coal company, and mine was a pretty small one. There were only like 10 houses and a company store, but surrounded by other coal camps. Most of them have been torn down.

The house that I grew up in -- I grew up in a little four-room house, and it was torn down just a couple of years after we left. And we basically were forced to leave because my father's -- father lost his job and the mine closed and the company just tore the houses down then.

So when I go back there, it's like going back to a war scene in a sense. Hardly anything is standing, not only in my coal camp, but in most of the other places surrounding -- in the surrounding area.

MOSS-COANE: Your father worked for the coal company -- local coal company?

GIARDINA: My father was a bookkeeper for the coal company, so he wasn't a miner. I did have two uncles and a grandfather who were miners. So, my family was really part management and part labor, and so I got sort of a taste of both.

But we lived in the same housing that the miners' families did, and the families next door to us -- our next door neighbors for example -- he was killed in the mines eventually. His kids, you know, didn't have enough to eat, and this was back in the early '60s.

And when Kennedy and Johnson later, you know, were pointing out many of the problems in the Appalachian coal fields and starting the war on poverty and so forth -- and it was a pretty stark place to grow up. I think it was a very good place for a writer to grow up because I saw, you know, just about everything you could see. I think I saw a lot of things that children don't usually see.

MOSS-COANE: What did you see? I'm curious.

GIARDINA: Well, I saw a classmate of mine who -- who'd been shot, and who survived, but -- and I had a gun pointed at me once. And I -- it was the kind of place where nobody had locks on their doors, and also people just kind of went in and out of one another's houses, which would drive me crazy now, but as a kid, it was really fascinating. You know, the neighbors would just kind of walk in and sit in your living room or -- the kids especially.

Or you know, everybody had their windows open, you can hear people fighting and yelling and, you know, a neighbor on the other side of us was a pretty violent alcoholic. It was just -- there wasn't also any sense -- I think we have this sense of protecting children now, and you're protecting them from death and so forth. And in Appalachian culture, certainly, I don't think that happens. It's very much more honest about things like death.

And so I just -- as a child -- was exposed to that. And also there was a large black population in the county where I grew up, and so I was exposed early on to racism and all those things. I think it was just a very honest place to grow up.

MOSS-COANE: For people that have never been to West Virginia, describe for us what happens when -- when a mining company comes to a certain area. What happens literally to the land?

GIARDINA: Well first of all, the companies own most of the land in southern West Virginia, which is the hard-core mining area. And so you can't build a house, for example, or start a business because they own the land and you can't -- you're not allowed to be on it. Or if you do have a house on their land and they decide they want to use it for something, then you have to leave.

So there's no -- there isn't -- you know, you can't build stable communities. You can't build an economic base. And you don't have any tax base to support good schools or recreation and so forth. So you have -- where I grew up, we had no sewage, for example, in the whole county actually. And so, everybody's sewage went into the creeks. So as a child, you couldn't play in the creek because it was full of sewage. You couldn't, really play other places 'cause they were covered with mine waste. And so if you fell down, you would hurt yourself.

And so there weren't like green fields and those sorts of things. And there was strip mining. And so you really -- it's environmental and community devastation. You can't drink the water. You can't walk down the road in a sense without it being on company property.

So I didn't feel a sense of freedom. I didn't really understand when I was in school -- it was during the Cold War -- what the big deal was about the Russians. It sounded to me like their situation was real similar to ours, actually.

MOSS-COANE: Right, right.

LAUGHTER

Let me ask you about something that you wrote in The Unquiet Earth, and this is a little girl "Jackie" who says here -- this is just quoting from -- from the novel. She says: "I'm not a real writer. Real writers live in New York apartments or sit at sidewalk cafes in Paris." Was she speaking for you back then?

GIARDINA: That's -- that's probably the most autobiographical passage I've ever written.

MOSS-COANE: Really?

GIARDINA: I did feel that. When I was a kid, I didn't know that I could write about my own place. I didn't know that there were Appalachian writers. And I do think, too, even as an adult, when I first began to write, I wrote my first novel about Medieval England because I felt no publisher would be interested in something set in the West Virginia coal fields.

And I -- I felt that somehow my specific place first of all wouldn't be interesting to people, and also that people wouldn't -- wouldn't see it as a universal -- a place that you could write about universal questions; that it would be just sort of a regional kind of thing.

So you know, I thought writers -- I never dreamed of being a writer when I was a kid. I didn't write down stories the way most writers talk about, you know, doing when they're children. I -- I had stories in my head all the time. I just constantly told stories to myself. But I just didn't -- the idea of writing them down didn't even cross my mind until I was probably in my mid-teens, because I just didn't think that writers came from where I came from.

MOSS-COANE: Well, I thank you very much for joining us today on FRESH AIR.

GIARDINA: Thank you, Marty.

MOSS-COANE: Denise Giardina's new book is a historical novel called Saints and Villains, and it's based on the life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

This is FRESH AIR.

Dateline: Marty Moss-Coane, Philadelphia
Guest: Denise Giardina
High: Novelist Denise Giardina has written a historical fiction on the life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer -- a German pastor and theologian who, along with a group of German government and military officials plotted to assassinate Adolf Hitler and topple his regime. Giardina's new book is "Saints and Villains." Giardina is a former Episcopal deacon, who renounced her ordination vows for active lay ministry. She's also the author of the books "Storming Heaven" and "The Unquiet Earth."
Spec: History; Germany; Religion; World War II; Denise Giardina; Dietrich Bonhoeffer
Please note, this is not the final feed of record
Copy: Content and programming copyright 1998 WHYY, Inc. All rights reserved. Transcribed by FDCH, Inc. under license from WHYY, Inc. Formatting copyright 1998 FDCH, Inc. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to WHYY, Inc. This transcript may not be reproduced in whole or in part without prior written permission.
End-Story: Saints and Villains
Show: FRESH AIR
Date: FEBRUARY 26, 1998
Time: 12:00
Tran: 022603NP.217
Type: FEATURE
Head: Suffix Use
Sect: News; Domestic
Time: 12:55

MARTY MOSS-COANE, HOST: The Monica Lewinsky story has left Americans with a familiar problem: how to refer to the scandal? The press has been having a field day coming up with names ending in the suffix "gate." But curiously, none of them seem to have caught on with the public.

FRESH AIR's linguist Geoff Nunberg sees this as a hopeful sign. Maybe it's time to retire the suffix "gate" for good.

GEOFF NUNBERG, FRESH AIR COMMENTATOR: About half-way through a dinner party last week, the woman on my left suddenly remarked: "you know, we've been here for two hours already and nobody's mentioned the Monica Lewinsky business." And the host shot back: "well, that's 'cause we've all moved on to Tara Lipinski."

My host may have been a little optimistic. You have the feeling that at least so far as the press story goes, Monica will turn out to have a lot longer legs than Tara does. What did strike me, though, was that my dinner table neighbor referred to the scandal simply as the "Monica Lewinsky business," instead of using one of those clever names that keep floating around in the press and on the Internet: zippergate, tailgate, fornigate, groupie-gate, naughty-gate and all the rest.

Everybody's heard those words, but nobody seems disposed to use them in conversation. There could be a couple of reasons for this. In the first place, the Lewinsky business really isn't the same sort of scandal as most of the other affairs that got a "gate" tacked onto them, which were generally associated with graft or corruption or abuses of executive power.

Of course, there have been allegations of that sort of thing in connection with this story, too, but that isn't what's caught the public's attention. At least when you look at the dozens of Lewinsky jokes that all those worldwide wags have been circulating on the Net, you don't find a lot of them that have to do with suborning perjury.

Or maybe it's even simpler than that. Maybe we're just "gated" out. Since the '70s, after all, we've been through Watergate, Billy-gate, Korea-gate, Iran-Contra-gate, Foster-gate, File-gate, Nanny-gate, Travel-gate -- and I'm probably forgetting some of these.

It actually has a name -- this process where you chop off the end of a word to make a new suffix that you can attach to make the names of other things. It's called "secretion" -- actually, I didn't know that 'til I looked it up the other day. You grab the "aholic" of "alcoholic" and make "chocaholic" and "workaholic." Or you chop off the "athon" of "marathon" to come up with "danceathon," "talkathon" and all the rest.

English has been doing this for a long time. Back in 1819, when the authorities sent the cavalry to attack a radical rally in St. Peter's Fields near Manchester, the radicals and reformers referred to the massacre as "Peterloo" -- a word based on Waterloo. Waterloo -- Watergate -- that's a nice coincidence.

Later in the 19th century, there was a vogue for forming the names of political constituencies with the suffix "ocracy" -- as in cotton-ocracy, landocracy, or mob-ocracy. The only one of these that stuck is "bureaucracy," which we forget was originally a joke word that meant ruled by desk.

A few of these makeshift suffixes have had long lives. The suffix "orama" was originally taken from "panorama." It had it's first vogue in the 1820s when Daguerre (ph) put up the first diorama in London. Then it became popular again in the 1890s when people went around asking each other if they'd had their "lunchorama." And then it came back in the '50s with cinerama and again in the '80s as surfer slang, in words like "babe-arama" and the like.

For the most part, though, these suffixes are pretty ephemeral. Back in the '30s for example, there was a rage for the "cade" suffix, torn off from "cavalcade," which showed up in words like aquacade and autocade, but only motorcade has stuck around.

And that same period was the golden age of the names modeled on cafeteria -- places with names like lunchteria, shoe-teria, fruit-teria, and furniture-teria -- names you can sometimes still make out in the flaking paint of signs over vacant inner-city stores.

By linguistic standards, then, the suffix "gate" has already outlived its plausible lifespan. It ought to fall victim to the same sort of reaction that kills the other concocted suffixes as they become too vague to do any useful work. There's something wrong with a category that lumps together such a mixed bag of derelictions, from attempts to circumvent the system of checks and balances to somebody hiring an undocumented immigrant as a nanny for her kids.

And that seems to be the way people are reacting to the current scandal. The New York Times ran a poll that showed that Americans believe that Clinton and Lewinsky had a sexual relationship and that he lied about it in his Paula Jones deposition. But they don't think he asked her to perjure herself and they don't really hold any of it against him.

The public seems to make a distinction that the press ignores when they compare the affair to the other "gates." People blame somebody more for lying about money than for lying about sex. After all, most of us do that. When we're young, we say we had it when we didn't. And then later, it's the other way around.

I like to think that all these fanciful names for the Monica Lewinsky scandal are the last gasp of the "gate" suffix. Then, maybe we can return to a more innocent age when each scandal could be savored in all its delicious singularity.

MOSS-COANE: Geoffrey Nunberg is a linguist at Stanford University, and the Xerox-Palo Alto Research Center.

Dateline: Geoff Nunberg, Palo Alto; Marty Moss-Coane, Philadelphia
Guest:
High: Linguist Geoff Nunberg on the uses of suffixes to create new words.
Spec: Language; Suffixes; Culture
Please note, this is not the final feed of record
Copy: Content and programming copyright 1998 WHYY, Inc. All rights reserved. Transcribed by FDCH, Inc. under license from WHYY, Inc. Formatting copyright 1998 FDCH, Inc. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to WHYY, Inc. This transcript may not be reproduced in whole or in part without prior written permission.
End-Story: Suffix Use
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

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