Don't Be Judgy about 'Backflash'

By Rob Kyff

January 23, 2019 3 min read

Some random dispatches from the Word Front, including one from the War Front:

Flashback to "Backflash"

Retired Gen. John Allen was on CNN discussing the possible U.S. military withdrawal from Syria when he said, "We're in the process of stabilizing that population so Isis doesn't backflash in our faces."

Backflash? This term, which first appeared during the early 1900s, originally referred to the dangerous explosion of a gas backward to places where combustion wasn't intended. Kaboom!

Like "backlash," which first surfaced in 1815 as a reference to the reaction of a machine's wheels on each other when under an inconstant load, and "blowback," which originated in 1883 to describe backward-shooting flames in firearms and furnaces, "backflash" is now used metaphorically as a general term for adverse repercussions or unforeseen consequences.

"Backflash" was the title of a 1998 crime novel by Richard Stark, and screenwriters occasionally use the term as an alternative to the verb "flashback," e.g., "The script of 'This Is Us' will continually backflash to previous events." However, the use of "backflash" to mean "blowback" or "backlash" is still relatively rare.

You Be the Judgy

The adjective "judgy," a hipper, more casual version of "judgmental," has been around for a while, but these days, it seems to be holding court everywhere. The New York Times called the movie "Can You Ever Forgive Me?" "neither judgy nor ethically neutral," while a letter to advice columnist Amy Dickinson praised her response to a "judgy person."

Like "edgy," "dicey" and "pricey," "judgy" adds a "y" to a noun to create a snappy, handy adjective. "Judgy" bears a distinctly negative connotation, but its "y" imparts a moderating, playful tone, making it less solemn and severe than "judgmental."

How's That Again?

Readers have sent me several sentences that have given them pause.

From a TV weather forecast: "A break in the clouds today can't overshadow the danger of showers." How can a break in the clouds overshadow something?

From a TV report on a top-notch restaurant: "Their 900-degree pizza oven was the best they could find." Does that mean they could have found a better one?

From a newspaper story: "Robots are aiding and abetting the first responders." Were the responders doing something wrong?

From a PA announcement in a New York City MTA station: "Due to delays earlier, we are experiencing delays." The funny thing is that kind of makes sense.

Rob Kyff, a teacher and writer in West Hartford, Connecticut, invites your language sightings. Send your reports of misuse and abuse, as well as examples of good writing, via email to [email protected] or by regular mail to Rob Kyff, Creators Syndicate, 737 3rd Street, Hermosa Beach, CA 90254.

Photo credit: at Pixabay

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