Words matter to me. I spend hours each week carefully choosing words and phrases to balance precision with poetry in the hope that readers will find them interesting enough to keep reading to the end of my column.
So I can’t help but be annoyed when well-meaning people and institutions trample poetry in the interest of unnecessary precision.
The latest irritation came last Sunday, when my pastor announced that, from now on, our church service would use the “ecumenical” version of the Lord’s Prayer.
I’m all for being ecumenical, but, as with the ecumenical version of the Apostles’ Creed we switched to some time ago, this one is far less elegant than what English-speaking Christians have been reciting for 400 years. Why forsake “thy”? Who isn’t quick enough to figure out “the quick and the dead”?
But when it comes to assaults on the language of Shakespeare, Dickens and Hemingway, the church is no match for the state. I was reminded of that last month when Mayor Jim Gray gave his State of the Merged Government speech.
Why isn’t it called the State of the City speech? Or the State of Lexington speech? I asked Gray about it, and he said he didn’t like the traditional name for the mayor’s annual address any more than I do.
That led to a discussion about the clunky moniker Lexington-Fayette Urban County Government and its acronym, LFUCG, which, depending on how you say it, sounds either like alphabet soup or an obscenity.
How did the government of such a beautiful place end up with such a bureaucratic name?
I asked Foster Pettit, who was mayor when the name was adopted in 1974 as the governments of Lexington and surrounding Fayette County were merged. It turns out he has never liked the name much, either.
“It’s always been a little awkward, and it’s hard to write it on a check,” Pettit said. “Then people say ‘LFUCG’, which is even worse.”
The name was chosen for constitutional reasons, said Pettit, a lawyer who was first elected mayor of the old City of Lexington in 1972. The next year, the Lexington and Fayette County governments began the process of becoming the first in the state and one of the first in the nation to merge. That raised a host of legal issues that Kentucky had never dealt with before.
As Pettit explained it, the state constitution and acts of the General Assembly had specific provisions for counties and different types of cities, but not for a merged city-county government. The new entity was legally neither fish nor fowl.
Plus, Pettit said, there were concerns by residents of both the city and county at the time that they not lose any of their rights or identities. Thus, an inelegant mouthful was born.
For many reasons, both legal and practical, it wouldn’t be worth the trouble to officially rename the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Government, Pettit said.
But, he added, that doesn’t mean people can’t come up with something better for everyday use.
“It would be nice to call it the ‘Community of Lexington’, which covers a wider concept,” Pettit said. “Of course, there’s no such thing as a community, legally, but that’s OK.
“I’ve thought about it, and that’s the best I could come up with. Or, just say ‘Lexington, Kentucky’ and let it go at that.”
That works for me.
Next January, Gray should deliver the State of Lexington address. And, whenever the lawyers aren’t looking, the citizens of both urban and rural Fayette County should simply call their community Lexington.
Then we could move on to other local language puzzles, such as this: How old does New Circle Road have to be before we stop calling it “new”?