Saturday, December 17, 2016


Slang and idiomatic expression find their way into the language the way crafty patrons, waiting to bypass the bouncers at night clubs and restaurants, discover devious ways inside. 

One such expression, "on the nose," is not to be confused with a bet on a particular horse to win a particular race, although, after years of observing a father who was the recipient of such bets, and substituting at times for said father in taking such bets and phoning them in to the central bookkeeping source in downtown Santa Monica, you came to know the term in that context. 

When "on the nose" came your way again, the conditions had to do with writing radio and television drama and, briefly, television comedy, in the sense that a description or explanation was "too much on the nose," making it a term of derision if not outright scorn, a substitute expression for "too literal" or, worse yet, "telling me more about the subject than I want to know."

Later still, when you had the opportunity to collaborate with one of the more accomplished humorists, "on the nose" became truncated to OTN which, when you heard it from him, was often accompanied with a sad shake of the head as a sign to move on to the next moment of dramatic movement.

"Too much on the nose" not only means a response is too literal, too lacking in any sort of nuance or, better still, innuendo; "too much on the nose" means a condition needlessly explained to the point where persons in the vicinity begin looking for the nearest exit.

Drama and story tolerate detail only when said detail reemerges later in the form of a surprise, obstacle, or ironic reversal that produces in the viewer or reader either a laugh or the idiosyncratic sound of an involuntary expulsion of breath, a sound similar to an individual being punched in the solar plexus. 

Anything else is reminiscent of a bit of arcana you learned when substituting for your father as the transcriber of bets on various thoroughbred race horses. Such horses, depending on previous performances, were given handicaps, five-pound weights attached to their saddle.

Some prose is handicapped with weighty descriptions of things few readers would care about, with unnecessary explanations which turn out to be the verbal equivalents of the nudge and/or wink, as in "Get it?"

Things in Real Time approximate being too much on the nose only because, in your belief, many of us have reservations about seeming too taciturn, too devoid of opinion, too eager to make sure we are being understood. All too true; being understood is no small triumph. Rather, being understood is a condition that provokes comedy, drama, humor, and, ultimately, dissent, all conditions we enter with the same caution as a surfer entering an ocean afflicted at the moment with rip tides.

The great irony with being too much on the nose is the tendency to overexplain, hopeful of being understood.

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