The first thing I noticed about my new high-school was the way the beach kids inflected the word "only" as a means of emphasis. "He's only nonchalant," someone might exult. Or, "She's only the most stuck-up senior in Redondo."
My first priority was to do the same. "That was only a great shot!" I yelled to a teammate in gym-class.
"Yeah, well you only double-dribbled," he shouted back.
I was bewildered by the stinging reply. What does it take to become accepted around here?
Later, in Civics class, an opportunity presented itself.
Duane Glover raised his hand to answer a question. His falsetto voice and baby fat were among the cruel consequences of skipping fifth grade. The beach kids despised him. It was easy to see why.
"The President can be impeached only for high crimes and misdemeanors," he proclaimed, fluttering his eyes. "Not for incompetence."
The room resounded with whistles and catcalls. Mr. Leonard tapped his pencil on the lectern. "That's correct, Duane."
A tasteless prank seized my adolescent mind. The formula had worked once before (see sincere), and I was an outsider then, too. That was junior-high, though. Would I be able to curry peer approval the same way here? Worth a try.
"Splendid!" rasped I behind my hand. The beach kids gave me a big laugh. More pencil tapping by Mr. Leonard.
"Who said that?"
Face glowing, I held up my hand. For the moment, at least, I was only popular.
Another vogue expression was in the making. Puncturing pomposity was not its only use. We took splendid examinations and suffered from splendid colds. A splendid fumble could lose the game, and our parents were guilty of all manner of splendid iniquities.
To obtain the full cynical effect, you must wear a solemn countenance and pronounce the word the right way -- our way. The voice rises and falls on the first syllable. Extra stress must be given to the "n." SPLENN-did. The ultimate put-down.
Even now, I think of the word in no other way.