Have you ever opened your mouth to speak and before the words had completely left your lips, realized that you have said something totally ludicrous? Of course you have; we all have.
Is anyone else old enough to remember when President Jimmy Carter was speaking at the funeral of former Vice-President Hubert Horatio Humphrey — and for whatever fluke of the moment — instead called him Hubert Horatio Hornblower, a fiction British Naval officer created by author C. S. Forester?
My most spectacular faux pas — from an old French term that means “screwed up, royally” — recently happened at a Cracker Barrel Restaurant in North Knox County, where I had met with Gary Wade, Chief Justice of the Tennessee Supreme Court and one of his friends for breakfast.
The meeting was ostensibly to discuss a football game played between Powell High School of Knox County and Sevier County High School of Sevier County (of course) in 1963, which Powell, the decided underdog had won.
Wade played in the game and I watched it from the stands, holding hands with a high school sweetheart. I had written about the game a few weeks earlier and the Tennessee Supreme Court Justice and I both agreed it was at least among the most exciting games we had ever witnessed and saw nothing odd about meeting to discuss an athletic contest that happened more than 50 years ago over breakfast.
Having exhausted game talk after a few minutes, the conversation drifted to other subjects. I can’t recall many details of a conversation that happened weeks ago, but part of it had to do with the 2nd Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, because I was venturing the opinion that if the Founding Fathers of this country had written as clearly in our Bill of Rights as Tennessee’s Constitutional framers wrote in their equivalent Section 26 in the Declaration of Rights, it would have avoided a lot of squabbling.
That Section 26 of the Tennessee Declaration of Rights, said: “That the citizens of this state have a right to keep and to bear arms for their common defense; but the Legislature shall have power, by law, to regulate the wearing of arms with a view to prevent crime.” Just imagine if that sentence had been added to the U.S. Constitution’s 2nd Amendment, how different things might have been to day — when it comes to, say mass killings, if weapons were really regulated enough to be kept from the hands of the severely mentally disturbed and criminals.
In the heat of the moment, as I was making my point, I blurted out, “Have either of you ever actually read the original Tennessee Constitution?”
The words were out there with no way to turn them into a joke or make them go away. Chief Justice Wade is a merciful and courteous man who may have produced just a flicker of a smile, as I dropped my head and mumbled something along the lines of, “That was a really silly thing for me to ask.”
I don’t know if the judge’s friend was amused or not because my eyes were downcast in shame on my biscuits and gravy. But being the nice man he is, Justice Wade changed the subject — probably back to the football game –and pretended I had not just made an ass of myself.
It was even worse than a television interview 25 years ago during which I was talking to an attractive television news woman about a new adult entertainment ordinance passed by Knox County. She asked what separated an adult oriented film from one that was permissible without a permit.
As I opened my mouth to say something about “gratuitous nudity,” my tongue froze, my mind shut down and I realized could not remember how to pronounce gratuitous. Rather than stopping the way a wise man would have and just rephrasing the answer, I pressed on and came out with a garbled word that sounded something like grat-chew-u-tus nudity.
It was almost as humiliating as asking the Chief Justice of the Tennessee Supreme Court if he had ever read the Tennessee Constitution. I comfort myself by promising never to say anything else without thinking it through — but I know that if I live long enough, I probably will.