Dr. Goodword’s Language Blog

‘Gunsmoke’ and Prerogatives

The smoking gun of GunsmokeDon Vaughan is now working on next week’s column for the Starkville Daily News. In his up-coming column he will be reporting on an episode of the still-rerunning US TV series, “Gunsmoke”. Here is why that episode is so interesting for a logophile.

Don, who is also a lecturer in communication at Mississippi State University, recently watched a DVD of a Gunsmoke episode titled “Quiet Day in Dodge” in which Margaret Hamilton, best known for her role as the Wicked Witch of the West in the movie The Wizard of Oz, guest stars as a schoolmarm [an interesting word in itself—DG]. The schoolmarm brings a mischievous boy to Marshal Dillon, the central character in the series, for safe keeping but the boy escapes and gets into further mischief.

Later that day, the schoolmarm returns to the sheriff’s office and chides Dillon for dereliction of duty and threatens, “I just want you to know that I intend to write about you to my very good friend the Attorney General and I hope he abrogates your prerogatives.”

Clearly the schoolmarm is a hopeless logophile and there is little chance that Matt Dillon would understand what “abrogates your prerogatives” means. In fact, the phrase might sound a little odd to the rest of us, since prerogatives are not usually said to be abrogated.

But the schoolmarm is right on target. Abrogate first and foremost means “to rescind” in the legal sense. Laws are abrogated all the time. And since the sheriff’s prerogatives are privileges that legally derive from the office of sheriff as authorized by the state, in this case they are quite rightly abrogated by a higher legal authority. So, if the schoolmarm pronounced prerogatives correctly (prerogatives and not perogatives), we must commend her for attempting to raise the intellectual standards of Dodge City, Kansas.

Leave a Reply