Z is for “zaftig” …

… a polite word, as I understand it, for “buxom”. Its etymology includes the Yiddish word for “succulent”.


Zaftig. I kind of like it. Old-fashioned, sublimely dirty, and just mysterious enough that the kids might like it.

Aah, family values.

Lesson over, right? Well, I should probably make a usage note to help you out. So a little background, first.

The word came to me via that forgotten magic medium called the radio. For those who have forgotten, the radio, once upon a time, was a useful and even important means for distributing information. Whether news and commentary, or sheer entertainment, there was a time when American families actually gathered around the radio in order to spend “quality time” absorbed in common experience. To the other, though, I should probably shelve, as being at least slightly neurotic, any glorious fantasy of quiet evenings spent with my daughter enraptured by public radio.

I mean, really. Come on.

Nonetheless, it happened that last month I happened to catch an episode of Speaker’s Forum on Seattle’s KUOW. The episode featured Michelle Goldberg, who covers politics for Salon.com, and who came through Seattle in April, 2007, in support of her book Kingdom Coming: The Rise of Christian Nationalism. She gave a good talk at Elliott Bay Book Company:

So at the 2003 conference, when the abstinence educator Pam Stenzel spoke, she knew she didn’t have to justify her objection to sex education with prosaic arguments about health and public policy. She could be frank about the real reasons society must not condone premarital sex. “Because it is,” as she shouted during one particularly impassioned moment, “Stinking filthy dirty rotten sin!” A pretty, zaftig brunette from Minnesota with a degree in psychology from Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University, Stenzel makes a living telling kids not to have sex. Rather, she makes a living trying to scare kids out of having sex. As she says in her video, No Screwing Around, “If you have sex outside of marriage, to a partner who has only been with you, then you will pay.” A big part of her mission is puncturing students’ beliefs that condoms can protect them. She says she addresses half a million kids each year, and millions more have received her message via video. Thanks to George W. Bush, abstinence education has become a thriving industry, and Stenzel has been at its forefront. Bush appointed her to a twelve-person task force at the Department of Health and Human Services to help implement abstinence education guidelines. She’s been a guest at the White House and a speaker at the United Nations. Her non-profit company, Enlightenment Communications, which puts on abstinence talks and seminars in public schools, typically grossed several hundred thousand dollars a year during the first Bush term.

At Reclaiming America for Christ, Stenzel told her audience about a conversation she’d had with a skeptical businessman on an airplane. The man had asked about abstinence education’s success rate, a question she regarded as risible.

“What he’s asking,” she said, “is ‘does it work?’ You know what? Doesn’t matter. ‘Cause guess what? My job is not to keep teenagers from having sex. The public school’s job should not be to keep teens from having sex.”

Then her voice rose and turned angry as she shouted, “Our job should be to tell kids the truth!” And I should say that up ’til then, I agreed with her. But here’s what she means by the truth:

“People of God,” she cried, “can I beg you to commit yourself to truth? Not what works, to truth! I don’t care if it works, because at the end of the day, I’m not answering to you. I’m answering to God.

“Let me tell you something, People of God, that is radical, and I can only say it here,” she said. “AIDS is not the enemy. HPV and a hysterectomy at twenty is not the enemy. An unplanned pregnancy is not the enemy. My child believing that they can shake their fist in the face of a holy God and sin without consequence, and my child spending eternity separated from God, is the enemy! I will not teach my child that they can sin safely!”

The crowd applauded. Of course, Stenzel isn’t just teaching her child.

Family values, indeed. Gather up the kids and have a post-pomo throwback to the glory days of radio. Or maybe put the kids to bed and fire up a joint before listening to this one. It might actually help.

Anyway, Z is for zaftig. Go on. Impress your friends with the new word you learned today.

What? I had to look it up when I got home. And judging by the puzzled looks I’ve been getting as I play around with the word, I don’t feel stupid for having to. So neither should you, if you’ve never heard it before. In fact, if you already know this word, consider yourself either smart or old. Maybe both.

Seriously. I’m just glad the explanation didn’t involve any crippling moral dysfunction.

Oh. Right. Sorry. My bad.

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