A musical decline

Today’s Rhymes With Orange, which presents the reader with a challenge in understanding. You need to know something about music, and a lot about urban life:


That’s a grand piano on a cinder block, with its lid propped open by a shovel, on the grassy lawn (BrE garden) in front of the house; and there’s a BEWARE OF DOG sign, indicating the presence of a guard dog. Signs of urban blight (see the title of the cartoon), decline, diminishment (a diminuendo). All very troubling (in musical Punnish, treble-ing) to the musical old couple walking by.

The musical references are relatively easy, but to get the urban blight part, you need to know about derelict cars (possibly with their hoods/bonnets propped open by whatever’s at hand) parked on the grass, especially in front of houses, and jacked up on cinder blocks rather than tires. In North America and the UK, a sign of urban decay, a run-down neighborhood, an area going downhill. In the US, especially associated with rednecks —

a working-class white person, especially a politically reactionary one from a rural area: rednecks in the high, cheap seats stomped their feet and hooted | [as modifier]: a place of redneck biases. ORIGIN from the back of the neck being sunburned from outdoor work. (NOAD2)

— but by no means confined to whites or to rural places, though rural white rednecks / hicks / hillbillies / yokels are the stereotypical cement-blockers.

From the VW Vortex site (for Volkswagen enthusiasts), under the heading “You know you’re a redneck when…” (with a bow to comic Jeff Foxworthy), two photos of cars on the grass, one car on cinder blocks:


(Note the propped-up hood.)


Cars on grass and cars on cinder blocks are such conventional signs of urban blight that many cities (in the Bay Area, Oakland and San Jose, at least) ban them. The obvious solution (to many minds) is to pave over the front lawn in concrete — but in fact that too is banned in many places.

Why put a car up on cinder blocks in the first place? One possibility: to raise it, so that you can work on it from underneath; this is very much not recommended, because it’s seriously unsafe. So many a derelict car is on cinder blocks for long periods of time, indicating the owner’s earnest hopes that they’ll get around to fixing it eventually. Another possibility: to take the weight off the tires. Still another: to sell the tires, or give them to a friend. Still another (regrettably common) possibility is that the tires have been stolen.

In any case, those cinder blocks are a class signifier. To working-class men, they’re part of the fabric of daily life, an attempt to make do with scarce resources and hard work, so these men deeply resent the meddlings of middle-class strivers in their lives. To middle-class people, they’re offensive signs of decay and disorder, not to mention the threat of take-over by dirty, dumb, and maybe dangerous barbarians (with their snarling dogs).

And, yes, diminuendo was verbed, as an inchoative intransitive ‘before softer, less loud’, some time ago. From NOAD2:

verb diminuendodecrease in loudness or intensity: the singers left and the buzz diminuendoed.

OED2’s first cite:

1901 Westm. Gaz. 12 Nov. 2/1   Their booming note crescendoes up the scale with increasing speed and diminuendoes with the slackening of it.

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