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Dear Mr. Arbiter of Everything:

My neighbor, Mr. Dover, and I saw in the paper that some members of the St. Petersburg City Council are highly offended because of the way they were criticized in a citizen newsletter.

The newsletter declared that the council had "bent over" for big billboard companies as it writes a new billboard law.

As a result, one council member canceled a meeting with an officer of the neighborhood group, and another warned the association not to "bite the hand that feeds you."

Please discuss and clarify.


H. Jass

Dear Mr. Jass:

Delighted to be of assistance. The phrase in question occurred in the June 2010 edition of the CONA Newsletter, published by the Council of Neighborhood Associations of South Pinellas.

On Page 4, under the headline, "Billboard Industry 3, CONA 0," the article criticized council members for holding cozy "workshops" with the billboard industry to draft new rules, without permitting citizen comment.

"They bent over for representatives of Clear Channel and CBS Outdoor," author Travis Jarman wrote.

On the surface, of course, "bent over" and its conjugations are innocent: The old man was bent over. After the hurricane, the palm trees were bent over.

As a stand-alone verb, the phrase originally did bear a more vulgar context, distinct from the innocuous bending over backward.

As the Arbiter of Everything, however, I rule that bend over is now in acceptable common usage as a descriptor for being placed, or placing oneself, at a disadvantage.

For example, here is the entirely nonvulgar definition of the imperative use of "bend over" in the Online Slang Dictionary (

A command ... implying that one is about to be taken advantage of, be in a bad situation, or fail miserably.

Personally, and only as a matter of taste, the Arbiter of Everything seeks to avoid such phrases, preferring alternatives such as:

Example 1: The City Council, as usual, is letting somebody else tell it what to do.

Example 2:The City Council sometimes acts like a bunch of small-town boobs.

Just for example.

However, the A.O.E. cannot arbitrarily (!) ignore modern practice. Hence my ruling is that the City Council is making a mountain out of a molehill, or, in the alternative, is straining at a gnat.

This brings us next to the warning of council Chairwoman Leslie Curran not to "bite the hand that feeds you."

The Arbiter of Everything rules that on the contrary, it is the residents of the city who are feeding the City Council. According to a May 23 column by my colleague Sandra Gadsden, this is literally true, as the council refused to give up any of its own food budget.

In addition, the A.O.E. is quite surprised to learn from Gadsden's column that since 2003, members of the council have been eligible for a pension, a fact that leaves the A.O.E. gobsmacked, a term indicating astonishment.

Were I a member of the City Council, therefore, I would be a little less prone to sneer about Who Is Feeding Whom, and a little more thick-skinned about being criticized by a citizen association, especially if I was doing pretty much what the criticism said I was doing. This cheerfully concludes today's ruling.