can you be “electrified” by a slam dunk victory?

Es­ti­mated reading time is 8 min­utes.

I PUT DOWN MY MUG OF COFFEE and reached into my desk drawer and dex­ter­ously pulled out my minia­ture samurai-sword letter-opener with the dropbear-tooth handle. After staring into space for a few sec­onds and mum­bling, “That’s not a knife—this is a knife,” I took a few swipes in front of me with the foot-long blade, voicing the ap­pro­priate martial-arts-movie swooshing-sounds as it cut the air.

I glee­fully went through my US Mail mail, then opened Out­look and undid my email mail. There was my weekly copy of eS­keptic, the newsletter of the Skep­tics So­ciety (De­cember 23, 2015). The first ar­ticle was “Dark Matter and Pe­ri­odic Mass Ex­tinc­tions? Not So Fast!,” in which promi­nent pa­le­on­tol­o­gist and skeptic Donald. R. Prothero “con­siders a con­jec­ture pro­posed to ex­plain a sup­posed pe­ri­od­icity in mass extinctions.”



The slam dunk is the most ef­fi­cient bas­ket­ball shot and the phrase ‘slam dunk’ has since en­tered pop­ular usage in Amer­ican Eng­lish, meaning a ‘sure thing.


Nat­u­rally, this piqued my in­terest and I was ready to read it when I saw the second piece, a jay peg Christmas card that pro­claimed “Merry Kitzmas!” The card was the header image to a second piece by Prothero, but it looked down­right silly!

I had never heard of Kitzmas be­fore! Was it some new-fangled faux cel­e­bra­tion meant to make fun of my fa­vorite holiday?

But Kitzmas is not why I am writing this piece. But this essay was in­spired by the use of a term in the Kitzmas ar­ticle in a manner that set me re­searching the In­ternet to see if I had been car­rying about a mis­in­ter­pre­ta­tion of a fairly well-known and well-used term for years and I figure if I need to look it up so might one or two faithful readers here at Neal Umphred Dot Com so look it up I did . . .



Mein Gott! About the only thing that could make this more bor­ingly generic would be if it read “Sea­son’s Greet­ings!” Nonethe­less, it’s an ef­fec­tive piece of graphics: if “Kitzmas” doesn’t catch your at­ten­tion, then its ap­pear­ance in a post-Christmas issue of a skep­tical newsletter should.

Intelligent design and the slam-dunk

Back to Prothero’s ar­ticle, where the sub-title clar­i­fied things: “The 10th An­niver­sary of the Dover De­ci­sion and the Demise of In­tel­li­gent De­sign.” Aha! I dug right in and im­me­di­ately had a wee problem in the opening para­graphs. Here is an abridged ver­sion of those paragraphs:

“De­cember 20 marked the 10th an­niver­sary of Judge John Jones’ de­ci­sion in the land­mark Kitzmiller vs. Dover Area School Dis­trict case, better known as the court case that fi­nally put in­tel­li­gent de­sign cre­ationism on trial.

The case began in 2004 when cre­ation­ists on the Dover, Penn­syl­vania, school board tried to sneak in­tel­li­gent de­sign cre­ationist ma­te­rial into the school curriculum.

Fed­eral Judge John E. Jones III took most of No­vember and De­cember to re­view the case and render a ver­dict. When it came on De­cember 20, I re­member being elec­tri­fied at the news. It was a slam-dunk total vic­tory for the side of science.”

My im­me­diate re­ac­tion was, No—wait! If the re­sults “elec­tri­fied” him, then it was not, by de­f­i­n­i­tion, a slam-dunk. There are no sur­prises to elec­trify anyone in a slam-dunk victory!

Why did I think this?

And here is why I am writing this, and why it’s in my ‘Strunk­and­whiten It!’ cat­e­gory: be­cause it ap­peared to me to be a gram­mat­ical or se­mantic error.



Vince Carter poised for a slam dunk. One could use this photo to lodge a com­plaint with the NBA Com­mis­sioner of Carter using an anti-gravity de­vice to pull this shot off. Now I don’t follow bas­ket­ball, but I as­sume that all anti-grav de­vices are illegal.

Trial of the century and the slam-dunk

My re­sponse was based on my in­ter­pre­ta­tion of a slam-dunk as an idiom. In bas­ket­ball, a slam dunk is a 2‑point shot with the player leaping high enough to dunk the ball into the basket below him. It has an ex­tremely high rate of suc­cess. So in common usage, a slam-dunk refers to an ex­pected outcome.

That is, the out­come is so ob­vious that it is as pre­dictable as a slam-dunk being two points on the board when the ball is in the hands of Vince Carter. 1

In its entry for slam dunk, Wikipedia con­curs: “The slam dunk is the most ef­fi­cient bas­ket­ball shot [and] the phrase ‘slam dunk’ has since en­tered pop­ular usage in Amer­ican Eng­lish, meaning a ‘sure thing’: an ac­tion with a guar­an­teed outcome.”

As an ex­ample of a fa­mous slam-dunk, I offer the case against O.J. Simpson for the 1994 mur­ders of Nicole Brown and Ron Goldman. The mur­ders, the in­ves­ti­ga­tion and ar­rest, and the trial elicited vol­umes of spoken and printed brouhaha by the media. Some media re­ferred to it as the “trial of the century.”

Some media as­sured us it would be a slam-dunk for the Los An­geles County Dis­trict Attorney’s of­fice. 2

I paid as little at­ten­tion to the af­fair as pos­sible at the time, having little in­terest in the do­ings of celebri­ties. I as­sumed then as I do now that the term “trial of the cen­tury” was given to the trial due to the de­fen­dant’s status as both a major NFL Hall of Famer and as an actor who was damn near ubiq­ui­tous for years in a se­ries of tele­vi­sion ads for Hertz Car Rental.

I also as­sumed that a black man ac­cused of mur­dering his white ex-wife who hap­pened to be alone at night with an­other man played a little some­thing in that title. 3

The slam-dunk as­sump­tion of some media came not from hard, con­clu­sive ev­i­dence, but from the fact that the over­whelming ma­jority of (white) media and its (white) au­di­ence simply as­sumed the (black) suspect’s guilt.

To anyone ob­serving the events at the time, all the ini­tial ev­i­dence was con­tro­ver­sial by its being both cir­cum­stan­tial at best, or use­less by having been tainted by inept po­lice pro­ceed­ings, in­cluding the scene of the crime.

Al­most everyone (white) be­lieved that the Los An­geles Dis­trict At­torney had an open-and-shut case with a slam-dunk vic­tory as its ex­pected outcome.

But I have di­gressed enough here . . .



I did not follow the O.J. Simpson trial so I did not wit­ness this scene on tele­vi­sion. The next day while having coffee with friends at Paul’s Java Bean, I was told about Simp­son’s un­suc­cess­fully trying on the mur­der­er’s gloves. I was as­tounded! I asked my coffee mate, “You mean the pros­e­cu­tion ac­tu­ally had him try on a glove in front of the jury and the cam­eras that they didn’t know didn’t fit him?!!?” That was when I started to pay a little at­ten­tion, be­cause no at­torney should ever be that stupid.

Dictionary definition of a slam-dunk

I have al­ready men­tioned Wikipedia’s de­f­i­n­i­tion for slam dunk: “The phrase ‘slam dunk’ has since en­tered pop­ular usage in Amer­ican Eng­lish, meaning a ‘sure thing’: an ac­tion with a guar­an­teed outcome.”

For Merriam-Webster, it is “some­thing that is sure to happen or be successful.”

The Free Dic­tio­nary de­fines it as “some­thing that is easy to ac­com­plish or cer­tain to occur.” For an ex­ample, the FD uses “a case that the pros­e­cutor saw as a slam dunk.”

In terms of cur­rent slang, things get a little more con­fusing: ac­cording to the On­line Slang Dic­tio­nary, slam can mean a put-down, a dissing. Which I knew, be­cause that usage has been around for a long time. But dunk can mean a fe­male in the act of uri­nating (‘peeing’ in the real world). This I was not aware of.

Con­se­quently, al­most half of the eigh­teen com­menters on the OSD thought that the term slam-dunk was a vulgar term!

Much ado about a very very minor error

I know, I know: “elec­tri­fied at a slam dunk vic­tory” is the teensy-weensy-est of se­mantic errors—if it’s an error at all! Mr Prothero may be using it cor­rectly. The point is that its use im­me­di­ately caught my at­ten­tion, and it did make me wonder as to real meaning of the term, and it did give me pause about my mis­con­cep­tions and mis­un­der­stand­ings, and when posting any­thing sup­pos­edly fac­tual on the In­ternet and there are lit­er­ally hun­dreds of mil­lions of sources at your fin­ger­tips there re­ally is no reason for anyone to be in­cor­rect about any­thing . . .



FEA­TURED IMAGE: The image at the top of this page is rather amazing mon­tage of Vince Carter making a slam dunk shot. While there were better photos of Carter avail­able showing him a bit higher above the basket than this, there were few shots this ar­resting. But since this fea­tured image promises so much bas­ket­ball and this ar­ticle de­livers so little, I used a second photo of Carter above. 



1   I add a hy­phen to slam-dunk when using it id­iomat­i­cally. That is not the way the ma­jority of sources on the In­ternet use it, but I am sticking with the dash be­cause it con­nects the two words into one term.

2   In an ar­ticle ti­tled “The Slam Dunk” in The New Yorker (April 15, 1996), by John Gre­gory Dunne ad­dresses pros­e­cuting at­torney Christo­pher Dar­d­en’s book In Con­tempt, which is Darden’s take on the O.J. Simpson trial. In his opening para­graph, Dunne notes, “On the face of it, the case against Simpson was what L.A. pros­e­cu­tors like to call a ‘slam dunk.’ ” And that’s all the re­search that I am spending on this footnote!

3   At first, the re­la­tion­ship be­tween Nicole Brown and Ron Goldman was mixed up in an al­most Os­wal­dian manner. Ini­tially, he was merely a lackey doing his em­ployer a favor by re­turning a pair of sun­glasses to Ms. Brown. At 11:00 PM. Like Lee Harvey, the story couldn’t have been much far­ther from the truth: in the weeks prior to the mur­ders, Colman had de­vel­oped a close enough re­la­tion­ship with Brown that she lent him her Ferrari. 

Their knowing each other wasn’t a se­cret: both Brown and Goldman ac­knowl­edged to friends a re­la­tion­ship that was ‘pla­tonic.’ And I have known people, wealthy and not so wealthy, who were ex­tremely gen­erous with their be­long­ings with new ‘friends.’

On the other hand, Goldman was a tall, hand­some man who had done some mod­eling and acting. He was also an am­bi­tious man, with plans to open his own restau­rant. Ms Brown was ‘playing the field’ at the time, so the pos­si­bility of a more in­ti­mate re­la­tion­ship be­tween the two is easily con­ceived, but com­pletely over­looked by the L.A. po­lice and count­less jour­nal­ists and in­ves­ti­ga­tors for a rather long time.

4 thoughts on “can you be “electrified” by a slam dunk victory?”

  1. My opinion, hey; every­body’s got one, is that the term “slam-dunk” should re­main on the bas­ket­ball court, and not in court.

    But, Amer­ican Blind Jus­tice and the deaf ear of the law... My doubt meter riseth daily.


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