Today’s word: metrosexual. I like it partly because it’s got a good meaning. Partly I like it because it reminds me of the way my Pennsylvania aunts pronounce “hetROsexual” and it makes me smile. But – who am I kidding? – mostly I like it because any discussion of the term always comes back to David Beckham. Mmmmmm. Wear those women’s undies all you want, sweetie. Bend it.
Unrelated, but similarly taking up too much of my brain space, has been the way the French are fighting for their language. And I guess when I put it like that it seems all valiant and Les Miz… but really it’s obnoxious. The latest is a battle over the word “courriel” – email – which they want to be the only term used for that activity. But “courriel” isn’t even a French coinage: it’s from Quebec. So they’re eliminating the Americanization of the term… for the less repugnant North Americanization? Je ne comprends pas.
I love Bill Bryson’s “The Mother Tongue,” and his account of the evolution of English. I see that as a perfectly proper way for a language to behave. That is, it does behave: it isn’t static for hundreds of years. It loses words and changes the meanings of others and adopts some and creates some. It’s a living language. Protecting it behind tall walls of government is neither normal nor effective.
Some people compare these French goings-on to the groups that work against slang and improper use of English… but (being one myself) I think grammar mavens have a point. They’re not xenophobes trying to stop the evolution of the language; they’re just trying to keep people obeying the rules. It is a fine line, thought, because sometimes it takes a long time for the fussbudgets to accept when rules change. It’s okay to fearlessly split an infinitive, incidentally.
Thirdly, finally, and equally unrelatedly: I’ve been flipping through “Symptoms:The Complete Home Medical Encyclopedia,” copyright 1976. It includes a recipe for D.I.Y. suntan lotion – yes, suntan, not sunblock – and lists the symptoms for measles, whooping cough, German measles, typhoid fever and diptheria right alongside the flu and the common cold. I suddenly feel very grateful for my pediatrician and his shots… althought it would have been interesting to get some of these. Apparently measles was like a cold except with a rash all over your body. That’s got to have been a hard one to fake if you wanted a day off school.
Some of the science is a bit off, if poetic… “If indigestion is the body’s outcry against our stressful, anxious age, then peptic ulcer is open, flaming rebellion…. Those individuals prone to ulcers must choose a career in which the work is suitable for the stomach.” Or: “Painful menstruation is most often a manifestation of an unhappy or unrewarding life-style or love life expressing itself through the genetalia.” Or: “There is every reason to believe that [herpes simplex 2] can be contained and possibly cured by many of the developing vaccines in the near future.” But it is sort of weirdly nice to see a medical book without a word about HIV.
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