PDA

View Full Version : The metamorphosis of language



kdnxdr
04-12-2007, 05:16 AM
Just thinking about some of the comments regarding language/culture made me curious as to what different examples we could come up with regarding language-use changes.

My friends and I were discussing the words/concepts of breast/tits/boobs today at work.

The comment was made that earlier in our culture boob was an ignorant person or a person who had little to contribute. Also, in contemporary culture, it seems that saying boobs is more socially comfortable than saying breasts in casual public conversation when referring to a woman's anatomy.

Any other examples ya'll can think of?

Silver King
04-12-2007, 05:26 AM
I certainly agree with the mammary glands reference. I've heard "boob job" over "breast augmentation" at least one hundred to one.

Wasn't a "jerk off" the person who worked a soda fountain back in the day?

kdnxdr
04-12-2007, 05:27 AM
LOL......soda jerk, I believe

Just curious, are you a plastic surgeon?

Silver King
04-12-2007, 05:39 AM
LOL......soda jerk, I believe
True, but on the days he wasn't working, the jerk was off, right?

Here's something my dad used to say, which, believe it or not, was meant as the highest form of praise for the female body: "She's built like a brick shithouse."

Much to my relief, I discovered much better similes as I grew older.

kdnxdr
04-12-2007, 05:46 AM
that's an interesting one to anylize.......I wonder what the similarity factor could be?

hmmmmmmm......thinking, thinking, thinking

stout, as in built strong?

Silver King
04-12-2007, 06:04 AM
stout, as in built strong?
That's what I always thought. And while growing up, I didn't hear it just from him, but from others in his age group as well. Even when I was very young, the words made me cringe, in particular when they were referred to my mom or someone else I loved.

Higgins
04-12-2007, 06:24 AM
True, but on the days he wasn't working, the jerk was off, right?

Here's something my dad used to say, which, believe it or not, was meant as the highest form of praise for the female body: "She's built like a brick shithouse."

Much to my relief, I discovered much better similes as I grew older.

I believe it is a hyperbole: ie the meaning is that, since brick is the finer form of construction and shithouses are the last thing you would build in such a fine form, the figurative "brick shithouse" exceeds the expectations of formal beauty by as much as a brick shithouse would the expectations of shithouse construction.

Silver King
04-12-2007, 06:33 AM
I believe it is a hyperbole: ie the meaning is that, since brick is the finer form of construction and shithouses are the last thing you would build in such a fine form, the figurative "brick shithouse" exceeds the expectations of formal beauty by as much as a brick shithouse would the expectations of shithouse construction.
So my Pa was right after all. God bless his soul.

Thanks, Sokal.

Higgins
04-12-2007, 05:13 PM
Just thinking about some of the comments regarding language/culture made me curious as to what different examples we could come up with regarding language-use changes.

My friends and I were discussing the words/concepts of breast/tits/boobs today at work.

The comment was made that earlier in our culture boob was an ignorant person or a person who had little to contribute. Also, in contemporary culture, it seems that saying boobs is more socially comfortable than saying breasts in casual public conversation when referring to a woman's anatomy.

Any other examples ya'll can think of?

I'm just guessing, but it seems like "boob" is a word that was appropriated by a process known as "taboo deformation"...Taboo deformation supposedly describes what happens to a word such as "breast" or Whatever the original germanic word was for "wolf"...and it describes the case where people alter the phonemes of word (as "God" into "Gosh" or "Jesus" into "Gee-whizz") to make it safe to say. This also falls into the cultural realm that covers "joking relationships" (eg. mothers-in-law in some societies) and "avoidance relationships" (as in how to be extremely polite if you are an Apache: you just never talk to your mother-in-law at all...of course traditionally one eventually accidently met her and then explained how you wanted to give her the extreme complement of avoiding her, but then life went on in a more normal way once that necessary accident happened)...so anyway "boob" was around as a word and "breast" was a word not to be used jokingly or in "avoidance" contexts and boob was already a joking term referring to dangerous technical objects such as "booby traps" and so "boob" ended up at the safe end of references to things associated with desirable female structures...unlike say "bombshell" and "Bikini"...which stayed "jokingly" ( or "avoidance-ily")
at the dangerous end.

But I'm just guessing...

robeiae
04-12-2007, 05:30 PM
Actually, being built like a brick shithouse, or a brick house, or a brick school house, or other variants, originally was used in reference to men who were "well put together" in a thick-necked, barrel chested sort of way.

When applied to women, it's kind of the same thing. See Commodores lyrics to Brick House, for instance. Also, it means "stacked." Ya know, like bricks are stacked...

The "shit" part is really inconsequential.

Higgins
04-12-2007, 08:24 PM
Actually, being built like a brick shithouse, or a brick house, or a brick school house, or other variants, originally was used in reference to men who were "well put together" in a thick-necked, barrel chested sort of way.

When applied to women, it's kind of the same thing. See Commodores lyrics to Brick House, for instance. Also, it means "stacked." Ya know, like bricks are stacked...

The "shit" part is really inconsequential.

Hmmmmm....I don't think that shit is inconsequential at all. The brick house lyrics are going way out of their way to be positive. "Brick" and "house" are very positive assessments. "Brick" by itself is positive in many ways (in opposition to "Gold Brick" for example, "brick" means "not fake or ornamental but really real") and they drop that shit...So what is the shit term doing in "Brick shithouse"? I've given the hyperbolic reading above in this thread, but it is possible the shit has another function: it might simulateously mark, acknowledge ("jokingly") and turn aside (apotraically, as with turning the evil eye) the dangers of desire.

This is the sort of analysis where plain old-fashioned structuralism can be a great help. In structural terms, we know from the work of anthropologists like Mary Douglas, that the opposite of Purity is not impurity, but Danger and similarly, the opposite of impurity is not Purity, but Safety. It is in working out these constructive/constituitive discontinuities that Structuralism has done its most distinctive work. In structuralist terms, the shit in "built like a brick shithouse" indicates the safety of a joking relationship as well as indicating the dangerous side of the gaze (slipping into Lacanian terms) as well as indicating that there is more than one continuum overwhich the terms of an acknowledged desire or gaze might run: it might run into jokes, it might run into sex, it might run into the ambiguities of avoidance, it might run into trouble, ie some shit, ie some danger.

So it seems quite possible that the shit in "built like a brick shithouse" has many structurally decypherable connotations.

robeiae
04-12-2007, 08:36 PM
You're over-thinking it, imo. Again, "built like a brick shithouse" was used in reference to men, initially. The "why" is quite simple: brick outhouses were essentially the smallest brick buildings around, and not much bigger than a person. The comparison is obvious.

Higgins
04-12-2007, 08:56 PM
You're over-thinking it, imo. Again, "built like a brick shithouse" was used in reference to men, initially. The "why" is quite simple: brick outhouses were essentially the smallest brick buildings around, and not much bigger than a person. The comparison is obvious.

Since it was originally applied to men and now has seemingly drifted over to apply to women (very obviously in an originally totally joking way)...well the similitude of the original comparison is gone and the term might work roughly as I have suggested, ie, as a hyperbolic figure with perhaps some apotraic properties.

kdnxdr
04-13-2007, 02:57 AM
well..........whatever it all boils down to, it's still vulgar!

pdr
04-13-2007, 04:42 AM
I can't see or derive anything positive in the expression 'brick shithouse'.

This is the sort of analysis where plain old-fashioned structuralism can be a great help. In structural terms, we know from the work of anthropologists like Mary Douglas, that the opposite of Purity is not impurity, but Danger and similarly, the opposite of impurity is not Purity, but Safety. It is in working out these constructive/constituitive discontinuities that Structuralism has done its most distinctive work. In structuralist terms, the shit in "built like a brick shithouse" indicates the safety of a joking relationship as well as indicating the dangerous side of the gaze (slipping into Lacanian terms) as well as indicating that there is more than one continuum overwhich the terms of an acknowledged desire or gaze might run: it might run into jokes, it might run into sex, it might run into the ambiguities of avoidance, it might run into trouble, ie some shit, ie some danger.

Thank you for this, Sokal. I think I'm with you here. When my brain has finally sorted it all out I think I might find it fun to hunt up Kiwi expressions and see if it applies.

Higgins
04-13-2007, 05:04 AM
well..........whatever it all boils down to, it's still vulgar!

A bit. But you might want to excuse it on the grounds that it may be in some way protective in that it does a little bit of turning the evil eye (apotraic shit) and a little bit of hyperbole ( over-built shit house, good bricks, manly Phallic? solidity in a womanly form) and a little bit of protective joking/avoidance politeness (more apotraic shit).

Higgins
04-13-2007, 05:15 AM
I can't see or derive anything positive in the expression 'brick shithouse'.

This is the sort of analysis where plain old-fashioned structuralism can be a great help. In structural terms, we know from the work of anthropologists like Mary Douglas, that the opposite of Purity is not impurity, but Danger and similarly, the opposite of impurity is not Purity, but Safety. It is in working out these constructive/constituitive discontinuities that Structuralism has done its most distinctive work. In structuralist terms, the shit in "built like a brick shithouse" indicates the safety of a joking relationship as well as indicating the dangerous side of the gaze (slipping into Lacanian terms) as well as indicating that there is more than one continuum overwhich the terms of an acknowledged desire or gaze might run: it might run into jokes, it might run into sex, it might run into the ambiguities of avoidance, it might run into trouble, ie some shit, ie some danger.

Thank you for this, Sokal. I think I'm with you here. When my brain has finally sorted it all out I think I might find it fun to hunt up Kiwi expressions and see if it applies.

I've cited Mary Douglas, but in some ways my points here are closer to the forthright structuralism of Edmund Leach. I met Edmund Leach in the early 1980s...a totally brilliant guy even if he did kind of look like a giant, skinny Frankensteinian Monster at the time. A good role model for the elderly, anyway...very active, if frightening.... Anyway, especially on the topic of discontinuities and taboos and so on, a quick peek at The Essential Edmund Leach, Volume 2 Culture and Human Nature, ed Stephen Hugh-Jones and James Laidlaw, 2000....is just the thing for differential taboo calculations esp page 157 which is in the middle of a structuralist discussion of Michaelangelo's Sistine Chapel frescos.

kdnxdr
04-13-2007, 05:28 AM
Sokal, without the education to know exactly what you're talking about but understanding essentially what you are saying, I would like to venture my own opinion of what is being said in the term "brick shit-house" when referencing a woman.

I'm assuming that the term "brick shithouse" was coined sometime before the advent of indoor plumbing. In most cases, I would also assume that most people who owned a "shithouse" had it constructed from wood, brick being more expensive and probably not readily available to the average person. I also suspect that if a person was able to afford brick, that person would first have a home constructed and then the "shithouse". In my mind, a "brick shithouse" would almost be a luxury if not frivilous, culturally speaking.

Also, often in my lifetime, I have heard of the toilet being referenced as a throne, particularly a man's throne, as in "he is on the throne".

Given these thoughts, plus the fact that a man would have been primarily responsible for the construction of a "shithouse", I think a "brick shithouse" would be a man's vanity. For all the outdoor toilets that I've used, and being a woman, I can't think of very many women that would ever think of a shithouse as a vanity. Given the construction of dresses previous to the 1900's, chamber pots worked much better.

With the cinching of waists and the delicacies of the victorian period, I would think a "thick" woman who was a bit more "rural"would be a type of woman who was considered built like a "brick shithouse". If that were true, the "shithouse" would be something that represented the unrestricted fornicating man who had no respect or value for a woman except that she was utilitarian and common.

Just my thoughts.

Higgins
04-13-2007, 06:17 AM
Sokal, without the education to know exactly what you're talking about but understanding essentially what you are saying, I would like to venture my own opinion of what is being said in the term "brick shit-house" when referencing a woman.

I'm assuming that the term "brick shithouse" was coined sometime before the advent of indoor plumbing. In most cases, I would also assume that most people who owned a "shithouse" had it constructed from wood, brick being more expensive and probably not readily available to the average person. I also suspect that if a person was able to afford brick, that person would first have a home constructed and then the "shithouse". In my mind, a "brick shithouse" would almost be a luxury if not frivilous, culturally speaking.

Also, often in my lifetime, I have heard of the toilet being referenced as a throne, particularly a man's throne, as in "he is on the throne".

Given these thoughts, plus the fact that a man would have been primarily responsible for the construction of a "shithouse", I think a "brick shithouse" would be a man's vanity. For all the outdoor toilets that I've used, and being a woman, I can't think of very many women that would ever think of a shithouse as a vanity. Given the construction of dresses previous to the 1900's, chamber pots worked much better.

With the cinching of waists and the delicacies of the victorian period, I would think a "thick" woman who was a bit more "rural"would be a type of woman who was considered built like a "brick shithouse". If that were true, the "shithouse" would be something that represented the unrestricted fornicating man who had no respect or value for a woman except that she was utilitarian and common.

Just my thoughts.

I think the figure of speech works in more or less a series of ways that are all opposite to what you have proposed. First, as Robbinae says, the term was first applied to men. In the case of men other brick something houses were referred to ...perhaps as Euphemisms. It is significant that in the US the shift to having "brick shithouse" apply in a complemetary way to women began in the 1930s as more people got indoor plumbing. A "brick shithouse" is not a man's vanity...it is his defensive hyperbole, built out of a lot of perhaps slightly nervous jokes: the transfer of the term from one sex to another, the implied excess of a very well-built shithouse, the acknowledgement of the perils of Purity and danger (shit and bricks).

pdr
04-13-2007, 08:31 AM
to that, Sokal, is 'Knickers! Brick shithouse is just a classic example of Male Chauvinism.'

But that's simply because I haven't looked at it carfeully yet. I think my reaction is because the expression was transferred from describing males to describing females, and there's been a long history of male compliments turned into MCP comments against females by transferring them from men to women.

Higgins
04-13-2007, 04:52 PM
to that, Sokal, is 'Knickers! Brick shithouse is just a classic example of Male Chauvinism.'

But that's simply because I haven't looked at it carfeully yet. I think my reaction is because the expression was transferred from describing males to describing females, and there's been a long history of male compliments turned into MCP comments against females by transferring them from men to women.

I'm sure it could be used as a bit of MCP-gery and perhaps that was the whole point originally. Moreover if it sounds like that to you then that is what it is to you. On the other hand while or phrase or a scene from a movie or a song might be seen by women as simple piggery, this doesn't mean that the piggery doesn't have some structure and a lot of what seems like pure piggery may infact be constructed more as defenses against the ambiguities of desire and the constructive transfer of nebulous desire into useful social currency at least at the level of having something "clever" to say other than the more natural response of an incoherent growl.

kdnxdr
04-14-2007, 04:40 AM
I've been thinking about the "joking" aspect of what you have been saying. It seems to me that often times, "joking" is used as a cover-up for insult and that if one is "just joking" is affords one a license to insult and get away with it.

pdr
04-14-2007, 05:51 AM
pure piggery may infact be constructed more as defenses against the ambiguities of desire and the constructive transfer of nebulous desire into useful social currency at least at the level of having something "clever" to say other than the more natural response of an incoherent growl.

Loved that, Sokal! But it does not and cannot excuse the verbalisation of it. If we are to be human and not animal then we have to exercise our choices and 'saying nowt' is a bloody good choice.

I have enjoyed thinking about analysing the expression, Sokal. But I think you can analyse and be serious about some things which are outright unacceptable.

I have enjoyed trying to follow through the whys and wherefores but I feel it's a bit of a whitewash to this to things best left unsaid.

What about kdnxdr's (may I abbreviate that to kdn in future?) comments re jokes?

Higgins
04-14-2007, 06:56 AM
I've been thinking about the "joking" aspect of what you have been saying. It seems to me that often times, "joking" is used as a cover-up for insult and that if one is "just joking" is affords one a license to insult and get away with it.


pure piggery may infact be constructed more as defenses against the ambiguities of desire and the constructive transfer of nebulous desire into useful social currency at least at the level of having something "clever" to say other than the more natural response of an incoherent growl.

Loved that, Sokal! But it does not and cannot excuse the verbalisation of it. If we are to be human and not animal then we have to exercise our choices and 'saying nowt' is a bloody good choice.

I have enjoyed thinking about analysing the expression, Sokal. But I think you can analyse and be serious about some things which are outright unacceptable.

I have enjoyed trying to follow through the whys and wherefores but I feel it's a bit of a whitewash to this to things best left unsaid.

What about kdnxdr's (may I abbreviate that to kdn in future?) comments re jokes?

I tend to slip pretty quickly into ethnological jargon. "Jokes" and "Joking" in ethnology are assumed to be defensive or displacement behaviors...rather like myths about the origin of dead in their own small way...ie attempts to use symbols to patch up problematic areas of the symbolic cosmos. "Brick shithouse" is an absolutely perfect case of this. I'm not saying it is a nice thing to say, I'm just saying it is a perfect case for understanding how a single joke or myth or figure of speech can pull together many elements of the social, linguistic, cultural and sexual worlds.
To give a less good example, if I say that a representation shows a Mayan Lord in the process of ritually cutting holes in his penis with sting ray spines to assist in his hallucinagenic-assisted communication with with his ancestors-as-celestial beings...I'm not suggesting that that is a good thing to do or even that there are celestial ancestor spirits...I'm just offering a description...and if I went further into it, perhaps an analysis or an explanation of the symbols involved. It's the same with "brick shithouse" except that "brick shithouse" is a more elegant example of "cosmic" symbols or implied continua/discontinua at work in constructing the meanings of everyday life.

kdnxdr
04-14-2007, 07:28 AM
If I were a woman who was the recipient of such a "compliment" or overheard myself being referenced as a "brick shithouse", I would be shamefully embarrassed and would feel that whomever referenced me as such was a barbarian and someone to be avoided.

I'm curious as to when this term actually came into use. I'm also curious as to what part of the social strata utilized brick shithouses. My guess would be that the term came into use in the mid to late 1800's and they actually held a small time period. Latrines were probably quite common for public and private use as well as various types of pots and pans for indoor use. For enclosed facilities prior to indoor plumbing, I believe the common models were typically wood.

Higgins
04-14-2007, 07:47 AM
If I were a woman who was the recipient of such a "compliment" or overheard myself being referenced as a "brick shithouse", I would be shamefully embarrassed and would feel that whomever referenced me as such was a barbarian and someone to be avoided.

I'm curious as to when this term actually came into use. I'm also curious as to what part of the social strata utilized brick shithouses. My guess would be that the term came into use in the mid to late 1800's and they actually held a small time period. Latrines were probably quite common for public and private use as well as various types of pots and pans for indoor use. For enclosed facilities prior to indoor plumbing, I believe the common models were typically wood.

Exactly. Two facts tell us that when a brick shithouse is a hyperbole for a woman's beauty it is a mythical or cosmological shithouse rather than any literal shithouse:

1) the more there are real shithouses the more the term is referred to men (ie earlier)
2) brick is a very rare material for building shithouses.

So the term shifted in many ways at once: from one sex to another, from massiveness to desirability, from almost plausible shithouse to rare and strange shithouse, from realistic defecatory option to mythological defecactory option, from simile to hyperbole, from simple description to apotraic excess.

pdr
04-15-2007, 04:11 AM
Two facts tell us that when a brick shithouse is a hyperbole for a woman's beauty it is a mythical or cosmological shithouse rather than any literal shithouse:

the male equivalent is not exactly a compliment is it? So how is it now a female compliment?

I have frequently felt, when trying to discuss things like this with philosophers or linguists, that it's like going to a modern doctor. They are fascinated by what happens but don't tell you how to prevent it.

I'm sure analysing expressions by following the fascinating trails they take is fun, but it ignores the fact that those expressions or the word use or the idea verbalised is not sound in the first place.

Wouldn't it be more valuable to work out why people will say or do such things? Why they choose to be MCP or bigoted? It's no good shrugging and saying it's human nature. That does not help the problem. What the human race needs, although it's too darn late to save us, is the knowledge of why people say/do these things and how they can stop themselves.

kdnxdr
04-15-2007, 05:43 AM
In my opinion, when a word or phrase is used in a defaming or derrogatory way and then "neutralized" by labeling the expression as "joking", the affect is really something that is more accurately given a value by the recipientwho is the target/object of such expression.

So, the value is really dependent on whose value one would want to accept. It all goes back to perspective and injury.

Many words/expressions operate on simultaneous levels and even with conflicting results. I don't believe that any word or phrase is ever truely absolute in the pure sense. Words/phrases are reflective of human experience and through increasingly common usage, they morph. IF being called "built like a brick shithouse" was ever considered a compliment, it was not by a woman. And, if it was, I would question her motives.

I think this particular expression was something that men said to men to convey specific information regarding their attitude towards a woman/women. I don't have anything to back that statement, it's just my own opinion.

Are there any other words that we could "play with" to see how they changed?

I've always been curious as to why homosexual people "stole" the word gay. From what I understand, the word went from frivilous and care free to a derrogatory branding to iconic crusade word.

Higgins
04-15-2007, 05:50 PM
Are there any other words that we could "play with" to see how they changed?


How about Shark? Which is just the Yucatec Maya word for fish, which for some reason in English is just sharks.

Apparently the original English general term for sharks was "dogfish" but now for dogfish you have to say "dogfish shark" because "shark" has become the general term for sharks and dogfish is now applied to a set of particular shark. So there are still traces of the term "dogfish" as "sharks in general"....


http://www.dnr.state.md.us/fisheries/education/spinydogfish/spinydogfishshark.html

Higgins
04-15-2007, 05:59 PM
Two facts tell us that when a brick shithouse is a hyperbole for a woman's beauty it is a mythical or cosmological shithouse rather than any literal shithouse:

the male equivalent is not exactly a compliment is it? So how is it now a female compliment?



It's an ambiguous complement that acknowledges its own ambiguity. As far as I know you would not give such descriptions directly to the person being described.

As for how to stop people from acknowledging the ambiguities of talking about desire...I think it is just as well to change social structures and technology and let language catch up if it can. When people can live for 30,000 years and change cloned bodies at will (like clothes...this week I'm a Dolphin or a Shark or a pterodacyl), I'm sure they will have better ways of addressing their desires to their social set.

kdnxdr
04-16-2007, 02:08 AM
Shark is a good one.

The word has also been used to reference an exceedingly cunning person who usually takes advantage of a more naive person.

Also, I believe, it has been used to describe someone who is very astute on a particular subject and someone very predatory regarding business. I believe it has most been used to reference male behavior.

Medievalist
04-16-2007, 02:30 AM
Boob as slang for breast is old; it's derived from the very old Middle English and Elizabethan word for breasts, bubbies. Boob/boobies is a dialect/orthographic variation.

The AHD shark (http://www.bartleby.com/61/2/S0320200.html) entry might be interesting.

kdnxdr
04-16-2007, 03:07 AM
Thanks for the interesting info, Medievalist.

Somewhere I heard or read that the pre-"christmas" tree used by the Babylonians (?) was decorated with gold and silver ornaments that represented/looked like male and female sex organs that were put on Asheterah (?) poles. I'm curious if that is true, what those words would have been and if one of them morphed into the word boob. Particularly I am wondering if there is a connection to the word bauble or bobble.

pdr
04-17-2007, 07:37 AM
As for how to stop people from acknowledging the ambiguities of talking about desire...I think it is just as well to change social structures and technology and let language catch up if it can. When people can live for 30,000 years and change cloned bodies at will (like clothes...this week I'm a Dolphin or a Shark or a pterodactyl), I'm sure they will have better ways of addressing their desires to their social set.

I think you must be an optimist, Sokal. The human race hasn't got another few thousand years, nor a few hundred years.

If we can spend billions to put someone on the moon, yet let our neighbours starve.
If we can put billions into studying how to live on other planets because we've ruined our own, yet continue to knowingly harm our planet.
If we can spend billions on weapons, armies and defence systems, yet not on education (to educate people about tolerance, about enjoying and valuing differences,) nor on teaching people to face their fear of the different be it religion, colour, or culture.

If we can spend all that money on those things surely we can spend some on working out why people are afraid of each other? And some money on how to help people overcome their fears and prejudices?

Higgins
04-17-2007, 04:21 PM
As for how to stop people from acknowledging the ambiguities of talking about desire...I think it is just as well to change social structures and technology and let language catch up if it can. When people can live for 30,000 years and change cloned bodies at will (like clothes...this week I'm a Dolphin or a Shark or a pterodactyl), I'm sure they will have better ways of addressing their desires to their social set.

I think you must be an optimist, Sokal. The human race hasn't got another few thousand years, nor a few hundred years.

If we can spend billions to put someone on the moon, yet let our neighbours starve.
If we can put billions into studying how to live on other planets because we've ruined our own, yet continue to knowingly harm our planet.
If we can spend billions on weapons, armies and defence systems, yet not on education (to educate people about tolerance, about enjoying and valuing differences,) nor on teaching people to face their fear of the different be it religion, colour, or culture.

If we can spend all that money on those things surely we can spend some on working out why people are afraid of each other? And some money on how to help people overcome their fears and prejudices?

Human society and culture has always been a pretty mixed bag. Basically things don't change politically until some random series of horrifying catastrophes have somehow made a difference in the symbolic protocols (sometimes curiously referred to as "rational decision-making") people use in deciding what to do. Look at Global warming. A totally obvious phenomenon (described scientifically by a few thousand people out of Billions), the reality of which has been a) denied b) accepted but ascribed to spurious pseudo-entities called "natural cycles" (or fate?)
c) laughed off with references to how "Al Gore should go back to inventing the internet" (which is what? substituting stupid old slander for reasoning?)....and that is only the most obvious case. It will take a major change in how people view their relation to power (ie going from a basically a 5,000-old view of the state as sacred power enacting the will of God) to change how people relate to their own stupidity (ie from the position that a good person allows themselves to be possessed by the same spirit of stupidity that allows God and the State to inflict slaughter on those who do not have the same spirit of stupidity in their hearts). I imagine it will take about another 5,000 years to escape from the realm of the state as sacred power. The amount of slaughter and catastrophe that this is likely to entail can be roughly gauged by looking at the world since 1914. I suppose I am optimistic in that I think the survivors of the next 5,000 years will be able to look at obvious phenomena and not devote themselves to grooming the proper spirits of stupidity in their hearts. But that's just my optimistic guess.

ColoradoGuy
04-17-2007, 08:02 PM
I'm an optimist. I think it's because I just often enough see someone who gave every indication of being a hopeless idiot rise to the occasion and act magnificently. I suppose that could be just the universe toying with me, but I'm still an optimist.

Paul S Cilwa
04-18-2007, 11:24 PM
I've always been curious as to why homosexual people "stole" the word gay. From what I understand, the word went from frivilous and care free to a derrogatory branding to iconic crusade word.
We didn't "steal" the word.

The English word "gay" derives via the Old French gai. The word originally meant "carefree", "happy", or "bright and showy". (Wikipedia) But by the late 17th century it had picked up (hetero) sexual connotations, meaning "uninhibited by moral constraints". Obviously, many people continued to use the older meaning and if a child asked "What do you mean Aunt Margaret is gay?" that's the meaning they'd have been given. (No wonder Aunt Margaret had so many parties!)

By the 1880s, the word was used to describe prositution and adultery, as in "gay life".

In the mid-to-late 1900s, as prostitution and adultery became more accepted (The Happy Hooker was a best-seller), the word continued to slide to the less-approved-of fringes of acknowledged sexual behavior, which included homosexuality. Note that it was still being used disapprovingly--or, some might say, enviously. (Thus the use of a word that still meant "shiny and happy" to describe those who ascribe to a forbidden practice.)

The first known published use of "gay" to refer to homosexuals is probably in Gertrude Stein's book Miss Furr & Miss Skeene (1922) where we find the line,



They were...gay, they learned little things that are things in being gay, ... they were quite regularly gay.


By mid-century "gay" was accepted as (also) meaning "homosexual", used (as "homosexual" is) as an adjective. I've only heard it used as a noun by non-gay people who are trying to be hip and tolerant though unable to quite suppress their distaste. My mother, for example, used it as if it were a name ("The Gays down the street are having a barbecue"). It's not really proper to say, "Fred is a gay." ("Fred is gay" is acceptible. Assuming he, in fact, is.)

As a gay man, I prefer the word to "homosexual" simply because the former sounds less clinical. (Indeed, "homosexual" was coined by a doctor to describe what he thought was a psychopathology, something that took until 1973 for the American Psychiatric Association to disavow.) And, frankly, I like the subtext of "shiny and happy"; when I'm feeling down, I can always remind myself that I'm gay!

Medievalist
04-18-2007, 11:35 PM
I've always been curious as to why homosexual people "stole" the word gay. From what I understand, the word went from frivilous and care free to a derrogatory branding to iconic crusade word.

I missed this bit entirely.

But no, that is not the case at all. When a French medieval poet uses the word "gai comme un bonnet de nuit" to refer to another male, he is using gai in much the same way.

Moreover, no one writing in English has any business at all to even refer to language change and acquisition as theft; as a language English is all about theft; it's what she does, the lovely licentious greedy darling.

If you actually look at the word gai in context in medieval French poetry, there's a homosexual subtext.

In the OED, we see the following:


2. a. Addicted to social pleasures and dissipations. Often euphemistically: Of loose or immoral life. Esp. in gay dog, a man given to revelling or self-indulgence; gay Lothario: see LOTHARIO.
1637 SHIRLEY Lady of Pleasure v. K1b, Lord. You'le not be angry, Madam. Cel. Nor rude, though gay men have a priviledge. 1700 T. BROWN tr. Fresny's Amusem. Ser. & Com. 130 Every Dunce of a Quack, is call'd a Physician..Every Gay thing, a Chevalier. 1703 ROWE Fair Penit. V. i, Is this that Haughty, Gallant, Gay Lothario? 1754 Adventurer No. 124 {page}7 The old gentleman, whose character I cannot better express than in the fashionable phrase which has been contrived to palliate false principles and dissolute manners, had been a gay man, and was well acquainted with the town. 1791 BURKE Let. to Member Nat. Assembly Wks. VI. 36 The brilliant part of men of wit and pleasure, or gay, young, military sparks. 1798 FERRIAR Illustr. Sterne ii. 40 The dissolute conduct of the gay circles in France is not of modern date. 1847 H. ROGERS Ess. I. v. 214 For some years he lived a cheerful, and even gay, though never a dissipated life, in Paris. 1849 MACAULAY Hist. Eng. vi. II. 103 The place was merely a gay suburb of the capital. 1851 MAYHEW Lond. Labour I. 382 The principal of the firm was what is termed ‘gay’. He was particularly fond of attending public entertainments. He sported a little as well, and delighted in horse-racing. 1891 E. PEACOCK N. Brendon I. 302 This elder Narcissa had led a gay and wild life while beauty lasted. 1897 J. HUTCHINSON Archives Surg. VIII. 224 My patient was a married man, who admitted having been very gay in early life. 1900 G. SWIFT Somerley 54 Oh! that first kiss! how proud of it we are, what gay dogs we feel! 1910 S. KAYE-SMITH Spell Land xix. 221 He felt rather a gay dog.

Again, if you go look at the references in context, there are often subtexts that suggest an explicitly homosexual context--particularly true in the Restoration and Eighteenth century, where gay is applied to male libertines.

By 2c we have gay applied to a specifically homosexual context:


2c. Of a person: homosexual. Of a place: frequented by homosexuals. slang.
1935 N. ERSINE Underworld & Prison Slang 39 Geycat,..a homosexual boy. 1951 E. LAMBERT Sleeping-House Party vii. 74 In a way it was an odd threesome. It occurred to me that Esther rather hung round our two gay boys. 1955 P. WILDEBLOOD Against Law I. 23 Most of the officers at the station had been ‘gay’..an American euphemism for homosexual. Ibid. III. 105 The place [sc. a prison] is packed with gay people who are in for something else. 1960 [see BENT ppl. a. 5c]. 1963 A. HERON Towards Quaker View of Sex iii. 24 These may form the ‘queer’ society; these will frequent ‘gay’ bars.

And yeah, Stein is the earliest I've seen the word used in such a clear context--so far.

Medievalist
04-19-2007, 11:46 AM
Thanks for the interesting info, Medievalist.

Somewhere I heard or read that the pre-"christmas" tree used by the Babylonians (?) was decorated with gold and silver ornaments that represented/looked like male and female sex organs that were put on Asheterah (?) poles. I'm curious if that is true, what those words would have been and if one of them morphed into the word boob. Particularly I am wondering if there is a connection to the word bauble or bobble.

Err, no, on the Babylonian connection; but yeah, there's a connection in *Indo-European between "round thing" words and sex organs. Cal Watkins delivered a very funny, and very bawdy, paper on that, a few years ago, and I expect we'll see something definitive in the fifth edition of the AHD.

pdr
04-20-2007, 04:52 AM
a lot more people used gay regularly in their voc to mean happy and cheerful. There was an outcry when it was taken and used only in the homosexual context.