or, stuff that I dragged out of my head

Location: Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada

Saturday, April 28, 2007

On Your Feet

We went to the opera again today! It was Puccini's "Il Trittico", which means "triptych", as it consists of three short operas: a potboiler, a tragedy, and a comedy. I had a great time. Jim kind of fell asleep for the potboiler, but he enjoyed the other two operas.

The dugong sitting next to me was wearing Crocs. Fuck, those things are ugly. And they're everywhere. I know people who wear them, and every one says the same thing: sure, they're ugly, but they're comfortable. Yeah, but so what? Bathrobes are comfy, but if you wear one of those to the movies, people think you're crazy.

Comfort is overrated. I don't care how comfortable Crocs are: they're the ugliest footwear that has ever existed--and I'm old enough to remember Earth Shoes, which were hideous but which compared to Crocs are Jimmy Choos. So many people in this town wear them, too: they even wear them in winter, and we get bad, sloppy, freezy winters. Men wear them, as if the popular socks-with-sandals look weren't degrading enough. There is something very wrong with the world if something so hideous can become so popular.

As I was pondering the dugong's wretched footwear--they were powder blue, as if to flaunt the fact that they were as far from being a natural product as it was humanly possible to manufacture--I naturally began to wonder about the word "crocodile". I instantly speculated that it had to be Greek in origin: those "k-" sounds just had Greek written all over them. The original word, I decided, was probably "krokodilios" or something along those lines.

I love being right. The source is actually Greek "krokodilos", but you can't be a hundred per cent right a hundred per cent of the time; it looks bad, like you're hiding insecurities or a drinking problem.

"Krokodilos", you will be thrilled to learn, is a compound of two words: "kroke", "pebble" (from the pebbly texture of their skin) and "drilos", which means variously "worm" or (get this!) "circumcised man"!

Clearly it should have been "krokodrile", and we ought to have ended up with "crocodrile". Where did the "-r-" disappear to? Well, that's a story in itself: it appeared and vanished a couple of times over the centuries.

The Greeks themselves chucked it when the word became "krokodilos". When Latin borrowed it, it took the older version as "crocodrillus", converting each "k" to a "c", as was their way. But "crocodrillus" contained one "-r-" too many for the Latin mouth, evidently, because it was eventually altered to "cocodrillus" (matching the existing Greek variant), which is how it entered Middle English as "cocodril". In the 16th and 17th centuries, the corrected form, modeled after the original Latin and Greek, was installed in English. (French and German reformed it, too, to respectively "crocodile" and "Krokodil". Not Italian or Spanish, though: they've still got "coccodrillo" and "cocodrilo".)


Blogger Frank said...

In this context, what does "potboiler" mean?

Sunday, April 29, 2007 12:59:00 AM  
Blogger pyramus said...

A potboiler is a work of art (usually fiction) cranked out for profit with no thought of literary merit. The word is more or less synonymous with sensationalist trash.

The potboiler in "Il Trittico" is a story called "Il Tabarro", "The Cloak" in English. It's a sordid little tale of a couple who live on a barge on the Seine. She has a lover, one of the stevedores who works for her husband. She plans an assignation with her lover; their signal is that she'll light a match when her husband is safely asleep and her lover will come running so they can do whatever it is that barge-dwellers and stevedores do with one another.

Not much of a signal. While she's inside, he can't sleep so he goes outside to smoke his pipe, the match brings the lover at a healthy clip, and there are words. (They're sung.) The husband strangles the lover and hides the body under his cloak. When the wife comes outside, her husband flings aside the cloak, revealing the corpse, to the wife's shock, horror, and consternation.

See? Potboiler!

Sunday, April 29, 2007 6:00:00 AM  

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