or, stuff that I dragged out of my head

Location: Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada

Sunday, June 10, 2007


I'm not a prankster or a practical joker; it's not really something that would normally occur to me, and I'm not very good at it, anyway. Occasionally if someone is careless enough to leave their keys lying around, I'll palm them and tuck them into a drawer, but the second they ask me if I've seen their keys, I crack, because I am pretty much the most hopeless liar in recorded history.

I like the idea of pranks, though, the theory of them, and I like reading about them, which is why this book has been a touchstone for the last--oh, my god, can I really have bought it twenty years ago? I just discovered that it was published in May of 1987!

Well, however old it is, it's worth buying, trust me. It was change your world, even if you don't emulate the pranksters within. It will show you just how easy it is to manipulate other people's reality.

There's a website called The Art of the Prank which is something similar, only online. Here's a sentence from a recent posting:

Last month, a friend telephoned and urged me to travel to Bard College to see “Wrestle,” the inaugural exhibition mounted to celebrate the opening of “CCS Bard Hessel Museum,” a 17,000-square-foot addition to the college art museum. It sounded, my friend said, spectacularly awful. She’d just had a call from her husband, a Bard alum, who had zipped through the exhibition while doing some work at the college. Huge images of body parts—yes, those body parts—floating on the walls of a darkened room, minatory videos of men doing things—yes, those things—to each other, or to themselves, all of it presented in the most pretentious fashion possible. It really was something … special.

When I read this, I thought, "'Minatory'? Really? Is that what they intended?"

I suppose it could be. It seems like kind of an odd word in that context, though.

"Minatory" means "threatening". It's not the first word that comes to mind when talking about pornographic videos, even if those videos involve bondage and suchlike (which, apparently, they do). But if the author finds such things threatening, then that's their say-so.

"Minatory" comes from Latin "minari", "to threaten". It sounds as if it should be related to "diminish" or "minimal" or another word from that fairly large family, but it isn't: those words come from Latin "minor", which means, reasonably enough, "small".

The offspring of "minari" are plentiful. Its source is the Indo-European root "men-", "to project", which led to such words as "menace" (such as a sword sticking out at you), "eminent" and "prominent" (words referring to someone who stands out from the crowd), "imminent" (projected to happen), and even "mountain" (which sticks up from the landscape). From the latter we even get the verb "mount" and the noun "amount", something which piles up.

So if those videos are minatory...is the writer making some sort of really abstruse triple pun on the word "project", with the videos projected on the walls and the presumed sticking-out erections and the threatening nature of the bondage displayed in the video? Because if they are, that's fairly sophisticated, even if it would take an etymologist to untangle it.


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