or, stuff that I dragged out of my head

Location: Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada

Tuesday, November 04, 2008


An anonymous writer anonymously writes:

John McWhorter's "Our Magnificent Bastard Tongue" was released here recently- don't suppose you've read it yet?

No, I didn't even know McWhorter has a new book out, and dammit, I just placed an order with Amazon yesterday.

However, checking with Amazon.ca, I find that either the book hasn't yet been released in Canada, or they don't have it yet, but will, which is fine; I'll order it along with that sentence-diagramming book I was going to get but didn't because it would have taken one to three weeks to ship and I needed my shipment by the end of the week because it's Jim's birthday and I ordered a movie for him (alongside three books for myself).


I suppose it's an inevitable part of the evolution of English, but I hate it when adjectives get devalued for commercial purposes. "Designer" used to mean something when used for apparel, until in the seventies, the advent of "designer jeans" mostly meant "some famous-ish person has put her name on the ass and you'll pay four times as much." A little while ago I saw on a box of cereal an enticement for kiddies: "Free watch! Four designer styles!" They were cheap plastic watches that came in a box of cereal: what designer had anything to do with them, except for an industrial designer?

"Gourmet" is equally contaminated. If it's a frozen pizza, then I don't care how many luscious words you pile on the description of it, it's not fit for a gourmet.

And now, something that even puts those in the shade, for sheer pretentiousness if not ubiquity.

The company for which I work often has promotions designed to get us framers to work harder and sell more. I once won $50 (taxable to $38.34)! Recently they came out with a line of enormous frames (some of them are in excess of four inches wide) which are really intended for those huge American houses with twenty-foot ceilings and twelve hundred plus feet of wall space per room; the chances that I will be able to sell even one are quite small, but I'm being enticed to do so with a contest: be the first in my district to sell three of each of the six styles, and I'll win a thousand bucks. If I sell one of each of the six styles, I'll receive, in the words of the promotional material, a "beautiful cloisonné pin" to demonstrate to the world that I can sell six frames.

Thing is, the pin, beautiful or not, isn't fucking cloisonné. It appears to be plastic fused to a gold-toned pin back. "Cloisonné" has a meaning, and "plastic" isn't part of that. They didn't even attempt to simulate cloisonné.

The real article, which is expensive to produce, consists of a pattern made of tiny gold wires fused to a gold background, filled with enamel paste, and then fired. The little individual cells formed by the wires are the heart and soul of cloisonné; the word itself is French for "cloistered" (the first halves of the words are the same) or "partitioned". If you're going to fake the product, then you mould a backing with the partitions already in place, and then you fill the design with enamel or, more cheaply, plastic resin. If you just make a pin with a plastic design on it, with no partitions, then I don't know what you'd call it, but you haven't earned the right to call it cloisonné. Bastards.


"Cloisonné" and "cloister" look the same because, predictably, they are from the same source: both French, and both from Latin "claudere", "to close". Other "claudere" words in English include "clause", because it's grammatically complete and therefore closed, and "close" itself, as well as the "-clude" verbs such as "exclude" ("shut out"), "conclude" ("close completely"), and "preclude" ("close prior to"). "Claudere" in turn stems from Indo-European "kleu-", which originally meant "a hook or peg", presumably a peg used to close a gate or other door.


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