or, stuff that I dragged out of my head

Location: Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada

Thursday, March 26, 2009


Over on my other blog I wrote a piece about human body odour--no, seriously, read it, it's very interesting, lots of links and provocation--and I mentioned a book called The Smell Culture Reader, which you can poke around inside thanks to Google Books. I was just skimming a piece called "Queer Smells: Fragrances of Late Capitalism or Scents of Subversion?", which promised to be madly post-modern and pretentious but possibly also interesting. And on the second page of the piece is the following sentence:

When, for example, the perfume industry, which has been built on pedaling essences of heterosexual man and heterosexual woman for centuries, appears, at least party, to have abandoned its heteronormative bias in ways that appear to be queer, just how radical are queer theories themselves?

As usual, my eye unerringly found the mistake, because for better or worse, that is what my brain does. What's baffling to me is that the mistake is a correctly spelled word, but used in the wrong context, and yet I found the mistake anyway without trying, without even really reading the text. This is a mystery.

But enough about me. The mistake. "Pedal" as a verb means "to operate with the foot": you pedal a bike. It's also an adjective meaning "of the foot", and a noun meaning "a part of a machine which is operated with the foot". All three words are foot-centred, which is only natural, as they come from Latin "pes", "foot", of which the genitive is "pedis".

"Peddle", on the other hand, is a back-formation from "peddler" or earlier "pedlar", the provenance of which is a complete mystery. It is not, however, related in any way to "pes". It means "to sell". That's the word that was intended in the article. That's the word that should have been inserted by the copy-editor. That's the word that casts doubt on the entire book, because if there was nobody around to catch the mistake, who knows what other errors might have slipped in?


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