or, stuff that I dragged out of my head

Location: Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada

Monday, February 28, 2011

Straight and Narrow

I actually wrote the first four paragraphs of this back in January--it's dated the second--but somehow it got saved as a draft and never uploaded. What was I thinking? It's still pretty interesting, even a couple of months later.


From a Slate.com article arguing that Champagne should be an all-around beverage and not just restricted to celebrations:

But here's where Champagne's powerful identity becomes its straightjacket.

So did this thing happen when I wasn't looking? Did "straightjacket" become an actual acceptable word that writers would use without being ashamed of themselves? (I notice with some disgust that my spellchecker doesn't even flag it, which I would consider part of the problem if I weren't already sure that Slate writers don't use spellcheckers and so it wouldn't have made any difference anyway.)

"Straightjacket" is wrong. It's not right. It doesn't mean anything. The word is and always was "straitjacket", the first half of which is "strait", an adjective meaning "narrow: close", because a straitjacket is close-fitting and deliberately restrictive, meant to keep its wearer from hurting himself or others.

"Strait" is from Latin "stringere", "to bind": "restrict" is related, believe it or not. "Straight", on the other hand, is related to "stretch", and isn't from Latin at all, but is a relative of a bunch of Germanic words that also have that meaning. (They both stem from Old English "streccan".) They may sound the same, and they may have vaguely related meanings, but they are not the same.


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