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Archive for the ‘Language’ Category

Adventures in Euphemisms: "Bath Tissue"

In Consumerism, Language on June 21, 2011 at 6:10 pm
Earlier today I was at Fred Meyer and looked up. I saw this: 

I’d seen this before but never really thought about it. Fred Meyer, it seems, is politely refraining from using the dread phrase “toilet paper.” Their in-house brand does the same:
Okay, technically it says “bathroom tissue,” but it’s basically the same thing. I got to wondering if any of the brands of toilet paper in my immediate vicinity actually proclaimed what they were- paper that you use after going to the toilet. I looked about and did not see a single one. Not one brand of toilet paper actually used the words “toilet paper” on their packaging. Instead, there were lots of pictures of cute puppies:
Or cartoon bears:
Or babies:
The entreaties to softness, light, and general distance from things excremental even extends to invocations of the celestial on packaging. Juxtaposed, of course, with a baby:
I looked around for some kind of generic or earth-friendly brand that maybe dared to call itself by its true name, but found not a one. The only copy I saw was that recalling softness and, sometimes, absorbency. I wasn’t put out by this because I think that “toilet paper” is the most fantastically well put together diptych of words in the English language- I simply appreciate honesty. No one says “I’m going to pick up some bath tissue,” or “Hey, sweetie, pick up some bath tissue on your way home,” or “Crap, guys! We’re out of bath tissue.” No human talks like that. We all call it toilet paper, but the aisles and packaging assume that the general population are too demure to be assaulted with such vulgar words.
In The Unbearable Lightness of Being Milan Kundera said that kitsch is the denial of shit. He meant that literally. Denying that certain gross biological things happen to us is a form of intellectual laziness and naivete. I’m inclined to agree with him, and it seems that the most shit-denying place on earth, the kitschiest piece of real estate in existence, is the toilet paper aisle.


In Language, Social Conventions on July 31, 2009 at 7:48 am

My students have a new favorite word: Awesome. I didn’t teach it to them, and I don’t know how they learned it, but almost every time they utter it, it’s with a sort of exuberance and emphasis. They are not saying “awesome,” they are saying “Awesome!” you can hear it, the capital letter and the exclamation mark, and I’m pleased with their use of American slang.

I’ve noticed that the word “awesome” (or rather, “Awesome!”) has come into a particular kind of popularity. I hear it all the time, appended to all manner of things, and I like how it’s being used. Granted, I do like the old meaning, as in something that fills you with awe. (As in, “The awesome power of the atomic bomb utterly leveled Bikini Atoll.”) But, as a word, it seems to be succeeding because it fills a niche, specifically in that it describes good, admirable and laudable things that are worthy of note, but not exactly “cool.” There is a certain amount of overlap, and I do use the words interchangeably, but I do think that there is a subtle difference in connotation between “Awesome” and “Cool.”

Awesome is different from Cool. Related, maybe, but different. Cool listens to Jazz and dresses impeccably, even when wearing jeans. Cool can mix the best martini you ever had. Cool is James Bond and James Dean at the same time, and hangs out at the Playboy Mansion. Cool can dance. It can tango, breakdance, and salsa. Everyone would get in bed with Cool in a heartbeat. Then Cool won’t call you, but it was all worth it. Cool can treat you like shit, and you’ll still come crawling back. You’ll crawl back on your knees for cool.

Jimi Hendrix was Cool. Frank Sinatra and Mick Jagger were Cool. Marilyn Monroe and Billie Holiday were Cool, and in their day Prince and Madonna were Cool. Bruce Springsteen remains Cool, as does Tom Waits, in a certain way. Beautiful people are Cool. Beautiful, sexy and aloof is Cool.

Awesome, though, is a very different animal. Awesome, for one thing, is much smarter than Cool, and much more exuberant. Awesome does weird shit, like making homemade flamethrowers. Awesome can’t dance, but dances anyway, and pulls it off. Awesome plays obscure musical instruments, speaks weird languages, wins at Trivial Pursuit, and dresses up splendidly and hilariously for Rocky Horror. Awesome sings the fuck out of karaoke and wins spelling bees. Awesome knows all about irony, and makes use of it on occasion, and can juggle and hang glide.

Batman is awesome. The Talking Heads and Devo were Awesome, as was Hunter S. Thompson. XKCD and Simon Pegg are awesome, and so were Richard Fenyman and Einstein. Geeks, nerds and science fiction are Awesome, and so was Lester Bangs. The best concerts I’ve ever been to were the Awesome ones. I saw Van Halen in high school, and they tried to be Cool. It was… okay. I saw Amanda Palmer in a park, and she was Awesome. More worth my time, definitely.

Being cool is exhausting. Trying to be stylish, sexy, or have that ineffable “it” just seems like a lot of work. I like cool, yes, wish I was cool, sometimes, and want to sleep with cool almost always. But I’m not cool. Neither are you. You’re not cool. Admit it.

Awesomeness, however, is more attainable, and more human. “Awesome” means dynamism, varied and myriad spontaneous bursts of life, creativity and joy. It’s not an aloof or uncaring sort of mindset, not something that beguiles your allures you with an almost unnoticable come-hither. (But, like I said, that shit’s not worth it.) Instead it is shiny and involed ans says to you “get the fuck over here!” Awesome is loud, brazen, egalitarian, pluralistic and ebullent. It lets loose its barbaric yawp at the world, flings open its arms and loves the world, rather than sulking in cool, icy aloofness.

I want to pursue Awesomeness, and leave Cool by the wayside. I’ll leave it for the insecure and grossly supertalented to make tries at Cool. Have fun with it, guys. In the meantime, I’ll be enoying myself, not giving a shit. I’d rather be Awesome.

(Of course, who knows- maybe in fifteen years “awesome” will sound like “groovy.”)