A nose by any other name would smell…
I was off ‘birdin’ today. Muttonbird chicks, the burrow-dwelling young of the short-tailed shearwater, have been a mainstay of the Islander’s diet since the first sealer settlers. It is a very fatty meal, which tastes something like a mixture between sardines and chicken. They’re quite… fragrant, especially when cooked. You can fit in around here without catching them or eating them. You can fit in, in a bar drinking diet soda. It’s possible.
I like eating them, and like being accepted into a very ancient hunter-gatherer tradition, which suitably horrifies urban folk who buy battery-raised chickens without a thought. Relatively few people get bitten by the deadly snakes that also live on them, and can be found in the holes you have to stick your hands into.
But one thing they ain’t is ‘mutton’. Silverfish, starfish, jellyfish, shellfish, cuttlefish aren’t much in the fish line either.
Words… borrowed to describe things they’re not.
I was amused to discover the other day that ‘Woke’ (as in ‘get woke, go broke’ rather than ‘she woke with a bad start. If only she’d been sober the night before it might have been a better start.’) had begun its existence as a term denoting superiority and achievement (at least in the minds of those who felt they had got there). It’s already a long way down the slippery slope of being a term of absolute derision in the minds of most folk by now.
I believe the woke now want to get rid of Shakespeare, because of the usual woke ‘reasons’ – whatever it is this week: racism, sexism, white supremacy, whatever – whatever hasn’t worn out its ‘magic’. That’s a pity because in reality none of those things 1)are good things 2)have any relevance to Shakespeare’s value, and thus they will soon come to understand the meaning of ‘a rose by any other would smell’, without any benefit from knowing where it came from, or, likely, learning from it before you did it.
Many unappealing fish (looking or named – and sometimes tasting) were given ‘marketing’ names to get the public to try them. And herein lies the key. The fish that had an awful name or even appearance before they turned into fillets, but actually tasted good, benefited by the process. Many a fish sold under names like ‘butterfish’, or lemonfish or ‘flake’ or ‘silver’ are popular as a result of this deceit – and that is because they are nice eating and people like the taste. They just weren’t up for buying things that were called ‘snotty’ or looked like nightmares.
Of course where it doesn’t work, is when no matter how much of a pleasant-sounding name they steal to market it under, the fish isn’t good eating. The modern ‘woke’ are following in the tradition of Apartheid government who tried to hide their policies under a sequence of high and noble sounding names, and were then amazed that that these fooled no-one and were rapidly regarded exactly as the previous one… only taking the new appropriated name down with them.
Like ‘gay’… which originally meant brave and cheerful – Clan Gordon were ‘the gay Gordons’ – a term of respect and admiration for their high courage and demeanor in danger. The term got used for a different ‘marketing’ purpose. And now calling them the ‘gay Gordons’ would… not be considered shall we say, the same way. The trouble with appropriating a name for marketing reasons, is that unless you have something good to ‘sell’ all you do is shift the meaning of the appropriated word to mean whatever the original term was. If a fish tastes like snot, it’s still going to be unpopular, even if you try to sell it as lemonfish – and lemonfish pretty soon comes to mean ‘tastes of snot’. The value of the good name is rapidly brought to level of the weakest product.
Then it doesn’t work. In fact it works against you and against the original perhaps valid and valuable sense of the word. Like the ‘value’ and reputation of ‘racism’, ‘sexism’, ‘homophobia’ and ‘white supremacy’ with the little wokies who cried
wolf … ‘racism’, ‘sexism’, ‘homophobia’ and ‘white supremacy’. These are real things and real problems… sometimes. When you call anything you don’t like that, it soon just comes to mean ‘I don’t like you.’ That’s… a real problem for the real victims of the same.
As a writer, I’m rather aware of the power of powerful words. It really angers me to see them appropriated for what is effectively ‘marketing’ when that is going to… fail at that marketing, and take powerful words and make them weak and worthless. I am really not sure how to effectively counter it, though. Suggestions welcome.
But tomorrow I’ll go diving for muttonfish, (Abalone. Not much like mutton either)