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Showing posts with label copying. Show all posts
Showing posts with label copying. Show all posts

Thursday, 22 December 2011

In and out of insults

More views of - or after - Cambridge Film Festival 2011
(Click here to go directly to the Festival web-site)

22 December

Fashion was when an abruptly raised solo middle finger (probably of either hand - forgive me for not being bothered with the etiquette!), together with the curt utterance ‘Swivel!’, was deeply insulting*. Probably, then, it became less insulting, until it became too tame to do at all, because I cannot think when I last saw it done.

(If not on t.v., although it usually lags behind in the provocation stakes, it probably originated on celluloid, that great promoter of catch-phrases such as the dire ‘I’ll be back…!’ – with its sickeningly inappropriate overtones of Captain Oates.)

In their time, insults and insulting gestures have the currency (pun intended!) of being known to be both the latest and also stylish: by saying it and doing the (action and) utterance properly, you are showing that you are an informed person, and so worthwhile. (By mimicking something else, whether it is passé or just not credited as being the thing to do, you are showing the converse, your worthlessness: and we all know how the dictionary almost invairably defines various coarse words as meaning (amongst those referring to the sexual organs in which they have their home) 'a worthless [or offensive] person'.

But we know that all, of course: we're modern, we're in the post-Manwatching period. What we don’t know is that the same gesture, performed more slowly, and with the utterance softer and more questioning would have been a pick-up line in Tokyo’s infamous district of the love-hotels. After all, would the person using the more combative combination either expect or want to be taken up on the offered service?

Fine, the insult depends on proposing a penetration that is assumed to be unwelcome, but it only works if there isn’t a retort that takes it at face value and says ‘Yes, please! – Your place or mine?’, intending to induce the revulsion in the other person that he or she sought to provoke. Other responses, of a more cloacal nature, could equally have been devised, but I doubt that they were.

Which shows? The mere copying of a gesture or insult is just that, whereas it takes genuine wit to parry it, as stand-ups do with put-downs, and make the person who uttered it (feel) defenceless and stupid. Doing it on the hoof takes sharper wits, of course, and most people who expect to be heckled have their armoury of both passive and offensive attack – which can, in turn, be copied…

Homo sapiens? I don’t think so! More like Homo mimicus, and even the primates, mammals and birds do that to pass on tricks that have been discovered even in the domain of accessing, processing or eating food. (Quite apart from bees and the honey-dances, and ants’ - or termites’ - ways of passing on important information about threat or prey.)

But do any of these creatures copy something that, looked at, makes no rational sense? – why would the person raising the finger actually want it where he or she suggests the other person accepting it, and, if he or she actually stopped to consider the indecent proposal, wouldn’t he or she be the loser in the transaction?!

Negative view it may be, but human-beings are not always very selective, and the part of the body that this sort of copying behaviour resembles most is not the brain, but the appendix, for its redundancy (and also the scope for grievously poisoning the body with its hoard of toxins). Not the evolutionary future at all, not even a tributary, but a silted-up backwater, stagnating and no longer flowing!

* And these things can be misheard, of course, to the great delight of those who realize that someone else has got it wrong: imagine someone going through the whole routine perfectly, but under the impression that the word is 'Snivel'...

(Actually, a friend revealed, by writing down the phrase 'can't be asked', that there is evidence of genetic miscopying (sc. transcriptional error) in meanings changing and phrasal words becoming confused - when it is the thing to say 'feisty', no one troubles to think what the word actually means, because, hey, we're talking about The Spice Girls, and we know what they're like, so we know what feisty signifies?

Johnson got it all wrong with his dictionary, then, and Carroll's Humpty-Dumpty was right - should have said that the awesome five were 'very helicopter' and seen if that caught on, if you can excuse me being a bit traffic-cone about it!)