NEWSLETTER 476: SATURDAY 14 JANUARY 2006
1. Feedback, notes and comments
Online formatted newsletter Many thanks to everyone who provided comments, especially those who ran this online page through various HTML validators and pointed out my coding errors! Your feedback was very useful, particularly that from readers who found some elements hard to read (as a result, I’ve amended the whole Web site, which uses much the same colour scheme). I didn’t make myself quite clear in two respects: there is no proposal to amend or cease the plain-text e-mail newsletter and this formatted version is intended to be an alternative which will only be available online, not by e-mail.
Shot Many subscribers asked whether shout in the sense of paying for a round of drinks had any connection with last week’s shot. It seems to have been an independent Australian creation, based on a call to a waiter to replenish the glasses.
2. Turns of Phrase: Ladult
It’s tough being young and male these days. People keep reinventing you or keep trying to fit you into ever-changing stereotypes. In the 1990s, there was the Loaded type, all “greed is good” brashness and conspicuous consumption; then came the caring, sensitive, and non-aggressive New Man; the style- and appearance-obsessed, high-earning young urban Metrosexual, deeply in touch with his feminine side; and last year the confident, unashamedly masculine, stylish Übersexual, politically aware and passionate about world causes. Some pundits are predicting 2006 will be the year of the Ladult. As the name suggests, he is of a laddish persuasion but can be adult when it matters. (Lad and laddish here are British and Commonwealth slang for a boisterously macho or high-spirited young man.) He was noted last summer—perhaps more correctly invented—by the crystal ball-gazing experts at the Future Laboratory, who suggested that he might turn out to be the partner of another of their creations, the young woman whom they acronymised as HEIDI (highly educated, independent, degree-carrying individual).
Ladult: This is the Loaded lad who has grown up now he’s reached his thirties—though he still rides a 50cc Vespa. In a settled relationship, he’s just had his first child, and is a keen, enthusiastic and careful father. Old habits die hard and occasionally he still likes to “get bladdered” but he’s always up first thing for the morning feed. He read About A Boy and cried at the sad bits.
[Independent on Sunday, 31 Oct. 2005]
Long live the Ladult. He is single, assured, solvent and secure in his new-found masculinity. Aged between 25 and thirtysomething, the Ladult works moderately hard at middle management. ... He spends a lot on gadgets and DVDs, and enjoys poker, online gambling and even fly fishing. He irons his own shirts and can cook simple meals. He has no problem with the notion that women are his equals, but secretly thinks they are different.
[Observer, 1 Jan. 2006]
3. Weird Words: Mattoid
That’s the definition given by its inventor, the nineteenth-century Italian criminologist Cesare Lombroso. He believed that criminality was inherited and that a criminal was born with physical defects identifying him as a degenerate human being, an atavism. He created mattoid from the Italian matto, insane, plus the ending -oid for some likeness or resemblance (from Greek eidos, form). He used it for what psychiatrists call “borderline dwellers”, those who exist on the margins between reason and madness—in everyday speech we might call them cranks, eccentrics, or misfits.
The word came into English in 1891 through a translation of his work Man of Genius and became popular for a while. H G Wells used it in several of his books, most notably in Mankind in the Making of 1903, in which he derides the theories of Lombroso and the Victorian phrenologists: “Among such theorists none at present are in quite such urgent need of polemical suppression as those who would persuade the heedless general reader that every social failure is necessarily a ‘degenerate’, and who claim boldly that they can trace a distinctly evil and mischievous strain in that unfortunate miscellany which constitutes ‘the criminal class’... These mattoid scientists make a direct and disastrous attack upon the latent self-respect of criminals.”
4. Noted this week
Blogebrity While I’m wearing my professional hat, all new words are equal. In private, though, opinions are allowed, and this one gets a grimace because of its inelegance. It’s a blend of blog and celebrity that refers to prominent blog writers. A search threw up vast numbers of examples: Google claims to have indexed 419,000 instances. That’s a lot for me to have missed it until now, even though many of the hits are for a Web site that last year was supposed to be launching a magazine of that title about bloggers. [Thanks to Marty Ryerson for telling me about the word.]
Wale My personal word of the week popped up in a newspaper I was reading the other day. It made me stop and think about common items for which only the people who make them or use them regularly know the names for. Take aglet, for example, the metal or plastic tube fixed round each end of a shoelace to stop the fabric from fraying. Another is tang, the extension of the blade of a knife by which it is fixed into the handle. Then there’s my wale, which is the raised ridge on corduroy. This is from the Old English walu that meant a stripe or raised ridge—the same origin as weal.
5. Questions & Answers: Daylight robbery
[Q] From John Gray: “In the BBC Radio 4 programme Midweek recently, Victoria Coren said that the phrase daylight robbery came from the old window tax and so was a crime that took away one’s daylight. But an online site says that it has a much more prosaic meaning, of a barefaced requirement to pay, and only dates from 1949. What do you think?”
[A] I think Ms Coren has it completely wrong. But we can’t pin its origin so neatly to 1949, even though that’s its first appearance in the Oxford English Dictionary.
Let’s get the window tax out of the way first. It was imposed by William III in 1696; every household had to pay a levy depending on the number of windows in the house, a crude measure of prosperity or income. It was hated, because it was considered to be a tax on light and air. It led to some cases of windows being blocked up, usually temporarily when an inspection was due, though some houses were actually built with no bedroom windows. The tax was finally abolished only in 1851.
The OED’s first example of daylight robbery from 1949, being a century after the tax was abolished, certainly seems to scotch any link. Actually, the figurative sense has been around a bit longer than the OED says—it appears for example in Harold Brighouse’s 1916 play Hobson’s Choice.
And the idiom doesn’t necessarily refer to a crime as such, but to any unreasonable financial demand or outrageous injustice: if you went into a pub in a strange town and were charged a tenner for a pint of beer, you’d no doubt describe that as daylight robbery (or possibly highway robbery, a related term with the same sense).
But no reputable authority would suggest the phrase and the window tax were connected, because of the way it clearly developed. It comes without doubt from a literal daylight robbery; to attempt one during the day rather than under cover of darkness was to be daring or audacious because of the much greater risk of being opposed or recognised. These associations were carried over into the metaphor.
I say again: nothing to do with windows!
• On the Australian TV programme Renovation Rescue recently, Annie Dwyer shuddered when the recipient was given some band instruments, among which the on-screen caption identified a “symbols pack”.
• A news item on the ABC Web site reported that a police search for a man who shot a woman in an Adelaide suburb had been called off. Bob Secombe was struck by the last sentence of the report: “Police now plan to use intelligence in an effort to track the suspect to an address.” Now there’s an innovation.
• Roger Downham e-mailed to say that a newspaper in Cornwall, The Falmouth Packet, last week contained the headline, “Passengers stranded as ferry brakes down”.
• Talking of matters nautical, John Gray found this sentence on the BBC news Web site: “I was surprised to find a massive brand like EBay represented by a few understated stalls, tucked away in a dinghy thoroughfare, at odds with the audacious palatial stands of other big hitters like Microsoft, Panasonic and Yamaha.”
• Department of Amorous Ambiguity: “She caught Jimmy’s eye and smiled, and Jimmy beamed back and she walked right up to him and planted a big one right on his hips.” [Lodestar, by Michael Flynn, 2000.]