Blog in 04 2011.
There are some things in life that nobody likes to talk about. Going to the toilet is one of them.
So we don’t talk about it. We ‘pass water’. We ‘relieve ourselves’. We ‘spend a penny’, ‘take a leak’, ‘powder our noses’, ‘do a number two’, ‘get the trots’, ‘answer a call of nature’. Those are the classics. More recent additions include ‘drop the kids off at the pool’ and ‘Montezuma’s revenge’. In fact, even ‘going to the toilet’ is euphemistic. I wouldn’t say ‘I’m going to the kitchen’, I’d say ‘I’m going to cook dinner’. But whereas the ingesting of food is a perfectly safe conversation topic, the digesting, and egesting, just isn’t.
That’s not to say there are no dysphemisms for ‘toilet’. Just that they all come with a shitload (literally) of euphemisms. So while we’ve got the onomatopoeic ‘piss’, we’ve also got its derivatives: ‘pee’, ‘piddle’, ‘wee’ and so on.
If you think about it enough, you’ll realise just about every word we use to describe defecation is euphemistic. Even the ones that seem pretty straight. ‘Defecate’ itself originally meant ‘to purify’. ‘Toilet’ comes from the French ‘toilette’, a protective cloth people used while getting their hair cut. ‘Lavatory’ comes from a Latin word meaning ‘a place for washing’. Then there’s ‘bathroom’, originally a word just for a room with a bath. ‘Loo’, which might be from French ‘lieux d'aisances’, literally meaning a ‘place of ease’ (a bit like the American ‘restroom’). WC, short for water closet, might be the most ridiculous of them all. Nobody seems to know what it means.
The word that gets closest to hinting there’s something slightly unpleasant going on is ‘privy’, from the French word ‘privé’, meaning ‘private’.
Which leads me meanderingly to The Point. One of the big things we always say at The Writer is to write clearly. No jargon. No corporate guff. No tip-toeing around the point. The thing about euphemism is that it makes you look like you’re hiding something. It shows you’re not confident in what you’re talking about. So if you’re making somebody redundant, for example, don’t say you’re ‘going through a process of dynamic rightsizing’. Tell them straight, or you’ll find yourself in deep do-do.
There’s a stylistic writing thing that’s doing the rounds on Facebook, Twitter, et al, that I love. It’s this: Three. Single. Words.
I’m guessing it started out as a way of emulating the exaggerated way that American teens say things like ‘Oh my god’, with big pauses between the words. (Try reading it out: ‘Oh. My. God.’) It’s now mostly used as a way of saying something’s great (‘Best. [Insert noun here]. Ever.’)
I love the fact that it’s all about the comic timing: you have to read it out in your head with the exaggerated pauses.
So it’s a shame that it’s probably had its day. It’s just turned up on the poster for comedy medieval rompfest film Your Highness. (‘Best. Quest. Ever.’) When Hollywood gets its hands on anything, you know it’s done for.
Most mission statements aren’t worth the laptop they’re typed out on. They tend to be dull, safe, corporate, and without any trace 0f humanity. And a lot of the time they’re more likely to rouse resentment in people than reverence.
But the good ones can really say something. They’re a way of sticking your flag in the ground, raising your anchor, starting your engine. Metaphors aside, they’re a brilliant way of telling people what makes you what you are.
“If you want to change the world”, writes Jocelyn K. Glei, “creating a personal or business manifesto is a great place to start”.
(Look out for the Tolstoy one at the end, it’s a corker.)
Taking up the local-story baton from Charli, I went home to Ireland recently. Passing through the nearby town of Naas, I was greeted with the sign ‘Naas: A nice place to shop’. As a tagline, it’s not quite up there with ‘Las Vegas: What happens here stays here’, but that’s what’s so quietly appealing about it.
I have quite a fondness for local advertising, it’s a nice change from the mindlessly generic (McDonald’s ‘I’m lovin it’ – that’s probably because you’re drunk) and the remorselessly hyperbolic (Peugeot ‘The drive of your life’ – actually the drive of my life was a coast to coast US road trip and it had nothing to do with the car I was in).
From Flannery O’Connor to William Faulkner, great writers have always understood that the universal is rooted in the local. As Patrick Kavanagh, the Irish poet, said: “All great civilisations are based on the parish.”
And there are companies who use their locality as a real strength. Robinsons and Pimm's do a good job of savouring an English summer evening. Marmite have been targeting their advertising to a local audience, and building from there.
But my favourite example comes from a relatively new company in Galway.
A quick nautical lesson: a Galway hooker is a traditional type of sailboat that was mostly used to bring supplies from Galway to the surrounding islands on the Irish west coast.
So, recently a local brewery has named their beer after it. They’ve called it The Galway Hooker.
Their tagline? ‘Nothing goes down like a Galway Hooker’.