Monday, December 11, 2006

blinders and other metaphors personified

Last time, I mentioned a (BrE) fancy dress/(AmE) costume party at which everyone was to come as a metaphor they'd been accused of being. I learned that among my friends are three dark horses, one social butterfly, a piranha with manners and an eight-year-old trapped in the body of a 40-year-old (that would be our dear Better Half). About 40 people came, five of them American, at least as many from other parts of the world, and the remainder British. The party-goers made a game of trying to guess what what everyone else was, but a few of the British ones stumped the Americans, and vice versa. (Incidentally, stump is originally AmE, but now used in BrE.)

The number one stumper was my dear friend to the right here. She was head-to-toe in glittering things and battery-powered lights. The BrE speakers had a hard time guessing, but when they were told, they said "Ah!" The AmE speakers, on the other hand, said "Huh?" She was (if you haven't guessed from the title) a blinder--that is, "Something ‘dazzlingly’ good or difficult" (OED), or in this case a "looker" (orig. AmE). Unsure that people would believe that she'd been called a blinder, she carried with her the sweetest love letter from long, long ago. (It would be impolite of me to tell you how long ago.) The universal reaction to the love letter was "My god, why didn't you marry him?" (Not that we have anything against Blinder's better half--but he didn't come to the party to defend his own hono(u)r, so we got all moony over [the idea of] Love Letter Boy.) Incidentally, Blinder won one of the evening's prizes--the Elbow Grease prize for the most effort devoted to the reali{s/z}ation of the metaphor. We got literal about our metaphorical prizes--the Elbow Grease was Body Shop Body Butter.

My dad, pictured right, was another transatlantic stumper. He and my mother came as what they (claim to) call each other (never in front of the children, though!). Mom came as "the cat's (AmE) pajamas/(BrE) pyjamas", wearing p{y/a}jamas with cats on them. Dad's was a less visuali{s/z}able metaphor, though the BrE speakers consistently guessed that he was the cat's whiskers (='the acme of excellence'--OED). While that was originally an AmE expression, it's now mainly used in BrE. In AmE, the expression is more usually (at least where we're from) the cat's meow. (All of these are a bit dated, like my dad, who celebrates a big birthday next month. Despite having enjoyed my metaphorty party, he's declined having a metaseventy party.)

Another American friend came as a mixed metaphor--so it's no surprise that people had a hard time guessing what he was. He had a target, with an antlered deer superimposed on it, taped to his back. By his estimation, he was "a moving stag", mixing the metaphors of a moving target and going stag to a party (i.e., 'without a date'). The latter of these (as the telltale bold font indicates) is AmE, and relates back to the notion of a stag party (orig. AmE), which was raised when we discussed local fauna terms.

Please steal the metaphorty party idea (leave off the -ty if you're not forty, but have the party all the same)! It's a helluva lotta fun, and if you invite both AmE and BrE speakers, you can report back to us any further metaphors that don't translate. My own metaphor required translation as well, but only because it was in Swedish. Jag var en djävil på Scrabble. (I was a demon at Scrabble--the first metaphor that I was called [to my face] på svenska.)

Or, join the virtual party in the comments area. What would your metaphor be? (Try to keep it clean, please!)

12 comments:

Rebecca said...

Happy metaphortical birthday!

I think if I was going, I would have to go as 'jammy'. I could fashion a jam jar out of cardboard. I guess that metaphor wouldn't translate well? OR it's longer counterpart that my parents mutter at me: Oooh, you've more jam than Hartley's!

lynneguist said...

Jammy doesn't travel well, as we've seen here. Neither does Hartley's, for that matter!

Thanks for the happy wishes, but the metaphortical birthday was some time ago. As another friend said to me, it's harder to turn 41 than 40, because 40 is just forty, but 41 is "in your forties".

Rebecca said...

My mother cried when she reached 46 because she realised she was then in her 'late forties'. She doesn't look older than 40, though. One day I'll catch up to her, I swear.

Paul Danon said...

The party looks marvellous, Lynne. Thank you for the pictures. I’m 52 and weep daily at the thought. I’m sat here surrounded by newly-coined, gift-wrapped Turkish expletives which I must FedEx before the festive deadline, but have also been taxed by how to costum-ise my epithet. A lot of my work has involved editing others’ text, which activity is seldom well-received. Indeed, I am sometimes called pedantic. This is particularly hurtful, you see, because of my name. To my horror, the Danotron™, my patent text-machine which I have lately been using to generate words in imitation of Essex-girl’s hugely successful and lucrative word-sale, recently spat out pauldantic and its correlate PDantic, which the integrated dictionary defines as obsessed with matters of verbal style, verging dangerously on the prescriptive. I fear, therefore, that it has to be something to do with ants and antennae (waving around for bad usage) a bit like this.

Mad Queen Bess said...

Hi there, I just thought I'd let you know that today I received the word your student created for me to give as a Christmas gift for someone very special to me, and it's fantastic!
Multitrefzosculation (n., Lat.): the act of kissing your soulmate over and over again
(Note: the "trefz" stem is derived from the last name of my friend). She even threw in a free bonus infinitive verb form: to multitrefzosculate, lol.

Paul Danon said...

Congratulations. What a word, eh? I'm having a hard time knowing how to pronounce the fz. If I pronounce the f as a /f/, I find I haven't got time to switch on voicing before I say the z so it comes out as /s/. If I try to say the z as /z/, the f becomes /v/. Help!

Mad Queen Bess said...

The "f" in Trefz is pronounced as a "v" (btw, the e prior to it in the word is a short-e sound, pronounced like "bet" or "get"). So the "z" is naturally (at least the way I speak) pronounced more like a "z" and not the softer-sounding (at least to my ears) "s". Not being a linguist, I don't know how to reproduce these sounds with the proper symbols (the kind student who created the word did provide the phonetic symbols, etc., but I don't know how to type them here). I hope my description above helps :o)

Paul Danon said...

Many thanks, MQB. Since posting my call for help above, I worked out (on a train as it happens, to the puzzlement of other passengers) that you might pronounce the fz as /fz/ but only if you put a syllable-break between them and, thus, imply that there was a zoscul morpheme. (I surmise that the morphemes are actually multi, trefz, oscul and ation.) May I have a hack at the IPA? /'mʌltitɹɛvz'ɔkju'lɛiʃn/ Not good at secondary stress.

Paul Danon said...

Sorry, folks: /'mʌltitɹɛvz'ɔskju'lɛiʃn/

Why do I only spot mistakes after posting?

Mindy said...

Mine is to easy, well I would think so, I am definitely a wall flower

David Crosbie said...

I've never heard blinder referring to a person, only to a performance, and always ( or almost always) in the collocation played/playing a blinder.

I think the OED supports my impression.The full entry is:

Something [my emphasis] ‘dazzlingly’ good or difficult, esp. an excellent piece of play in Rugby Football or Cricket. colloq.

All three quotations relate to sporting performances

1950 W. Hammond Cricketers' School iii. 35 Striking out at an innocent-looking ball, I've sent a blinder—dead into the fieldsman's hands.
1960 D. Storey This Sporting Life i. ii. 17 You played a blinder... It was the best game I ever saw.
1963 Times 16 Feb. 3/3 They dropped one easy catch and caught three blinders.


I'm not saying that nobody ever used blinder to refer to a person, but I do believe it was unusual, perhaps confined to a group of friends.

There was a term popularised by Yorshireman broadcaster Wifred Pickles She's a bobby dazzler!.

Mrs Redboots (Annabel Smyth) said...

And I think I'm right in saying that in the USA, horses wear blinders, where in the UK they wear blinkers.