I want to tell you about a couple of conversations I had this week. About language. Teachers love to talk about language, you know. And when a retired English teacher gets into a debate about language with her Hubby who is a retired History (and Phys. Ed.) teacher, well, they can (and do) quite often fall down a language rabbit hole.
But let me go back. The story doesn’t start there. It starts with a new pair of jeans.
Last Friday before I met my friend Susan for lunch downtown, I continued my search for a pair of loose jeans that were long enough. I may have mentioned this search before on the blog. For jeans to be wearable with most of my boots, I need a 32″ inseam. I could, of course, survive with my current wardrobe of jeans. I do have one longer pair, my Frame bootcut jeans. So it wouldn’t be the end of the world if I didn’t find what I was looking for.
But searching for loose, longer jeans has become a bit of a thing with me lately. Ever since last fall when I realized that my new dad jeans looked terrible with all my boots. They are too long to look cropped. And just that bit too short to be full-length. So I roll them when I wear them to make the length look more intentional. And less like I’ve had a recent growth spurt. Ha.
Yes, I am aware that I overreact about pant-leg length. But too short jeans are an anathema to me. One that has followed me my whole life. I know. Hyperbole. But nevertheless true.
So I have searched high and low to find loose jeans with a long-enough inseam. Until last week when just before lunch I darkened the doors of Zara. Something I haven’t done in a while. But several influencers whom I follow have spoken about Zara jeans over the years, and since the Zara store downtown is a huge one, with seemingly lots of selection, I thought maybe I’d have a go.
The young woman who served me was very pleasant, patient, and helpful. I explained my problem and my mission and placed myself entirely in her hands. Capable hands as it turned out. We toured the racks of clothes. She pulled jeans out, described the fit, then showed me a photo on her phone of a model wearing the jeans to demonstrate the way the pants should fit. Some were a no go, others showed just the kind of pant I desired. I soon decamped to the dressing room with eight pairs of jeans. I found the perfect fit with the third pair. But I tried them all on for comparison, then tried the third pair again. Then I tried them with my boots. Then I bought them.
The jeans are long, and have a slightly split leg at the bottom. I didn’t think I’d like this but it keeps the pants from bunching on the tops of my boots, which I like. They are made from rigid denim. High waisted. With a loose-fitting, slim leg. If that’s not an oxymoron. And they are just the right amount of slouchy for me. They fill that empty slouchy niche in my closet.
Okay. That’s the background. Now to the conversation about language which Hubby and I had earlier this week.
I was heading into the village to run errands and planned to wear my new jeans with a light sweater, my tall black boots, my pink tweed Max Mara coat, and a pink-toned patterned cashmere spring scarf that I bought years ago. This outfit hit the sweet spot for me. Slouchy and casual in places… the loose, long jeans, black boots, my big black cross-body bag… and lady-like in others… the trim pink coat and gauzy pink scarf.
And as I am wont to do I tried to explain the philosophy behind my outfit to Hubby. “You see,” I said, “the slouchy faded jeans make the outfit look less fussy. If I were to wear this coat and scarf with dressy boots and slim black trousers I would look too lady-like. Too prim for how I want to dress now. I’m doing what Amy Smilovic says, dressing using my antonyms. My coat is classic. Kind of lady-like. So I pair it with slouchy, edgy jeans which are the opposite of lady-like. And voila. I have an outfit that matches how I feel and how I want to look. A little fussy… but not too fussy. What do you think?”
Hubby’s reply sent us off down a rabbit hole conversation about language. What “fussy” actually meant. What it meant to him, to me. Whether it could have positive as well as negative connotations. When I was still teaching, I was fussy about my work. I spent a lot of time planning fun activities for my kids. Did that mean I held myself to high standards? I’m fussy about my hair. Does that mean I’m obsessed with trivial things? I fuss with my blog until I get a post to read just the way I want. Is that positive or negative? And on and on.
I reminded Hubby of the conversation I had with a boss one time when I’d been unhappy with a decision he’d made over my teaching timetable. I went to him with my concerns. He said that he hadn’t realized that I would “fuss over the issue.” I felt diminished by that comment. I felt that my concerns had been dismissed as small, and slightly silly. One didn’t “fuss” over important things. Only over trivial things. In this case “fuss” had a pejorative meaning.
Finally Hubby said I should look up the definition. One site said fussy people are fastidious or discriminating, but also finicky or hard to please. Concerned with unimportant details. Another said fussy is a more negative way of saying someone is particular. Or a less negative way of saying they are persnickety. Fussy things are overdecorated, overelaborate, overdone, over-embellished.
Sheesh. See what a rabbit hole we fell down? I guess that means my coat cannot be considered fussy. It’s pretty simple in style. Unless the pink tweed can be considered overly ornate. But now I’m just splitting hairs. Or hares. Ha.
A day or so after Hubby’s and my fussy conversation, I walked with two friends. We walk together every week, if our schedules allow. And as you might expect from a retired English teacher, a retired languages teacher and a retired librarian, some of our talk will stray into our particular areas of expertise. Books, language, words. Not all the talk… but some of it. The rest of the time we yak about clothes, husbands or partners, children, our travels, hair. Whatever.
But just sometimes, like this week when I related Hubby’s and my fussy discussion, we fall down a rabbit hole talking about language. Another language rabbit hole. That’s two in one week.
I’m smiling as I type this remembering the various tunnels we explored as we walked. The evolution of words and expressions. How original meanings get lost and we use expressions with little to no understanding of their origin. I related a story from an article I’d read on how kids often use archaic expressions they don’t understand. One teacher reported a kid saying, “It’s a doggy dog world.”
I remember a class I taught a few years ago where the students had to choose topics for a group assignment. And how after I handed out the list of topics, one group shouted out, “Shotgun number five, Ms. Burpee.” When I asked what the heck they were talking about, one boy said, “You know, Miss, like when you say ‘shot gun the front seat’ in the car.” I’ll never forget the funny and surprising discussion that followed as they explained to me that “shotgun” meant “I get first choice.” And I explained to them the original meaning of “riding shotgun.”
On our walk, my friend Marina who is Lebanese-Canadian told of how, when she began to study Languages in university, she became interested in the Arabic colloquial expressions used by her parents. How she tried to translate them to English from the original Arabic. With sometimes hilarious results. She said in Lebanon if someone asked if you knew the route to a particular place, and you knew the road well because you had travelled it many times, you might say “this road ate a piece of my foot.” Albeit in Arabic. I love that one.
When I was growing up I thought that the expressions used by my mum or my grandmother were known to everyone. Were universal. Like “McCarty slant.” If my grandmother saw someone wearing their hat at a rakish angle, she’d say their hat had a “McCarty slant.”
As a teenager, I said that to a friend who was wearing a hat. He simply looked at me dumbfounded. “Come on,” I said astonished that he was so ill-informed, “the McCarty slant!” I related this conversation to my mum afterwards and she laughed. “My god, Susie,” she said. “How would he know about the McCarty slant? The McCarty’s were a family that lived near your grandmother in Four Falls when she was a girl. The McCarty boys always wore their hats on an angle and Grampy Everett would tease them.”
That story still makes me smile. And I still use that family expression. I’m hoping it might catch on. Ha.
Anyway, my friends, I must wrap-up this post before I stay down this language rabbit hole too long. Before you get exasperated with me. Drain your coffee cup, or finish your tea, and say: “My god, Sue, I can’t sit here all day listening to you witter on about words and language. I have things to do.”
Besides. It’s your turn. Have you tumbled down any conversational rabbit holes lately? Language based or otherwise.
P.S. Thanks so much to everyone who has sent pictures and stories of their hair journeys. Keep them coming. I am loving reading your hair stories. And if you do want to send a photo, please don’t do too much to it in the way of cropping etc. Just take a clear photo with your phone and send it on. Every time a photo is saved after cropping etc it gets less clear and sharp, and may look blurry when published.
P.P.S. Here’s the link to the Zara jeans. This is not an affiliate link.