Friday, March 07, 2008

Another linguistic casualty

When I was younger--let's say fifteen years ago--I recall reading the occasional lament for the loss to the language of "gay" in its original sense. But although I recognize that it once meant something that wasn't quite merry or joyous or glad, much less happy or content, I never lived with the word in that earlier meaning and so don't particularly regret its loss.

A few days ago, however, I was trying to explain a manual operation in which the role of the fingers was important--but my describing the task as needing to be done "digitally" did not bring my audience to quite the desired comprehension.


What Now? said...

[gasp!] I can't believe it. And really, gay has plenty of close-enough synonyms, but what are we going to use in place of digitally?

Belle said...

Sheesh. I hadn't thought about that loss. Dexterously?

Renaissance Girl said...

I get this all the time, and sadly I can't always tell whether the obsolescence is recent or four centuries past. In fact, I got into trouble recently because of "dexterous"--or rather, because I told someone that a left-handed person can't technically be dexterous.

Would "manually" work? Or does it suggest a less-fine motor action than you mean?

Flavia said...

RG: yeah, the digits were/are pretty crucial to the point I was trying to make. Ah well.

And I love the fact that you corrected someone's use of dexterous. I briefly dated a guy in college, with whom I was taking a Shakespeare class, who developed the habit of dropping Shakespearean tags into casual conversation. At some point he addressed me as "the fair Flavia," and when I matter-of-factly pointed out that I'm actually not fair, we got into a stupid argument wherein he patronizingly told me that I needed to learn how to accept a compliment (because I really was fair! why would I say that I wasn't?); accused me of being a pedant when I explained that, duh: I'm not blonde; and (finally) started sulking.

priscian said...

Maybe you were a bit unfair to your friend. Not only does Shakepeare use fair in the less-specific sense of "beautiful"; he also asserverates the "fairness" of the Dark Lady of the sonnets, and has Biron in "Love's Labours Lost" argue fairness of Rosaline, who's quite explicitly described as dark-haired and dark-complected. You were just being contentious that day, weren't you? :)

What was the point you were trying to make in class?