21 October 2009


Those of you who know me know that I have a fairly complicated relationship with my phone. As often as not, I'll forget to bring it with me when I'm leaving the house (or work) or I'll forget to charge it when the battery's running low and I'll find myself in a situation where I'd like to use it but can't because it's dead. I think of my phone as a bother, not as a convenience, and thus can't be trusted, when you're desperately trying to reach me, to answer it... or even have it on my person.

This relationship goes beyond just leaving it lying around.

Like any relationship into which one hasn't put the required work, my relationship with my phone has, over the years, soured from one of early besottedness to eventual disdain, frustration and — the reason for this entry — occasional surprise at facets and features of the person (or, in this case, the thing) to which one relates.

Not long ago, I was taking a late-night, inebriated subway ride and, in an effort not to stare at some unnaturally beautiful person sitting opposite me, I started fiddling with my phone. To my great surprise, this electronic brick had a host of features that I don't often (or, frankly, ever) use, and I was delighted to discover among them a "Notepad" feature.

I thought to myself, "Why the hell don't I ever use that?"

Apparently, I did. I found a single entry, dated January 8, 2008 at 8:40 a.m., which read, simply, "sansculottism."

Now, friends, I regard myself a fairly well-read fellow, and often have the — what, hubris? — to assume that my vocabulary is expansive enough to dwarf the average American's. But not only did I not know the definition of "sansculottism," I didn't ever recall having come across the word before, and had no recollection of making a note about it.

This morning, I decided to look up this delightfully weird word and here's what I found, courtesy of Merriam-Webster online:

Main Entry: sans·cu·lotte
Pronunciation: \ˌsanz-ku̇-ˈlät, -kyu̇-\
Function: noun
Etymology: French sans-culotte, literally, without breeches
Date: 1790
1 : an extreme radical republican in France at the time of the French Revolution
2 : a radical or violent extremist in politics
— sans·cu·lott·ic \-ˈlä-tik\ adjective
— sans·cu·lott·ish \-tish\ adjective
— sans·cu·lott·ism \-ˌti-zəm\ noun

I kinda love its etymology: How wonderfully French to name someone you disdain not for the the fact that they're going around chopping people's head off (sans-compassion), but because you consider them distasteful ("It's like they don't wear pants!").

Why, you ask yourself, was I so fascinated by this word at 8:40 a.m. on a random Tuesday morning over twenty-one months ago, that I just had to write it down?

No idea. But it strikes me as oddly relevant, given the level of discourse in the U.S. right now.

Just sayin'.

No comments: