This blog is for everyone who uses words.

The ordinary-sized words are for everyone, but the big ones are especially for children.

Friday, 13 June 2014

Word To Use Today: Procrustean.

It's Friday the thirteenth, and I therefore bring you a tale of horror.

Procrustean...I always thought it was something to do with geology.
I mean, there's that pro bit at the beginning (pro is Greek for before) and then there's the crust bit, which can't help but make you think of the earth's crust - unless you're hungry, when it'll probably make you think of toast.

Ah, but the truth, my friends...the truth is much darker and stranger and more sinister than the word might lead you to imagine.

Procrustes was a blacksmith, and he was also a bandit. He made himself a metal guest bed (yes, you're right, dubious taste in interior design is indeed a sure sign of evil).

But there is worse to come.

Much much worse.

You see, Procustes was...tidy.

The thing is, if a guest didn't fit the iron bed exactly then Procrustes had an unfortunate habit of stretching the guest to fit it. (In later versions of the story his need to make the guest fit the bed made him do even worse things.)

Now, you may think that that is as bad as anyone could get, but no, Procustes was even worse than that, because secretly he actually had made two beds, just in case a guest arrived who was bed-sized already.

Luckily in the end a hero called Theseus came along who gave Procrustes a fatal dose of his own medicine.

Procrustes getting it in the neck from Theseus: hurray!

Nowadays, when so few villains have iron-working skills, Procrustean usually describes sets of numbers where the facts are made to fit in with the pattern of the numbers, rather than the pattern made to show the facts; or sometimes Procrustean is to do with film-editing, when a film is cut to the right length without bothering about what it might do to the story.

There are some Procrustean book editors around, too. The worst example I've come across is a French translation of Especially Jennings by Anthony Buckeridge (in French it's called Bennett fonde un club) where some idiot has cut out the entire last chapter.

How to use Procrustean today?

Well, how about to describe the designers of very fashionable shoes?

Word To Use Today: Procrustean. This word comes from the Greek prokrouein, to extend by hammering out.


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