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Wednesday 12 September 2018

Nuts and Bolts:genteelisms

What does one go when Nature calls? The toilet? Loo? Lavatory? WC? Bog? Restroom? (You'll get a good laugh in Britain if you try using that one.) The wheresit? The Little Boys' (shudder) Room? Or are you just going upstairs?

Of all these only bog definitely isn't a genteelism. Loo, in my present place and time, is as near neutral, I would say, as I can get. Toilet is an odd one, a word often trying hard to be a genteelism but oh-so-tragically failing.

Oh, the infinite shadows cast by wealth, family, and class!

Anyway, do you wear glasses? Or spectacles? Do you look in a mirror or a looking glass? 

These two are well known markers of class. If it's natural for you to say looking glass, is that a genteelism? Or is it only a genteelism if you say it deliberately to appear, well, genteel?

There are some genteelisms so bizarre as to be unmistakable. Male cow is ridiculous; so is calling the legs the lower limbs. People in the USA have many fewer cocks than we do in Britain, the replacements running from roosters to faucets, but those words, though they may have started off as genteelisms, are now perfectly normal and common (though not as common as muck). When did they stop being genteelisms, I wonder?

Do we - should we - say couch, pardon? and serviette? Or sofa, what? and napkin? Should we say Jack or Knave? Ill or sick? Sweet or pudding?

If you really are genteel, do you know something? 

You really won't care.

Word To Consider Today: genteelism. This word comes from the French gentil, which means well-born.

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