Fitting Words

William Shakespeare’s reminded us to “Fit the action to the word, the word to the action.”

After the municipal election in Toronto, the Equal Voice organization dispatched an email headlined “Women Break Critical Mass in Toronto Election” and told of a high number of women elected to council. It’s a triumphant stage in local government, to be sure. But “breaking” critical mass? This term, from physics, has meaning if one “reaches” or “achieves” critical mass, but if it should be broken, well, that’s really a pity.

Billboards around Ontario ask “Do You Know Who Made Your Eggs This Morning?” Accompanying the question is a large photograph, on one billboard of a farmer in eastern Ontario, on another of a farm couple from some other rural part of the province. The egg marketing organization, in trying to promote consumption of eggs, obviously decided to humanize the message.

Yet the thought that this man, kindly and smiling though he is, “made my eggs this morning” not only gives short shrift to the hen who created them, yet another example of an executive taking credit for the unacknowledged industry of his workers, but leaves an incongruous image I’d just as soon not associate with eating food.

Even if your mind does not work so literally as to picture this man emiting an egg from his body in the manner of a productive hen, what about the common usage in English of “making eggs” as meaning cooking them. “I’ll make the eggs while you cook the bacon.” This guy was not at my home making my eggs this morning, or any other morning I can recall, at least recently.

The term also has a figurative meaning, as in “He laid an egg!” — for when a person tried something that is a failure, which this costly advertising campaign strikes me as being, for no reason other than failing to remember the lesson Shakespeare taught.

However, studying roadside billboards at length (the newest diversion for Torontonians boasting North America’s worst traffic congestion since outranking Los Angeles in this department) does not always mean exposure to inept wordsmithing or inapt imagery. In fact, there are plenty of rewarding examples of the lanuague being used for good communication.

Remember when the boast of restaurateurs was to offer “home-cooked” meals, or food “just like Mom made it”? This week a billboard informed me of a new (to me) line of prepared food under the “Ristorante” brand name, presumably available in grocery stores. In a neat switch, the advertisement proclaimed these foodstuffs desirable “for that restaurant taste!” Good-bye comfort food, hello sophistication.

Isn’t it a treat to see artful use of language? Even in small ways like this Ristorante example, one can appreciate the skill of fitting words to an intended purpose, such as working a switch-up on a prized quality like the virtue and taste of home-cooked meals.

On the other hand, once the critical mass of eggs has been broken and an omlette made, it cannot be undone.


About patrickboyer

Canadian author and publisher; lawyer and university professor; former Member of Parliament.
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One Response to Fitting Words

  1. Dear Patrick,
    Not only ‘about something’, this blog has the rare advantage of being ‘that something itself’-an eloquent demonstration of what Shakespeare has advocated and himself conclusively exemplified. An exercise in poetic consciousness that warmed my heart and brought a smile to my face, your ability to give meaning to what our eyes often glaze over in the daily grind restores my sense of belonging to a world in which everything speaks. Anyone who chooses to be awake in the senses can engage in vital interaction with even the seemingly meaningless, becomes a culture in him or herself to inform the larger whole.

    My best response in this moment is to recall a central question from Rilke’s 9th Elegy:

    Are we on this earth to say house, bridge, fountain, gate, jug, fruit tree, window-
    at best, column, tower…
    But to say these words-you understand-
    with an intensity the things themselves never dreamed they’d express?

    Rilke later admonishes:

    Here is the time for the sayable, here is its home…
    Speak! Bear witness!

    I appreciate the insightful and loving nature of your bearing witness…

    Treasa O’Driscoll

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