Friday, April 29, 2005

Life in the armpits??!!!!!

Metaphors are often more graphic than we realize. The latest edition of the Economist has an article entitled "Life in the armpits of palestine." The article describes some of the day-to-day hardships of living in regions of the West Bank of Israel which will be surrounded by the new security fence.

The reason the title cought my eye was that I've recently discussed this same metaphor to my new wife, who moved here from Odessa Ukraine. We're moving next week to the bayou in Louisiana and a couple of my relatives before the wedding described the region as "the armpit of America." As english-speakers, the words just roll off the tongue; kind of a cutsey way to say that it can be hot (and humid) there. But to someone who hasen't heard the metaphor it sounds horrific. Who in their right mind would ever want to live there!??? Have we made a profound mistake by moving there??

I spent a lot of conversation time prophilacticly trying to steer the conversation away from such allusions. I demonized similar comments publicly so as to make clear that I wanted to put a better light on the subject. For the most part, it seems to have worked. The more tactful of my family quickly cought on and made sure to mention some of the more interesting things about the region ("you can always find something to do in New Orleans").

But the thing about it all that strikes me is the power that can be behind such a silly little phrase (armpits are gross!!!). A funnier one I always remember explaining is "love-handles." People talk about them all the time, but try explaining the allusion to someone unfamiliar with the term and it gets a whole lot more interesting...

We can be on the lookout for more of these. They're everywhere, I know. Perhaps we should be more careful with them; perhaps we can enjoy language more by thinking about what we're saying more often. Something to think about...

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