Prinking and Quizzing
Bill Long 4/14/06
But, One More Little Comment on Kissing
I want to continue for a moment on the thought with which I ended the previous essay. My hope is that I will eventually get to stertor and sternutation, two more bodily motions, but that is only a hope at this point (I guess I won't get to them until the next essay). Here is the thought. The dictionary defines basia as "erotic" poetry in the form of "anacreontics" or "sapphics." These are nice and big words, words that professors and "experts" tend to use. But when you begin to subject all three words to some analysis, you see how quickly the world falls apart. The word falls apart because of the assumption that the work of Anacreon or Sappho can so easily be summarized and conceptualized in the mind that one word can capture the essence of what they are about. Does Anacreon convey the notion of something "convivial and amatory" as the OED suggests? Or "erotic" as the Century and OED tell us? Well, you really have to dive into Anacreon to decide if there is an essence to his poetry in such a way that the word Anacreontic has any meaning and, if so, what that meaning is. And, is that meaning shared by others or is it a kind of "personal" meaning dreamed up by the user of the term? The same can be said for Sappho.
But let's move to authors we know something about--such as Shakespeare or Milton, for example. I read all the time of something that is "Shakesperean" in its tragic or dramatic quality or "Miltonian" in its language. Now, after thinking about the issue for some time I think I am in the position of wanting to stop people who speak like this and say, "What do you mean?" If a person says something is "Shakespearean," which play of Shakespeare or which line of which play or which part of which portrayal of which character are you thinking about when you make that statement? I made a statement in an essay I wrote yesterday (on the life of the Rev. William Sloane Coffin) that Coffin's manner of speaking was reminiscent to me of "Niebuhrian antinomies." I admit, such a statement has an "air of sophistication" to it, but then I point to the way Coffin uses language in The Nature and Destiny of Man to try to support my case. I don't point to particular "chapters and verses," though I would be able to do so if pressed. You see my point. I don't want people to get away with generic or summary statements like "Oh, the poetry is so anacreontic, so sapphic." I will stop and ask them to walk me through that statement, one poem or word at a time. It surely will get people very angry, because they would rather be able to drop names than to analyze things, but I think I will do it.
One More Comment from Osculate
But I can't fully leave osculate (this is a very long last kiss) without mentioning one quotation from 1873 that used the term. "Professedly prudish...they...mutter, nod, osculate, prink, quiz." I suppose that the purpose of the quotation is to show how osculate was used as a synonym for kiss in modern speech, but I found myself wondering about those last two verbs: prink and quiz. What do they mean? Well, prink has several definitions, among them, to "wink or blink" or "to dress for show; adorn one's self." The latter definition is evident in the following quotation.
"Those who prink, and pamper the body, and neglect the Soul are like one who, having a Nightingale in his House, is more fond of the Wicker Cage than of the Bird."
The OED lists the quotation from 1873 at the top of this section under the definition of prink as wink. But the definition of prink as adorning oneself or walking in an affected manner has a quotation that takes us to one more word: "Thou, and thy Godfather Fox can know a Saint from a Devil, without speaking, but not without a little Mincing and Prinking." Mincing? We know it to mean "extenuate" or "minimize" (he didn't mince any words in his criticism), but mincing also means "the action or habit of speaking or acting in an affectedly refined or elegant manner." In later use it can refer derogatively to a man who demonstrates effeminate or effete behavior.
Finishing With Quiz (Stertor will be Next Time)
The sentence above says: "Professedly prudish .. they...mutter, nod, osculate, prink, quiz." What does "to quiz" mean? We are all familiar with the word "quiz" as "examine" or "question," but that is only the second appearance of the verb in the OED. Its first meaning is now considered rare, and is: "to make sport or fun of, to turn to ridicule; occasionally, to regard with an air of mockery." From 1815: "All were sneering at Sam, and they quizz'd and they gaz'd." I wonder now the relationship between the two definitions of "quiz" as a verb. In other words, is there any connection between making sport of a person and questioning/interrogating that person? The meaning of quiz as "making sport of" goes back to the end of the 18th century, while the "examining" meaning only arose in the mid-nineteenth. The noun "quiz" emerged even earlier than the verb, with the first attestation being in 1782: "He's a droll quiz (odd or eccentric person), and I rather like him."
I think we have done some good things here. In addition to a plea for precision in speaking, especially when using adjectives derived from proper names to characterize a phenomenon or manner of doing something, we have looked more closely at two verbs: prink and quiz. Now, we are ready for snorting/snoring and sneezing. It's about time..
Copyright © 2004-2007 William R. Long