I’ve always loved reading. Not a big surprise that a former English teacher admits it. I’ve found it interesting to hear new (really old words) or expressions revived, somehow finding their way into common day usage today. Especially as my eyebrows rise as words or entire sayings are being morphed to their essential bits or just plain ( not plane) letters.LOL, BTW.
My theory is that there is an elite unit or governing body that wishes to destroy our use of writing, hereby being able to control us, returning us to the dark ages of illiteracy and pre writing. Communicating in truncated letters in texts is not much more than the vernacular of grunts or the base fragments of words undressed to bare minimum. No need to cover those naughty vowels! Avoiding correct spelling, of which I am terrible, or due to sheer laziness, people delight in acronyms or scruffy bits of reduced words. In truth, z’s and s’s have also made me wonder: which is which. Not which is witch? Although I suppose a which could really be a witch. But isn’t that the fun, the untangling of homophones such as bear and bare, not homonyms such as to, two or too, and certainly not homophobes – which is something totally different all together.🤣 Language opens up a way to play, express, confound, confuse and dazzle. Just ask a politician or a comic how they entwine, pun, draw on metaphorical language: to manipulate their audiences to respond in guffaws, wildly cheer, jump to their feet or erupt into applause.
However, both the Quid Pro Quo example and memes reminded me of stories from my life. Of course, “quid pro quo” is Latin and I adored my Latin classes, even being elected president of the Latin class in the terrible days of high school:the role of president which actually no one wanted because everyone thought Latin incredibly dull and the responsibility was not cheerleading, fund raising or welcoming new students; it consisted of taking over lessons should the teacher be late or absent.
I thought of Latin as a game. Most decried its uselessness as a dead language and unless, they quipped, it was only necessary if you had decided to go to work in the church. Not something that 99.9% of Jews at Forest Hill contemplated as a profession. But for me, it was a hoot, playing with declinations, even the names of ”ablative, accusative, genitive, dative.. “ were a tickle to my mind. Much like English grammar, but more confusing, you had to prethink, parse, create. I wondered how Virgil and Ovid had managed a fluid sentence when every word had to be parsed differently.
And who could not love the first introductory expression we learned upon stumbling into our Grade 10 class , over which we giggled ourselves silly : semper ubi sub ubi. Or always wisely, always wear under wear. So Latin was not only a code language, it was hilarious. In Latin, I shone, recognized, in spite of my awkwardness and curly hair, as a star. But truly, who wanted to be a star in a dead language that most in that class would not have chosen if it had not been a required course. For after all, our school motto emblazoned over the auditorium was Non Nobis Solum which when I just checked meant “ Not for ourselves alone” although I had recalled it as something about reaching for the stars, Per aspera per astra: as most of the overachievers did at that school. Like spices to the soup, Latin sparked up the conversation or added a hint of mystery. Although, who ever dreamed of lowering their eyes and fluttering Latin bon mots seductively to their suitors.
The recent reference to the word “ memes” also awoke a memory. I never really understood the words “meme,” or even how to pronounce it properly . I did seek dictionaries, but like the difference in east and west coast time changes and/ or some mathematical equations, I don’t get them, believing there is a faulty wire in my head that refuses to ignite the synapse that makes meaning in those departments. Back in the 90’s when I taught at Northern Secondary, not only was Atwood’s Handmaids Tale ( not tail) on the curriculum, One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez was the choice for Grade 12 Gifted. It is the truth is stranger than fiction kind of book that follows seven generations of the Buendia Family in a series of repetitions amidst real and terrible events that actually occurred and are documented in South America, but are transferred to the fictional Macondo, a city of mirrors. Even names such as Arcadio and Aureliano, for boys or Ursula, Amarante and Remedios for girls are used over and over again throughout.
I’m ashamed to recount that the when I taught the book, I did not focus on Renata Remedios’ nickname which was Meme: one aspect of the brilliance of Marquez’s genius escaping me in the meaning and tautological cleverness!True, I think I did a pretty good job of pointing out the iterations, reoccurences,etc except for the attention to Meme’s name. I most definitely recall an assignment that allowed students play to explain a particular theme, likely the recycling or repetition of an idea. I remember one girl, maybe Kristen, baking copious amounts of pale sugar cookies to explain the proliferation of fecundity of the seasons as even the animals at the Buendias could not stop reproducing. David, I think- it’s been since the 1990’s- diagrammed reoccurring waves of abundance and scarcity in physics, linking a mathematical equation to explain the rise and fall of the fortunes of the family.
In all the discussions, I did not address the meaning of Meme and why it was so well chosen and woven into the surreal story. Mea culpa. ( see how useful Latin is. Even avoiding regret sounds loftier in Latin) , but again this expression has made its way into our daily usage too. Funny that. But these days, as I hear the words, no doubt correctly pronounced and used over and over. With the current focus on “memes”, I again returned to sources, and re- examined both pronunciation and meaning.
A formal definition states,
“’ Meme’ was coined by the often controversial evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins in his 1976 book, The Selfish Gene. In it, he states the following: We need a name for the new replicator, a noun that conveys the idea of a unit of cultural transmission, or a unit of imitation”.(Jun 25, 2012).
On the Internet, I found Today I found out: Feed your brain, the writer almost reflects my confusion, when they say,
In its early days, “meme”, which incidentally is often mispronounced as “me-me” or “meh-meh”, but in fact should be pronounced “meem”, primarily was only known and used by certain academics, but today this neologism is beginning to reach widespread use thanks to describing the viral spread of jokes, ideas, etc. via the internet.
So ah- ha, the Internet has contributed to the spread of viral memes, BTW, viral’s etymology associated with virus – which is not a good thing at all.
For me, I give myself numerous lashings and apologize to all of my former students for not pointing out the connection between Meme, Remedios and all the repetitions in that wonderful book.