Tuesday, July 6th, 2010



James Beach


BELIEVING in words as a profession is a tricky biz; the eminence of words being not what society currently believes in, but their origins being what’s significant and needs to be looked at as the vox populi continues to achieve clout alongside the lower and less-educated classes rising in the media and drowning out the academics/learned/studied. Specifically, paying attention to—giving or bestowing concentration upon—the haphazard-seeming adages and slogans and colloquialisms being bandied about by the general population, without a thought or consideration given to the origins and precise meanings of what is being said, is of utmost importance as SpellCheck and its accompanying grammar guides help an  aspiring writer to, ostensibly, get a leg up on—to achieve a stage of a journey/course beyond that of a writer using pad and paper rather than the electronic version being “helped”—the competition. Linguistics being the academic umbrella term for all of this heady investigation of where and why a word exists, what its purpose is, where it came from and where it’s at at present. Essentially, it’s the delving into the nature and structure of words.

The complexity may not at first be evident. Yet humans often learn by example, so here is one example that most everyone is aware of: The word “bender,” as in: He went on a bender over the weekend. This concept, about a man losing himself in an alcohol-laced reconfiguration of reality, is hundreds of years old. Men have done this, gone and lost themselves—as in, forgetting who they are while sober—for so long and so frequently that it’s a given in society that some men will continue with this behavior, even if the behavior is socially “unacceptable” and labeled as sick/deviant/harmful. Drinking for days on end is as part of the male substructure as is traversing miles of terrain in the search for food, and the need to become strong in order to defend one’s home or territory or mate or child(ren). And please note that this is and occasionally will digress into, touch upon, the realms of sociology and anatomy and genetics, as well as religion/morality and The Law as it’s currentlt known and adhered to... Psychology, too, is a tandem component of linguistics, as it’s a cerebral endeavor, to decipher the origins of words.

So, we have then, a man, on a bender. A man in this case—in this example—being a human male over age 18, who has decided, for a short period of time, to eschew his “normal life”—implying a lifestyle considered decent as determined by the previous or current government by the bulk of affected citizens—and create a space of solace and contentment, however disillusioned or barbaric it may seem to those sober. Boiled down, this man desires to bend his life to his own fantasy or delusion via intoxicating beverage. Hence, the term “bender” being applied to this sort of activity. Whether anyone takes the time to puzzle over its meaning is moot; most speakers of English are not as interested in finding out why a particular expression of speech is there, and simply use it out of laziness or being too busy to decipher it. Codes within a code, in a way, our language.

Spring Break—the time of year when college students receive a one-week vacation from classes/papers/tests—is a favorite time for a young man to go on a bender. Women—no need to explicate on the topic here—are also prone to this type of behavior, though for the purposes of this essay they can be, by and large, excluded. (Chances are, a female will come along and rewrite this from her perspective, thinking herself to be the antidote to the oppression that males have put her gender in, for whatever reason the belief that hers is a sublimated sex, despite it being no longer true, in most English-speaking countries.) Except, though, in the context of what men on a bender often enjoy objectifying. And please don’t limit your idea of a bender as being confined to alcoholic beverages, as a bender might consist of cocaine or crystal meth or pot or LSD or GHB or any other type of stimulating/buoying substance. Heroin and the family of prescription narcotics intended to slow the system and the brain down being more of an escape, rather than a way to bend the course of a man’s life to a better place, not actually falling into the same category: To describe a man as “going on a heroin bender” would be a borderline misnomer, since a desire to bend life typically requires action and activity, rather than inactivity and  passivity; pot also at times falling into this domain, though less so, as it does stimulate creativity and can cause hallucinations that warp the physical world in such a way as to reshape the user’s synapses round the new perception(s). Yet we all know anything and everything (including coke as) to constitute a bender is viable—even the cross-dressing bender or the gambling bender, the hiking or biking bender, the golfing bender…

For purposes of this essay we have a young man, in his early 20s, on a drinking bender during Spring Break of his sophomore year. He’s a major of English Lit because his father was a professor of English Lit, and he was instilled at an early age with an appreciation for character—the distinguishing qualities of a person, and the person portrayed in a drama or novel or story, as well as the definition about symbols/letters (he had some trouble, at the time, with the definition about moral or ethical strength) and even the reputation of an individual or organization. Unknown in part to him is that his binge drinking is a result of a refusal to accept all components of his self… When intoxicated, with the unacceptable/hidden/raw aspects or facets of his showing in a blurry yet usually forgotten tumble, the acceptance becomes simple—he is who he is, he rides the wave of a lush that smoothes out the rough spots and lubricates his tolerance of anyone and everyone and even the government and the press. And this is typically done, for the young, with peers of the same age, who are all separately en masse trying to assimilate these aspects into their own and their friends’ lives via drink and/or drug.

This young man, then, has dark sides. His never articulated but most conscious one being a fear that he is “gay”—a word which, upon linguistic deconstruction, turns up some rather bizarre reasons for its existence: do homosexuals get “happy” after fucking? The word Gay was derived from Old French, for bright and lively, and yet most “gays” are bright and lively only when intoxicated or trying to quell tensions with “straights” (and I defer from that multi-faceted term) by deprecating remarks about themselves and their friends and celebrities they’d like to befriend. So, are gay people ironic? Most are unhappy, unfulfilled, empty of/devoid of life, wallowing in wit and grandeur. And, even more disconcerting: why is French culture so opposed to the homosexual man when in fact it is their language which has been twisted to define the type of male who has sex with his own sex? More irony? or is something else at play or at work here in the modern lexicon in America… Moving on: why is it that “sex” has been removed from the lexicon in terms of sexuality (gay now rather than the old term, homosexual) and gender (no longer a person’s sex or sex characteristic, rather an abstract term to define a scientific difference)? And why is GAY such a concrete-sounding pigeon-holing of a definition, not mutable, more like race or a disease than the fluidity most every one of us experience about our sex drives?

Looking back: Why is it that a few decades prior a “gay side” was the norm in down-low sports lingo, and “what’s your sexual preference” or “do you have a gay side?” was a common PC question to ask, rather than “what’s your sexual orientation?” The word “queer,” which as recently as yesterday defined homosexuals, was based not on faggotry but on queers being different or odd, deviant from the norm, (the 10% Theory!) the term then being much more accurate than “gay” and not at all discriminatory if looked at from that light of a minority group of outsiders, people needing a label. Looking steady: Is “gay sex” something reserved for “straight” people who want to bend? Certainly the recent onslaught of female college coeds making their frat-boy double-dates suck cock and ass-fuck on video (see: girls gone wild with camcorders, in limos and paying high frat boys to exhibit), for her-and-her pleasure/his-and-his humiliation derides any sacredness or exclusionary categorization of the same-sex sex act. Looking ahead: maybe these frat-ority acts of fornication will trump any previous initiation rites? [We could run circles in the sand all day about this. Ambiguity being a more apt word for this subject that might at first appear evident.]

Our fraternity young man does not ask himself questions about linguistics of any of this, being preoccupied with what “gay” currently means to a culture that likes to divide and conquer, and what it means to him and his frat buddies, and what it means to the backbone of his religious beliefs (Protestant), and finally what it means to his parents, who want blood-grandkids… His dilemma being a recent encounter with a teammate, who (thank God) hails from another frat, a dilemma wherein they got drunk on beer and brandy shots at a party and while stumbling back to their dorms they wandered off the path and sucked each other’s odd, to orgasm, and then some… (“Dude, my ass is all greasy; I think you fucked me last night!”) The young man thinks on this later, safely ensconced in his brothers’ house and cursing himself. He takes another beer from the fridge while his buddies are off at some small party (most likely screwing a coupla drunk girls they met in the hotel elevators; maybe screwing the swim team…who knows? What is getting off, anyhow?) somewhere. Our young man is, to put it definitively, not happy.



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