Friday, October 26, 2007

Fry Pan

I'm trying to think when it was that I first saw a frying pan referred to as a "fry pan." Because they are, you know, frying pans. "Fry pan" has an oddly unidiomatic sound to it, as if coined by a non-native speaker of English. Yet in recent years I often see these common kitchen items referred to as fry pans.

Then there's swimming suits, which are, you know, swimming suits. Only in recent years I often hear them called "swim suits." What in the world is a swim suit, and why should we call it a swim suit instead of a swimming suit?

The only comparison I can think of is the Superman costume I had when I was a kid. That was long before the days of idiot lawsuits, and yet the Superman costume had this idiot warning along the bottom hem of the shirt: "WARNING! This costume will not enable you to fly. Only Superman can fly."

Yeah, right, in 1965 I can hardly think of a kid so stupid, or a lawyer so avaricious, as to think that jumping off the roof of the shed in your Superman costume is going to lead to anything other than a nasty mishap. Of course nowadays the lawyers would be lining up to file a class action lawsuit on behalf of every kid who's ever even dreamed of wearing a Superman costume, "Hey, lawsuit this! The costume didn't have a warning label on it, so how were these kids supposed to know that the costume didn't enable them to fly?"

Result, a judgment for umpteen billion dollars against DC Comics, every costume manufacturer in the country, plus McDonald's, the tobacco companies, and the builder of that shed, all thrown in for good measure. From now on all costumes will come with 40 or 50 large warning tags attached, "Don't lawsuit us!"

Somehow in my paranoia I suspect there's a similar story behind the emergence of terms like "fry pan" and "swim suit." Somewhere in this benighted land there was a dim bulb who thought that a frying pan must naturally be a pan which will fry food placed in it, all on its own and unaided, with or without benefit of a functioning stove to supply heat. Or that a swimming suit will somehow enable you to swim and not sink, irregardless of whether you actually know how to swim or not.

On discovering that a frying pan sans stove will not fry food all by itself... on learning that a swimming suit of itself will not enable you to remain afloat if you don't know how to swim... the inevitable lawsuits were filed, and in due time won, with vast fines extracted from the hapless manufacturers of swimming suits and frying pans.

This led to a change in name. Now it's fry pan: "WARNING! This pan by itself, without a stove, will not fry food." And it's swim suit: "WARNING! This suit by itself will not enable you to swim. Only people who know how to swim can swim." And if you can't obey the warning label, and the lawyerly-altered new names of the products, hey, don't lawsuit us!

Look around and you'll find many examples of this bizarre and unidiomatic trend in renaming common, everyday items. It's no longer jogging suit, but jog suit: "WARNING! This suit will not enable you to run without effort, like some damn bionic exoskeleton. Some running effort required."

And now instead of ironing board, it's iron board: "WARNING! This board will not iron clothing by itself unattended. Human operator and clothes iron required, not included. Caution, iron can be HOT! Not to be used except under adult supervision, do not use while asleep."

And then there are paring knives, nowadays known as pare knives: "WARNING! This knife will not cut fruit, vegetables, or other items unaided. Requires a human user to make it cut things, CAUTION! Knife is sharp! Improper use can lead to serious injury or death!!!"

Google around, you'll find search results for carve knife, teethe ring, run shoes, and even roll pin. You know, instead of carving knife, teething ring, running shoes, and rolling pin. All in the interest of "Don't lawsuit us! These items will not perform, magically and unaided, without a human operator!" Yes, whoever heard of it? Oh, the emotional trauma! Include a warning label! These shoes will not make you run without effort on your part to put one foot in front of the other.



Blogger The Tetrast said...

Well, there is a big difference between cat blogging and a catting blog.

Friday, October 26, 2007 8:57:00 PM  
Blogger Paul Burgess said...

Though we would have to be careful to say "blog cat" (as in, "fry pan") rather than "blogging cat" (as in, "frying pan"), since "blogging cat" sounds as though the cat itself is doing the blogging, just as "frying pan" sounds as though the pan itself is doing the frying.

Disclaimer: Incidental or merely illustrative use of the term "blogging cat" is not meant to imply that any cat, actual cat, apparent cat, or cat as portrayed in a work of fiction, has ever blogged, is blogging, or will ever blog on this or any other blog, affiliated blog, related blog, linked blog, or other website or data file on the world wide web, usenet, gopherspace, onionspace, darknet, or any other information storage or retrieval device. Don't lawsuit us!

Saturday, October 27, 2007 9:08:00 AM  

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