Sunday, June 10, 2012

The case of the inscrutable euphemism, or things that blew my mind part 3

Six months or so ago, I heard the phrase "come over all unnecessary" for the first time and was unable to determine what it meant. The SERPs have improved slightly and I see now it means "to become sexually excited." You can "come over all" other things too, as in this passage from Winnie the Pooh by A.A. Milne: "So with these words he unhooked it, and carried it back to Eeyore; and when Christopher Robin had nailed it on its right place again, Eeyore frisked about the forest, waving his tail so happily that Winnie-the-Pooh came over all funny, and had to hurry home for a little snack of something to sustain him." This example seems like a case of illogical causation but I guess Winnie the Pooh's response to all kinds of situations and stimuli was to eat something.

Anyway, we can gather that "come over all X" means to be suddenly overcome with a feeling or emotion. (According to Mary Ruefle, "Neurobiologists have distinguished emotions from feelings.") I find it quite peculiar that "unnecessary" should mean aroused, but maybe this expression is only used in situations where the stricken can't do anything with their arousal, because, say, they're in the middle of a multi-course dinner party.

This reminds me of a guy I met a year or so ago, who told me that he had always thought the word "undertaker" was very dark, as though it referred to the literal process of taking bodies down, under the living and into the earth. It had always had those grim connotations for me too. But he realized, he told me, that in fact it was just "the ultimate euphemism" -- an undertaker is engaged in an "undertaking."

11 comments:

  1. Hmm, inscrutable euphemisms. Good category.

    I'm remembering many years ago (ca. 1974) -- I was a college student at the time -- an occasion when one of the other students in the same program I was in asked me if I wanted to "go bogue off a number."

    Maybe not a euphemism exactly, more an instance of talking in code. But obscure, at least from my standpoint at the time. (Hippie code could be fairly complex and elusive at times, though somehow we usually all managed to figure out what each other was saying, at least eventually.)

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    1. So what did it mean?! Smoke a joint?

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  2. A number is a song, and bogue is Louisiana French for river, also slang for aimless wandering ("boguing around"). Bogue could be used as a verb with a preposition, as river is in sentences like "A trail rivers through the woods." To bogue off a number, then, means to river off a song, i.e., to improvise on a melody like a jazz musician.

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    1. Oh, how lovely! Never heard the term "bogue" before.

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  3. When I attended public schools in & around Flint, MI, "bogue" meant gross. (Probably it derived from "bogus" & originally meant fake.)For example, when I was in 9th grade, I overheard two boys talking about a now belly-up porn theater called Cinema Blue. One boy said he'd been there & seen cum stains on the backs of seats."Bogue, man, bogue!" the other boy laughed. Maybe you've heard talk like that in teen movies from the 80s.

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    1. I think I made the connection to weed above because of "bogart," as in the Reality Bites line, "Don't bogart that can, man."

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  4. Okay, to crack open the mystery -- Elisa, yes, "bogue off a number" meant smoke a joint. A number was a joint, though I only heard anyone call it that a couple of times ever. (Some of those codes may have been closely regional or local. People had different names for, um, substances, depending on what part of the country they were from or had spent lots of time in.)

    A bogue, as far as I know, in this context was probably short for Bogart. It probably traced back to how Humphrey Bogart always had a cigarette in his mouth, at least in a couple of his best-known movies.

    When the guy said "bogue off a number," I didn't know what he meant, but I guessed pretty quickly, because, well, if it had been pretty much anything else, he would have just said it plainly, instead of talking in code.

    And I'm not sure if I've ever seen "bogue" written down, in this context, so I'm just making a likely guess at how to spell it.

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    1. Hmmmmm. Google returns no results for "bogue of a number" -- not even this blog. Guess it hasn't indexed these comments yet. Urban Dictionary lists "boge" as slang for "cigarette" or "smoke." So I guess the spelling is "boge" (less attractive than "bogue," certainly). Also, the #2 definition for "number" (again, UD), is "joint."

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  5. You'd think a joint'd be a Mitchum, since Robert Mitchum actually did time on a farm for viper possession, whereas Bogart was just kicked out of prep school smoking tobacco. & maybe for pounding Bronsons as well. Tsk tsk.

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  6. Elisa, let's bogue like it's out of vogue

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  7. let's bogue like it's going out of vogue, my rhymes flow like horatian odes.

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