So this is a post from the BBC. It’s sort of a description, certainly not a review, of the play All My Sons by Arthur Miller. And what struck me so forcefully about this piece, is really nothing to do with the play or Miller but that the author of the post, Will Gompertz, was in turn so vehemently struck by a turn of American writing. If you haven’t clicked through to the article yet try and guess what phrase Mr Gompertz is describing with this reaction:
Occasionally American-English does that; serves up a word or phrase that is so direct, so baldly descriptive that at once it destroys the elegance of the language while adding admirable elemental clarity…..It’s a vulgar expression but, like a drunk on a train, beguiles more than repulses. I wrote it down.
Isn’t that something? Do you have a guess? Wouldn’t you think that the words that evoked this reaction would be something really intense and vivid? I sure did. This description is the reason I clicked on to the article in the first place. And became totally perplexed by the answer. Give up? The expression being described is ‘Want Ads.’
That’s right. Want Ads. I have to feel in reading Mr Gomperz’s reaction that I am really missing something. I don’t find it vulgar. I don’t find that it destroys language, elegant or otherwise. I find it rather apt and to the point: Want. Ads. The ads of want. I want and I’m letting you know. Want is such a wonderful word. It’s so vivid filled with selfish undertones and four year old temper tantrums. Want creates a very specific picture. Such a different feeling than a word like ‘need.’ Can you imagine what a Need Ads would look like? What would people ask for if they were looking for needs instead of wants? (hmm sounds like a play…)
Sigh. I love words and how people react to them…