28 May, 2006

Quote-Unquote Frigid

I have come to wonder if this word frigid, which suggests to me not only cold, but the stiffness of cold, whether physical or emotional, might trigger similar associations in others; has the word acquired the delayed echo of rigid?

And what does it say about that old conflict of the oral and the written word, that journalists are now so keen to use the expression quote-unquote in print? Quite curiously, it affects the speaking voice imitating written punctuation. Closer still we reach for a complete desegregation of speech and writing, in favour of the former. The spoken expression, in this case, retains its currency partly from the attractive emphasis of its /o: o:/ ictus. But also, I suspect, from an increasing scorn of absolutes, an unwillingness to commit—or be seen to commit—linguistically to given notions. For the inverted commas of quote-unquote are rarely those of reported speech; rather, they are the commas of irony. Thus, a film-review in the Washington Post, 5/26/06, refers to 'a quote-unquote normal lifestyle', suggesting postmodernly that such a lifestyle is only normal insofar as it is considered such. With this device we distance from ourselves our own words, those signs which, in our hearts, we all still know to reveal us utterly.

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