Months back in this space I mentioned some of the extremely specific topics I’ve covered since this column began in 2003.
Would you believe one of the columns analyzed the word “up,” and how it can be used in many contexts, as in finish up, grow up, wise up, etc., without necessarily having anything to do with direction.
Another column discussed the way people end their sentences with “so ...,” and, you know, another like parsed the overuse of “like” and “ya know.”
How about a fresh topic? This will explain the way we use “fresh” and discuss how that word is used, depending on our sex and age.
Let me explain:
As a pre-teen, in a house with three older sisters, I heard the word “fresh” applied not to vitamins, vegetables or viewpoints, but (mostly) to adolescent men. Before I grew accustomed to “fresh” as a way of describing the newness and unsullied quality of things, I heard of men, usually those destined never to have a second date, regarded as fresh.
If you’re close to my age, my treatise on “fresh” probably won’t provide any, well, fresh ideas; you’ve heard the term. My guess is that if you’re younger, the word refers almost exclusively to air, fruit, or cups of coffee.
A teen relative came to visit one day and told all about her decision not to have a second date with a certain male from Immaculate Conception School. “Why not, Gloria”? “Well, he’s too fresh.”
What does/did that mean to a 10-year-old whose only inkling of “freshness” came vicariously through watching Marx Brothers comedies at the Serf.
Now, fresh ought to be a description that conveys a compliment, as in “My date is scrubbed; he has on a fresh, clean shirt” or “He brushes his teeth, and he shaves.”
I consulted several online dictionaries and found that the main meanings of “fresh” denote newness, inexperience, and wholesomeness. But toward the bottom of the list is the notion of someone “presumptuous or impudent toward someone, esp. in a sexual way.”
As I was doing research, I came across a totally different use of the word, this one also having nothing to do with newness. The other meaning of “fresh” is one that can be used only by an aging, mid-20th century professional and apply only to a mischievous boy.
Imagine, for example, a kid being asked to be silent in the library. After being shushed by the librarian, the kid pops up with something irreverent, such as, “You don’t tell me what to do.” The librarian retorts with, “Now don’t get fresh with me, young man!”
That meaning is far from the hanky-panky-type rendering used by nubile girls after a date. When people add “young man” to the locution, they’re referring to someone disrespectful, someone with loose (but not amorous) lips.
When our homeroom teacher, Sister Mary Labios Limpios once told me I had a fresh mouth, I thought that compliment came by virtue of my having gargled with Dad’s Listerine.
That kind of freshness is miles away from the description teenage girls apply to touchy-feelie male dates. Now we’ve covered two uses of the word which are in no way related to the more common use of “fresh.”
But let’s explore a few other uses and contexts which touch only tangentially on the meanings we’re accustomed to: We can be fresh out of eggs; we can have an event fresh on our minds; we can feel fresh after a good night’s sleep; “come fresh” refers to a cow that has recently birthed a calf and is therefore eligible to rejoin the milking herd.
And we can also be fresh out of ideas.
And I’m afraid that kind of freshness applies here and now.
• • •
The Newtown, Conn., massacre is a case of an illness pervading society. A 20-year-old uses three weapons to mow down innocent people, mostly children. And he kills his mother and himself as well.
There aren’t enough adjectives in my lexicon to describe the horror, the lunacy, and the inhuman act that makes millions of us, law-abiders, ask “Why?”
I can’t discuss the slaughter without becoming dewy-eyed, and I commiserate with those most immediately affected.
For sure, the pro- and anti-gun lobbies will renew their arguments, one side claiming, “Guns don’t kill people; people kill people.” The other side argues, “People with guns kill people.”
And many have already posted on social networks like Facebook that cars also kill people, “so are we going to outlaw cars too?” No. The primary purpose of cars is to move billions of people from one point to another, not to mow down innocents.
Surely our forefathers had in mind the sensible use of muskets, single-shot weapons ideally used for protection against animals or enemies. Much has changed since technology has come up with assault rifles — many of them perfectly legal — capable of firing multiple rounds in seconds and reaching targets miles away.
Is it our society, our lust for excitement, that makes shooters impervious to their actions? Is firing an AK-47, for example, not much different from participating in a video game whose graphics might sedate the person aiming at enemies in cyberspace?
Does culture reflect art? Netflix, the website that allow users to “stream” movies directly to their home, without the need for bulky disks or tapes, teems with violence.
Too numerous to mention, the movies generally show men carrying assault weapons in the same way one totes a purse, briefcase or cell phone.
Notice the covers of movies like Stake Land, Flying Swords, Bad Boys II, The Hunter, Cartel War, Amazons, Bad Ass and Assassin’s Bullet. What do they all have in common? Of course, powerful weapons.
Movies are fantasies. ‘Tis a pity some of the fungus among us actually carry out such fantasies.