"I was provided with a receipt, and duly and officially accepted as an excursionist. There was happiness in that, but it was tame compared to the novelty of being `select.'"
"Occasionally, during the following month, I dropped in at 117 Wall Street to inquire ... how many people the committee were decreeing not `select' every day and banishing in sorrow and tribulation."
Our coarse age can do no better than scream "bullshit!" at the daily abuse of language perpetrated by management, business, politics, advertising, media, celebrity journalism and those of us who take their cues from them.
How much more elegantly Mark Twain expressed his disdain! One can almost see the sneer in the quote marks he wraps around the word select, and Twain published those sentences in 1869. That must make him one of the first to recognize the calculated appeal to snobbery that select as an advertising adjective embodies.
But the best thing is that Twain both recognized the snobbery and threw himself into it headfirst and with great zest, joining the "select" passenger list for the pioneering trans-Atlantic tourist cruise that became the occasion for The Innocents Abroad. And that, friends, is one of the most enviable tasks a man can take on: to take part fully in what the world has to offer and to make fun of it at the same time.
Of course, Twain himself helped make the passenger list "select," a celebrity by the time the boat sailed, thanks to his lectures and to "The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County." I shall read with interest to see whether he notes this irony.
The Twain paragraph marked my second recent discovery that an annoying word, expression or usage was older than I'd thought. (The first was the gratingly earnest Clinton-era "part of the (national) conversation," of which I was surprised recently to find an instance from the 1950s or '60s.)
Have you ever found that an expression or phrase you hated or loved turned out to be older than you thought? While you're at it, why not find some newer grating commonplaces at Patti Abbott's Expressions you could do without?
© Peter Rozovsky 2008