Our word for the week is “sapiosexual.” According to Merriam-Webster.com, “Romance and wisdom need not be opposites. The fact that wisdom and knowledge can themselves be attractive qualities for a romantic partner is expressed in the use of sapiosexual, a word that means ‘sexually attracted to highly intelligent people.’”
A newfangled expression, it’s popular among young adults “who choose to describe themselves and their romantic interests in a way that contrasts sharply with the often superficial, looks-oriented criteria traditionally associated with the beginnings of romance.”
Generalizing’s usually dangerous, and not all young adults embrace terms like sapiosexual, for young fogeys do exist. The Oxford English Dictionary defines them as “a young person of noticeably conservative tastes or outlook.” The OED prefers spelling it “fogy” without the “e,” instead of “fogey,” as Americans prefer since it more clearly indicates how the “o” is pronounced. Browsing the OED’s always a treat, and I harvested several useful expressions, including “fogydom” (“the state or condition of a fogy”), and “fogyish” (“partaking of the nature of a fogy”).
WorldWideWords.org says that “there’s nothing new about old fogey.” First recorded in 1785 in Francis Grose’s “Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue,” it referred to soldiers, or “fogeys,” assigned to garrison duty due to their health or age. It became a popular expression in the 1860s and really spiked in popularity around 1940, but remains in regular use, according to Google’s N-Gram Viewer.
“Newfangled” is much older than “fogey/fogy,” being first employed by Geoffrey Chaucer in 1386 in “The Squires Tale” for “The Canterbury Tales.” The OED says “newfangled” means “very fond of novelty or of new things, unduly ready to take up new fashions or ideas.” It’s root, “fangle,” has many definitions, including “a sort of demon,” “a handful of straw for thatching,” and “to trifle,” but for our purposes it means “a novelty, new invention.”
“Canterbury Tales” is an on-going interest, and I recently perused one of the 90 “original” copies still extant after six centuries. They’re all hand-lettered manuscripts predating Gutenberg’s press by 50 years, yet you can page through one of the more beautifully ornamented copies owned by the British National Library by visiting their website (www.bl.uk/collection). Many people have at least vestigial awareness of Chaucer’s masterpiece, but most haven’t considered why it’s so important.
Chaucer invented the idea of having people of all different social classes telling the tales, and, as William Blake wrote, “The characters of Chaucer’s pilgrims are the characters which compose all ages and nations … the characters themselves forever remain unaltered, and consequently they are the physiognomies of lineaments of universal human life.” In “Chaucer A to Z” Rosalyn Rossignol wrote that “Chaucer’s blend of humor, realism and masterful control of dialogue and character was never matched,” despite many copycats’ efforts.
The tales range “from pious to comic, with humor veering between erudite wit and good honest vulgarity. Taken together, the tales offer a fascinating insight into English life during the late 14th century,” as the British Library’s website noted. But most critically, Chaucer “made the decision to write in English and not French. In the centuries following the Norman invasion, French was the language spoken by those in power. The Canterbury Tales was one of the first major works in literature written in English,” which encouraged other English-language writers.
TheGuardian.com asked Chaucer expert Dr. Marion Turner about “Canterbury Tales” being politically incorrect, by new-fangled young fogeys. Chaucer never lets you know what he really thinks, you can find anything you want to in him — people have been convinced that he is orthodox/heretical, a feminist/an anti-feminist, a radical/a conservative — you name it! I think when we read literature, especially from the past, a fundamental part of the experience is the tension between the way that it seems to speak to us, to be relevant across time, and the fact that we need to make imaginative leaps to try to understand a different cultural context … It isn’t an entirely different world — but it isn’t the same world either, and people and literature aren’t exactly the same across time.
Chaucer, who’s weathered similar storms over the centuries, noted that, “Men love, and naturally, newfangledness.”
Greg Hill is the former director of Fairbanks North Star Borough libraries. Contact him at 479-4344.