"The promotion of metrosexuality was left to the men's style press," wrote Mark Simpson in the British newspaper The Independent in 1994, coining a term that has made a home for itself in the vocabulary of the new millennium.
"They filled their magazines with images of narcissistic young men sporting fashionable clothes and accessories. And they persuaded other young men to study them with a mixture of envy and desire."
Simpson titled his article "Here Come the Mirror Men," evoking Narcissus of Greek mythology, the young man who pined away staring at his image in a pool and was transformed into the pretty flower that bears his name.
Last year, the coiner defined the term in its expanded form: "The typical metrosexual is a young man with money to spend, living in or within easy reach of a metropolis -- because that's where all the best shops, clubs, gyms and hairdressers are." ("Metro" is based on the Greek for "mother," as in "mother country," and "polis" means "city"; a metropolis is a chief city, though metropolitan now includes the suburbs. End of tangent.)
Straight or gay?
"He might be officially gay, straight or bisexual," Simpson writes, "but this is utterly immaterial, because he has clearly taken himself as his own love object and pleasure as his sexual preference. Particular professions, such as modeling, waiting tables, media, pop music and, nowadays, sport, seem to attract them."
The term has been embraced by at least one sports megastar. (A mere superstar is no longer a big deal, as top-billing inflation roars ahead; keep your eye on "gigastar.") The celebrity most often associated with the word is David Beckham, the British soccer player. Beckham wears designer clothes off the field, has been seen in sarongs and nail polish and boasts a different hairstyle every week.
He is proudly and indisputably a dandy, comfortable with what is called his "feminine side" (on the theory that each person's personality contains masculine and feminine characteristics).
Should a political figure interested in reaching out to every group identify himself with the word? Probably not.
Speaking at a breakfast in Boulder, Colorado, Howard Dean recalled signing a civil-union bill when he was governor of Vermont and said, "Many LGBT groups -- for those of you who are not initiated, that's shorthand for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender groups -- asked me to come speak all around the country." On one of those occasions, Dean was complimented on his appearance. "There's a term for that," he said. "It's metrosexual.'"
A Denver Post reporter, Joey Bunch, put Dean's use of the word high in his coverage, which was picked up widely. However, the reporter noted, "then he waffled." The candidate quickly added a comment dissociating himself from knowledge of, or approval or disapproval of, the new narcissism: "I'm a square. I've heard the term, but I don't know what it means."
Hand in the till
When identifying myself with disappointed Chicago Cubs supporters this fall, I reached back into baseball's linguistic history and trotted out the upbeat lament of old-time Brooklyn Dodger fans: "Wait'll next year."
Jack Cushman, an editor at The New York Times, poked his head into my office to say that he associated himself with the sentiment but would not have abbreviated it that way. But that was the way it sounded, I argued: The 'll stood for "until." We reached for The New York Times Manual of Style and Usage on 'til: "Do not use except in quoting a written or printed source. But till" -- that's with no preceding apostrophe and with two "l's" -- "is largely interchangeable with until."
When I have been shown to be mistaken, I demand a second opinion.
The 15th edition of The Chicago Manual of Style (in its most complete revision in a generation and well worth the US$55 investment) usually bails me out of such sinking sensations.
But there was an admonition under the "till" entry: "This is a perfectly good preposition and conjunction. It is not a contraction of until and should not be written 'till."
Desperate for a permissiveness fix, I turned to Dr Roundheels himself, E. Ward Gilman, in Merriam-Webster's indispensable Dictionary of English Usage.
"What 'till is, unarguably," he argues with uncharacteristic certitude, "is a variant spelling of till used by writers who do not know that till is a complete, unabbreviated word in its own right."
I thought it was an abbreviation for "until." So, I suspect, did Theodore Dreiser, Ogden Nash and George Orwell, all users of "wait'll," though they may have wanted only to reflect a spoken sound in written form with absolute accuracy.
There is a clear difference in the sound of the title of the song Wait Till the Sun Shines, Nellie and the transcription of an embarrassed mother's admonition "Wait'll I get you home," or in my writing of what I heard in Ebbets Field as "Wait'll next year."
But that apostrophe is a mistake as painful as a charley horse.
And where, asks Rachel Javit, an Israeli who lives in West Hartford, Connecticut, does that name of a muscle contraction come from?
It turns out that it's an old baseball term. H.L. Mencken, in Supplement II of The American Language, wrote that Charley Esper, a lefty pitcher for the Baltimore Orioles, was so called "because he walked like a lame horse."
However, with the use of modern databases (who steals a database?), the philologist Sam Clements tracks an Aug. 29, 1886, usage in the baseball pages of The Atlanta Constitution: "Sullivan, of Charleston, has the Charley Horse in his head." (That may have been the first migraine.)
The growling etymologist Barry Popik found another baseball use in a Sporting Life dated a month later: "Joe Quinn is troubled with `Charley-horse.'"
Quinn, the first Australian-born major leaguer, played for the St. Louis Cardinals and wound up managing, charley horse and all, the Cleveland Indians.
Till we meet again.
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