This week’s words:Oink, Old, Ostentation, Obeisance.
Oink is considered a representation of the noise made by a domesticated porcine. But the pigs I’ve met, and, having lived on and around farms, I’ve met a few, never made a sound I can identify with ‘oink’. But it lives on as an onomatopoeic representation of the animal. It also has many other meanings, many sexual and insulting, as well as being an acronym for ‘One income no kids’ and ‘Oh, I never knew’, and a name for some fictional characters. It’s also used as an insulting name for a police officer (from ‘pig’). In the UK, it was also in use as an insult applied (generally) to rural, well-off, ignorant and unpleasant men. However, I can’t discover a reference to this meaning, and it’s absent from my dictionaries (I have a few!), so I’d love it if any of you can recall this usage, and provide a reference. Seems a shame to lose such an apposite descriptive term; ‘That bloke who’s just taken over the Manor is a right oink.’
Simile: As old as the hills:
Ah, the hills; ancient features of the Earth, formed by geological processes over billions of years (unless you’re a believer in the literal sense of the Bible, in which case you probably think the hills can be no older than around 6,000 years. As this is scientifically proven as nonsense, I’ll say no more). But the ages of the hills make them an ideal candidate for the simile. Another is the (sorry, also a Biblical connection) association with Methuselah, who, due to a misinterpretation of the terms used, was believed to have lived to the ripe old age of 969 years; hence ‘old as Methuselah’, a belief I used satirically in the title of my science fiction novella, The Methuselah Strain.
So, it’s fine to use ‘old as the hills’, but probably better to avoid the Methuselah reference unless it’s for effect. Anything else old enough to be a suitable case for a simile? We could refer to the Galapagos Giant Tortoise, one captive specimen of which lived at least 170 years, but it’s a bit of a mouthful. And time itself has been cited, but that’s full of potential arguments (physics can be a bit like that). There’s always that dreadful expression; ‘a man is as old as the woman he feels’, but the sexist slant of that makes it unacceptable. I’m sure you can come up with suitable alternatives to the ‘hills’ to avoid the danger of the cliché.
Collective Nouns: Ostentation of peacocks:
I love collective nouns that are thoughtfully applicable to their subject. Is there a bird more ostentatious than the peacock? Can we use it for other groups? Perhaps an ostentation of glam rockers, high-ranking clerics (some costumes worn by bishops and archbishops fall into the category, I think), drag artists? Any others you can think of?
Delusional Dictionary: Obeisance: foolish bending of the knee to a non-existent deity; kow-towing; misplaced respect for a mythical creature; irrational fear of consequences if dogma is not followed.
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