Wednesday, December 11, 2013

On 'Stringvestites'

I recently wrote- rambled would be more like it- about nonce words, because of something I heard watching ‘Are You Being Served’. Well, Mrs Hickory and I like a bit of old-fashioned British comedy, so we returned last night to Mr Humphries and co., and there was he was in a sailor costume, explaining how he had had to fight off the attentions of a number of people including a ‘*stringvestite’. My linguistic antennae twitched.

From the context it appeared to mean a working-class homosexual who doesn’t look like one. Those who remember that particular piece of ill-conceived clothing, or were forced to wore one, as was my case, are unlikely ever to forget it, but I don't remember any association with homosexuality. The Urban Dictionary's definition doesn't seem quite right, but of course it's probably a much more recent use of the term.

*Google knows almost nothing else about the word, but I have found some comment on its use in the series. There is probably no subject that someone is not prepared to make an idiot of himself over in the Guardian, and there is certainly no subject in or out of this world that doesn't have dedicated Internet forums. Here Matthew Parris is quoted at length, speaking more intelligently (scroll down to the end). Neither sheds much light on John Inman's use of the word, but their reactions to it are interesting in themselves. I don't call Stuart Jeffries an idiot, by the way, or Mathhew Parris intelligent, because I agree with one or disagree with he other. Matthew Parris gives a personal interpretation of the character of Mr Humphries, and some similar characters and performers, from his memories of being a secret homosexual in the 70's. He doesn't claim that everyone should share his experience or accept his arguments, he just explains how it was for him. The Guardian writer, on the other hand, appears simply to tell his readers what they want to hear. He might be right, and Matthew Parris wrong, but he hasn't helped us to understand anything.

When a footnote becomes longer than the entire post, some editing may be required. Stopping is also a good idea.


Mark Wadsworth said...

"Stopping is also a good idea."

It was a great foot note though!

Perhaps you ought to do more ten or twenty word posts with lengthy footnotes instead? Make the genre your own?

Vincent said...

"but he hasn't helped us understand anything" - especially the meaning of "homophobia",

In those days there was a friendly tolerance of the majority towards the minority of homosexuals. Those old-fashioned British comedies with their risqué references showed everyone how they could meet in the middle. A bit of give & take and self-mockery. But then militant sexual politics came in. "Homophobia" was used like "racism" or "blasphemy" (by militant Muslims) to extend their territory, like it or not.

If things cannot be joked about any more out of fear of labels, the militants have won, and it's no longer a meeting in the middle, but expansionism.

For reasons which I cannot fathom, the Guardian plays a big part in this. Plus endangering the security of our realm.

Not that I have any complaints. It's just my least favourite newspaper.

CIngram said...


It's an idea :-) I seem to remember a poet who was known for writing explanatory footnotes that were longer than the poem itself. From the Book of Heroic Failures, I think.


Thanks for your own reflections from that time. I was too young then to have much understanding of how society and the media defined and responded to homosexuality. At school I seem to remember we weren't too bothered. And I recall a lot of fuss about gay vicars which seems pedestrian, if not ridiculous, today.