Sunday, September 22, 2013

Learning to Read

I was reading a magazine recently that is devoted to old cars. While I do own two antiques, that is cars more than 25 years old, they are rough, unrestored, working vehicles. I do want to keep them running, but making them into "better than new" holds no appeal for me.

But I digress.

I was reading about a car that the owner had restored, and in the description of the interior, was the factory term "Carpathian burled elm patterned vinyl inlays." A mouthful of words to describe some pieces of plastic film used to decorate parts of the interior. As I read the description, my mind went back to the first time I heard such language used. I don’t mean the words, but the formula being applied.

One of my best friends in high school was the son of a furrier. The man was adept at finding and sewing furs into beautiful and expensive clothing. It was a thriving business back in those years. Women, especially, seemed to covet coats of fur for what the garment symbolized as much as for their warmth. It was as natural as the skins themselves that a language would develop around what went into the garment.

But enough of this digression.

What was really interesting to me was a description of a coat the father had recently made: "mink dyed rabbit." It took a minute, in my innocence, to parse that phrase and realize what it signified: a common bunny skin dyed to look like mink. I don’t know if that process would also make the fur feel like mink, but I suppose it was enough to know that people would think it was mink. In any case, that was in some ways, the beginning of a loss of innocence on my part.

The lesson, of course, is that one cannot simply rely on words used to describe something. One must factor in the order in which the words fall, ever so trippingly from the tongue, as Shakespeare would have it. And one must pay attention to the source, and not be swayed by appearances. An automobile brochure is designed to make you want whatever model is being presented, regardless of its inherent qualities (or lack there of).

But again I digress.

What you read or hear is not necessarily what you get. The same applies to furniture, appliances, jewelry, even food.

Oh! And politicians.

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