Friday, June 29, 2012

Tying the Knot

Changes in social attitudes can affect language. Remember when if you described someone as being gay, it more likely than not meant they were happy and had nothing whatsoever to do with their sexual orientation? Now that the three volumes of the Fifty Shades of Grey occupying the Times bestseller list, the expression “tying the knot” is coming under scrutiny. It used to be that when a couple let their friends know they were “tying the knot," they were getting married. Now with Fifty Shades of Grey "as American as cherry pie," to use H. Rap Brown’s famous quote about violence, and women openly reading it everywhere (it’s not uncommon to sit down in a crowded subway and find women on either side of you reading different or even the same volumes of the trilogy), the expression “tying the knot” can no longer be taken for granted. Actually in its common usage, as symbol of marriage “tying the knot” is an example of metonymy. Using the White House for the presidency is another example of this figure of speech in which an object is called by the name of something else which easily associates to it. Using “tying the knot,” in the sense suggested by the Fifty Shades of Grey revolution actually represents a return to a more literal use of the phrase. In this case a more evolved form of sexual behavior, involving, fetishism, submission and pain has actual resulted in a less evolved used of language. Thus if you are informed by a couple that they are tying the knot, it will not be considered at all inappropriate to ask them what kind of rope they are planning to use and if they possess enough to hang themselves with.

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