Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Trap Doors. Part I.

As today is Wednesday, and as Wednesday's child, I'm primed to launch into the woeful bugaboo that really coaxed me into the blog-o-sphere. Anyone who's suffered recently through a dinner party or other social gathering that involved too much wine has heard me wax spastic about this concept I call the "trap door." I now intend to exploit my blog as a stage for my personal peccodilloes.

To the right of the screen, I've provided a picture of one genre of trap door. A particularly creepy trap door at that.

Side note: Recent discussions regarding the endangered hyphen push me to it trap-door, or "trap door." Surely we haven't devolved so much that it's now an overly Teutonic "trapdoor," have we? I found multiple uses of the term with and without a hyphen. Since the on-line OED requires a monthly payment of $29.95 or a yearly subscription for $295, I'll have to wonder until I get home tonight.

Back to the trap door at hand. This creepy trap door reminds me of "Deliverance," or "The Hills Have Eyes." Which is only to say that despite my quasi-rural upbringing, man-made holes in the earth make me think of deranged maniacs. A useful association, actually, when one thinks of the trap door as a bugaboo.

Another, and I promise the last, aside in this post: "Bugaboo" is a fun little word, isn't it? It has two equally fun meanings:

1. An object of obsessive, usually exaggerated, fear or anxiety.
2. A recurring or persistent problem.

The fact that marketers have co-opted this term as though it means "cute little children" is hilarious to me. For I, mostly, see children alternately as objects of exaggerated, obsessive anxiety or recurring, persistent problems. Delightful misstep, don't you think?


Trap door is the term I have begun to apply to rhetorical devices which allow writers (or speakers, though I'm much more interested in how this manifests in text) to evade battering out cohesive, balanced thoughts on an issue just after introducing a topic--especially topics of an uncomfortable, challenging nature.

Via the trap door, the writer/speaker evades any responsibility for the stickier implications of his or her point. A trap door is the hole into which the "response" part of "call and response" falls to a bloody death, especially if one is dealing with this phenomenon in conversation. (There's that Wednesday's child again...bloody death indeed. For shame.)

What makes the trap door insidious is the fact that its ultimate goal is comfort. It is more comfortable to end a complicated conversation with a platitude, or to change the subject, or to use a joke, or (worst of all, I feel) to fall back on irony. (Irony is another bugaboo, which I'll get into a bit later in my explorations of the trap door.)

My goal for the rest of the week is to find solid, illustrative examples. Right now, the most boorish one will at least begin to sketch out what I'm getting at.

[The setting is a trendy restaurant in New York]

Party A: Honestly, this neighborhood has become unbearable. I moved to New York for dirt, for passion, for art and transgression. And now there's a Baby Gap on every corner of the Village.

Parties B-D: [sighs] Yeah. It's so true.

Party A: I mean, I'm starting to wonder what I'm staying here for.

Party C: Well, the city does still have it's strong suits.

Party A: Yeah. Like restaurants! I cannot WAIT to try the foie gras's supposed to be fabulous. And who doesn't like a little foie gras with their urban discontent?

Parties B-DL: [laughing] True! Pass the wine.


Now. We've all tried to avoid the tedious, never-ending conversation that is how-our-city-town-or-village-has-changed. Especially at dinner. Especially when we're tired, and not all that interested in really digging into a socio-political debate about the relative rise and fall of Manhattan's cultural scene.

What gets me is the trap door -- the use of humor (in this case) to dismiss the question and move on to easier and more palatable topics. If you call foie gras PBJ palatable. Which I do.

Trap door.

It would be very, very simple for me to end my blog entry with that snarky comment about foie gras. If I may applaud myself, it was a stylish way of summarizing a rather tedious topic, and evading taking any responsibility for what I'm arguing.

It also means that you, as the reader, can stop working, too.

And that will not do, black shoe.

to be continued...


Collins said...

the hyphen is not dead, my friend. we are forever using it whenever discussing the possessive form of students in a given grade level. you know, those pesky fourth-graders.

on a side note, wtf? you have to subscribe to OED on-line now? no wonder kids are getting progressively less literate. they have to pay to look up the definition of a word on the internet!

another stellar blog my friend.

Rob said...

This blog is like William Safire's "On Language," but on crack! (That's a compliment...)