A movie log formerly known as Bookishness / By Charles Matthews

"Dazzled by so many and such marvelous inventions, the people of Macondo ... became indignant over the living images that the prosperous merchant Bruno Crespi projected in the theater with the lion-head ticket windows, for a character who had died and was buried in one film and for whose misfortune tears had been shed would reappear alive and transformed into an Arab in the next one. The audience, who had paid two cents apiece to share the difficulties of the actors, would not tolerate that outlandish fraud and they broke up the seats. The mayor, at the urging of Bruno Crespi, explained in a proclamation that the cinema was a machine of illusions that did not merit the emotional outbursts of the audience. With that discouraging explanation many ... decided not to return to the movies, considering that they already had too many troubles of their own to weep over the acted-out misfortunes of imaginary beings."
--Gabriel García Márquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude

Sunday, November 30, 2008

What's in a Name?

A nurse I hadn't seen before was hanging my IV bag the other day when I noticed her name tag.

"Is your name Arsenic?"

"Ar-say-nich," she said softly, a little wearily, as if answering the question was a burden she had borne for a long time. She was Croatian, she said, and the "c" was pronounced "ch."

Even so, it's an unsettling name for a nurse. You couldn't get away with a Nurse Arsenic in fiction. It would be like calling a surgeon Jack Ripper.

The word "arsenic," I learn from Wikipedia, is from the Greek, meaning "masculine" or "potent," which is how, I suspect, it became a Croatian surname. The Greeks got the word from the Persian, where it meant "yellow orpiment" -- a pigment. (Artists used to get arsenic poisoning from their paints.)

I suspect that Miss Arsenic, if she stays in the United States, will change her name, just as countless Vietnamese named Phuc have decided to do.

I don't mention all of this to make fun. No doubt there's a language somewhere in which "Matthews" means "foreskin" or monkey dung."