Yeah, that’s at least a double negative. So sue me. My defense? The use of double negatives, while now a signal of syntactic poverty, was prevalent in Shakespeare’s day and used at will, especially by Will.
Point being, language changes. Yes, language. Though we might like to think it a stable element of our chaotic existence, at least during our own lifetime, it is, in fact, not. As speakers of a language, we are changing it as we speak, so to speak. Shakespeare’s era officially marks the beginning of our own period of Modern English, so if you struggle not with iambic pentameter but rather with the diction of the bard, you know whereof I speak.
I understand all too well how the meanings of words can change on a dime (see my exchange with the teenage Old Navy sales associates in Do Not Go Gentle into that Bad Clogosphere). I can also appreciate the arbitrary nature of words. Technically, a dog could have been a cat. And can I just say for the record, thank God they are not. (Come on, I have a cat allergy, folks.)
But even if we choose other names for things we know and love, we are assured that the essence of the concept identified stays the same. So if we had called a dog a cat, it would still be a dog. Likewise, an entire generation can decide quite suddenly that underwear will be called by a term formerly reserved for footwear: ie, thong. But the fundamental construct of a teeny tiny undergarment or a topless shoe is non-negotiable. That is, until they build a bigger, better flip-flop in the far, far distant future when people won’t need flip-flops because they won’t likely be walking anymore (See Wall-e).
This debate began a few years ago when my then tween daughter expressed incredulousness when I passingly referred to one of her tops as green. She politely corrected me, “No, this is blue.” I challenged that perception, and when her consternation grew swiftly to epic proportions and my interest in arguing over what I deemed common knowledge waned in direct proportion to her epic proportions, I dropped the argument.
Until it emerged in conversation again. And again. Eventually I realized we were experiencing not only the classic failure to communicate but a deep-seated philisophical difference of opinion on this topic as well.
I also realized that she believes I am subscribing to some antiquated notion of color due to my advancing age. I fast forwarded to her as an adult, imparting this tidbit to my grandchildren, “Back in the olden days, people like your grandmother thought that this obviously blue shirt was green—hah!” as she slaps her knee.
In my line of work, we promote that the cornerstone of teaching academic writing is helping students grapple with ideas and issues about which reasonable people might disagree. Students are trained to detach emotionally from a subject enough to consider the counterarguments, a strategy which ultimately can serve to strengthen their own arguments. I just never guessed the distinction between blue and green would rise to the level of a debatable issue. Or that I would be spending a lot of time with unreasonable people.
I fully admit that I have an emotional investment in the color blue, maybe because it is my favorite color and was the dominant color scheme in the house in which I grew up since my mother indulged the same interior decorating color palette that Jackie Kennedy employed as First Lady (On Going Home).
And I am well aware that paint chips lie. Not a little, but a tremendously huge amount. They lie bigger and better than any rug ever thought about. Computer screens took a cue from paint chips and now they lie, too. I can deal with that level of deception, though it’s taken me until midlife to be able to do so and then only after purchasing countless cans of eye-boggling, unusable paint. (It’s a darn good thing nail polish comes in clear bottles.)
I should also note that this phenomenon is not to be confused with the typical fashion edicts promulgated in women’s magazines. Something like, “Brown is the new black,” which was the fashion-forward mantra some years back. In that fashion theorem, brown was touted as versatile and as wearable as black, but black never became the new brown. Nosirree. Black stayed perfectly black during the period when brown was everywhere acting like black. When I announced this new spin on brown to my husband after enhancing my wardrobe that fall with several brown pieces, his immediate reaction was, “Well, that’s good news for UPS drivers.” And indeed it was.
Now my son with a mind of an anthropological bent would point out, rightly, that color is subject to cultural interpretation as far as significance and, in some cases, even perception. I would counter that this variance in interpretation is not only occurring within my own culture, but within my own home.
So when did blue and green trade places on the color wheel if only in the minds of young teens (for now), and, more importantly, why? What precisely is the benefit of such a change? Is this a conspiracy by nail polish manufacturers and paint companies? Did they run short on esoteric names for color (“Kiss on the Chic,” “Frolic,” “Yes We Can Pink,” “Cherries in the Snow,” “Room Service,” “Koi Pond”)? Seriously, who authorized this seismic shift?
My daughter is moving to a larger bedroom in our house and painting the walls a color Ralph Lauren has presciently named “Impressionist. ” It is a color that defies categorization as blue or green. Really, even police are baffled.
That might be the ultimate upshot of the ever-morphing boundaries between blue and green. So little is definitive and non-negotiable in these heady days of the technology and literacy explosion. Blue is the new green and green is apparently the new blue. Who could see that coming?
Maybe this is, at heart, a linguistic shift of some kind that entails a genuine conceptual shift. After all, how could any child of mine confuse blue and green? Oh, probably the same way we she learned slang: from her peers. They wield far more power over her dialect and diction than I ever will. Sure, a steady diet of HGTV home shows might have had some modest impact.
And so the speakers of the language change it yet again. And maybe with the changes this time, they take with them Shakespeare’s rose.
NEWS FLASH! Since I posted this piece, I’ve had the opportunity to flip through the current issue of Better Homes and Garden Magazine where they’ve broken some news on the home decorating front, and this is a direct quote, “Seaglass is the new off-white.”
If like most people, you wonder what color “seaglass” is exactly, I’m happy to report that it is by this article’s account a color that can’t be determined if it is blue or green. Sort of an eye-of-the-beholder situation. Actually, if you are over 45 years of age, you will immediately recognize it as the color of the crayon labeled “seagreen” that came in the coveted box of 64 Crayola crayons. So one clear benefit of living with teenagers: you’ve always got your finger on the pulse of popular culture.