Monday, December 3, 2012

Breats (for Beast or Breast)

Beast is kind of a funny term. From tongue-in-cheek variants like "beasties" and "roast beast" to foreign ones like wildebeest, it can serve equally well as a reference to Bigfoot and his crypto-companions; a gentleman who's been behaving badly; and by linguistic extension, the unfortunate victim of a zoophile (in the paraphilic sense). It famously falls victim itself to an oft-misquoted aphorism: "Music hath charms to soothe the savage beast [i.e., breast]." And coincidentally, I just watched a fascinating profile of Theo Jansen and his Strandbeest (Dutch for "beach animals"), creatures made of PVC pipe who "walk" with strangely articulated limbs and joints. The word Beast has been posited as almost the polar opposite of Beauty. I guess the beauty of beasts is that they often raise more questions than they answer. Still it's hard to explain the four bubbly young women who grew increasingly ditzy as they rode around New York City in the Cash Cab the other night. When asked: "In Arabic there are a thousand words for what desert-dwelling beast of burden?" there was immediate whispering of camels. But then defeat was snatched from the jaws of victory and their final answer was set down: "Scorpion." When taxi driver/emcee Ben Bailey informed them of the right answer, the one in the backseat demurred: "But a camel isn't a beast." Yeah, and they don't tend to walk "a breast" either. Although, unless they're dromedaries, they usually do have two. Bah-dum-dum. Today's beastly typo turns up four times in OhioLINK, and 33 times in WorldCat.

(Patty, the beast with two breasts, in the 1967 Patterson-Gimlin film, which can be seen here on YouTube.)

Carol Reid

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