I collect phrases or expressions that amuse me, mystify me, make me think about what they mean, or just plain old infuriates me. Here are some examples:
Make America great again. Popularised by Donald Trump during his 2016 presidential campaign, the slogan implies that America was great, is no longer great, but should become great again – but what does great mean? Merriam-Webster offers two definitions that sort-of fit: remarkable in magnitude, degree, or effectiveness or markedly superior in character or quality but how do you apply these definitions to a country? What’s the reference point for magnitude, degree or effectiveness? How superior does a character or quality have to be before it becomes markedly so? The slogan has no tangible meaning.
God save the Queen. An exhortation to a mythical being to save an anachronistic parasite from what? Rabies? Poverty? Senility? It’s got me beat.
There’s no toilet roll! The number one fear of the UK’s population when lockdown was announced last March.
Are we there yet? The archaic futile question from the bored small child in the back seat of a travelling car, or on a bus or train. Why archaic? The question is no longer asked if the small child has a smartphone fully loaded with games apps. Nowadays, this question has been replaced with My phone has run out of battery! To which you must not respond with the correction No, your battery has run out of charge. That will cause yet more grief in the small child and may result in the ejection of the now defunct smartphone from the vehicle in which he, she or them is travelling and to the detriment of a passerby. Check the status of your liability insurance before you travel a long distance accompanied by a small child glued to a smartphone. Or carry a fully-charged power charger.
Let us pray. An invitation to ask a mythical being for something that is guaranteed to be ignored because the being is mythical.
And the one that gets me going, the worst expression in the world:
Because you’re worth it. The advertising slogan of the cosmetic company, L’Oréal Paris. Oh man, I’ve had arguments with just about every female, young (i.e. my granddaughters), middling, and old (my wife and other female acquaintances) I come into contact with. I maintain that this slogan plays to female vanity and the underlying innate desire to make themselves attractive either to attract a mate, or to keep an existing mate, or exchange an old mate for a new mate!
That last sentence is guaranteed to start World War 3 at a dinner party, a family gathering, or in the pub. Every female I’ve said this to has replied, sometimes angrily, that they apply makeup and ‘do’ their hair for self-esteem, neatness/tidiness, and skin-condition/protection reasons; nothing to do with attracting a potential mate. I can agree the skin-care reason but self-esteem? My usual rejoinder when I get the universal we-do-it-because-we’re worth-it answer is would you apply makeup if you were stranded all alone on a desert island? Oh yes, comes the answer – because we’re worth it.
Fifteen minutes with Google reveals two things: the use of substances to enhance beauty (whatever that means) can be traced back 7,000 years to the ancient Greeks and Egyptians; and the two main reasons women, and now some men, use appearance enhancers are cited to be camouflage and seduction – hide those wrinkles and flutter those mascared eyelashes under the plucked eyebrows. We often see both these objectives in advertisements for cosmetics: be forever young, shine like a pearl, unleash your beauty, it’s about being a girl/woman, boost your charm, put beauty in the eyes of the spectator… (These slogans come from a website that lists 200+ makeup slogans. I quite like the ambiguity of the no lipstick is enough suggestion. It reminds me of the 1955 Anadin advertisement.)
L’Oréal’s because you’re worth it slogan, dating back to 1973, represented a major departure from the cosmetic industry’s camouflage and seduction slogans by introducing a new line of feminism – self-confidence, decisive and stylish. And, boy oh boy, did it sell L’Oréal’s products. Celebrity endorsers such as Jennifer Lopez, Andie MacDowell, Helen Mirren and Beyonce Knowles have ensured the phrase is now in common parlance and used as a catchphrase in any situation where someone receives something pleasant – an anniversary or birthday present, an unexpected gift, a retirement present, even a round of drinks in a pub. I don’t mind that. What I object to is the idea that even on a desert island, all alone, a woman would still apply makeup for reasons other than skin care because they are worth it! Feminism and its enhancement by means of cosmetic products is always about camouflage and seduction and neither are necessary on a desert island. Skin care – yes: camouflage and seduction disguised as because you’re worth it – no.
Let World War 3 commence…