Saturday, November 28, 2020

'Other Absurdities of This Nature So Very Gross'

We are probably better buffered than most Americans against advertising. We have no cable-television connection. Our spam filter does its job, and any online site that throws up an advertising obstacle course we generally skip. We subscribe to few magazines and no newspapers, and I listen to CDs in the car, almost never the radio. When people start recounting the commercial they found so amusing last night, I’m gone. It’s reassuring to know there’s nothing new about such sentiments. Consider Joseph Addison’s essay in The Tatler on September 14, 1710:


“I cannot excuse my fellow-labourers for admitting into their papers several uncleanly advertisements, not at all proper to appear in the works of polite writers. Among these I must reckon the Carminitive Wind-expelling pills. If the doctor had called them his carminitive pills, he had done as cleanly as any one could have wished; but the second word entirely destroys the decency of the first. There are other absurdities of this nature so very gross, that I dare not mention them.”


Imagine what Addison would make of advertisements for pills, liquids and creams that treat hemorrhoids, erectile dysfunction, diarrhea and constipation, not to mention condoms and feminine hygiene products. Of course, Addison was a pragmatic editor and publisher. He understood that periodicals relied on advertising for their ongoing existence. He specifically cites “collections of advertisements that appear at the end of all our public prints.” This brings to mind an interesting, seemingly contradictory phenomenon: the sense of nostalgia induced by the advertising of the past. Only when no longer current is advertising of interest. Years ago a friend gave me the issues of Life magazine that bracket the date of my birth in 1952. On the back of the November 3 issue is an ad for Camel cigarettes: “Why did you change to Camels, Farley Granger?” And Farley answers: “I tried Camels as my steady smoke for 30 days—they beat any other cigarette I’ve smoked!”


Back to “Carminitive Wind-expelling pills.” From the context, you’ve probably figured out the meaning of the first adjective: “Of medicines, etc.: Having the quality of expelling flatulence.” One wonders what the OED is refering to with that all-inclusive “etc.”

No comments: