Monday, October 28, 2019

The Story of Five by Five

You know, Dr. Theresa and I are rewatching the series BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER, and there is a character named Faith (pictured, above) who appears in Season 3 and goes around saying that she or her situation is "five by five," meaning fine or good. Dr. Theresa and I asked each other whether we had ever heard anyone say that outside of Faith on BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER. Was it a common bit of slang? Anyway, we forgot about it, because who cares? So in Season 4, somebody actually says (I'll paraphrase), "Hey, what was up with Faith? She always went around saying 'five by five,' what the hell does that mean?" So it seemed that the characters on BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER, aside from Faith, were just as unfamiliar with the term as we, the home viewers, were. "What's so great about being five by five?" I asked Dr. Theresa. "If I were five by five, I'd be a square little man." We paused the show and I went upstairs to consult my famed three-volume GREEN'S DICTIONARY OF SLANG. Sure enough, the primary meaning of five by five, dating back from the 1940s, was "a short, fat person," as I had correctly surmised. There was, however, a secondary listing for a hyphenated five-by-five, which aligned with Faith's usage. Strangely, the only text cited was the Stephen King novel DREAMCATCHER (2001). I had always assumed - and maybe I'm wrong - that the editor of GREEN'S DICTIONARY OF SLANG, Mr. Green, took pains to find the earliest possible textual reference to any given piece of slang. However! Season 3 of BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER takes place in 1999, two years prior to the King novel, as I know because Buffy and her friends are in the graduating class of 1999. Could it be that Stephen King watched BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER? I would almost bet on it! Did he crib the phrase "five-by-five" from Faith herself? Who can say? All we can say with certainty is that by showing a preference for the printed word, GREEN'S DICTIONARY OF SLANG has definitely overlooked earlier examples of slang usage in other forms of popular culture. But! Wouldn't it be the case that either way, "five-by-five," or any vernacular phrase, would have been tossed about by the general population before ending up in the works of either Whedon or King? Nevertheless, we cannot overlook the possibility that BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER created "five-by-five" out of whole cloth and Stephen King merely lifted it, leading GREEN'S DICTIONARY OF SLANG to inaccurately present it as a legitimate entry. I have no proof of this whatsoever, and, in fact, remain certain that I am entirely wrong. Anyway, I don't "blog" anymore, because who cares? But this is where I have traditionally recorded the details of my fraught relationship with the implacable GREEN'S DICTIONARY OF SLANG. [PS: If you look on the "internet," everybody wants to tell you that five-by-five comes from a term for measuring the clarity of a radio signal. But the wikipedia page on "signal strength and readability reports" tells me that "no reliable source has been found documenting this format." But everybody on the "internet" has decided to believe it now, because who cares? PPS: Though I have double-checked neither movie, the "internet" says that "five-by-five," in the Faith sense, previously appeared in BLACKBOARD JUNGLE and ALIENS. If so, it is still peculiarly rare in cultural presentation.]

Thursday, October 03, 2019

Safe Owl

Well, I went to Square Books the other day... I could almost tell you what day it was if I thought about it... I don't get out of the house much anymore... wait, I can do it the lazy way. I have the receipt right here, stuck in the back of the book. You'll be fascinated to know that it was on the 20th day of September that I walked into Square Books and said, "Hey, Slade, do y'all have that book by Lucy Ellmann, where it's one sentence that's a thousand pages long? I want that!" (It was not an accurate description of DUCKS, NEWBURYPORT. I read the prologue, which is about a page and a half of sentences of non-startling lengths. But then we get into what seems like a pretty long selection of phrases without terminal punctuation, all right! I'm only on page five. And on page five, given my compulsion, I must alert you to the fact that there is an owl, specifically, a brand called Safe Owl. I am not sure if the Safe Owl brand, which is listed by Ellman among a lot of other brands of many sorts of products, refers to this spice brand (above) I found on the "internet," as it listed among a number of more current brands (unless they still make Safe Owl spices). I believe that "Safe Owl" is a charming but timid name for a line of spices. Thank you for your time. [Appended on October 7, as I don't "blog" anymore: There are more owls later in the book, as the narrator discusses ways to prevent owls from eating purple martin babies.]