On the Ejaculation of Language and Sticky Peppermints

About once a decade, I reread the complete Sherlock Holmes. I love Sherlock. I love him for many reasons, and now I have another one to add to my list. You see, literature changes, and modern literature seems to have fulfilled my worst predictions for it. It has become about as puritanical as the society surrounding it, even though, at one time, it was the vanguard of avant-garde morality. Now, of course, it’s all about sentiment and sweetness, regardless of the situational ethics. It’s all right, for example, for vampires to have sex, so long as they’re married. Do you see how the situation trumps the actual ethics?

I realize I’m falling into the all too predictable error of confusing British literature with American; as far as I know, British literature is about as libertine as Restoration poetry was 300 years past, even in our enlightened age. The rakish Rochester may still encompass the overarching ethic of what is acceptable in the printed word, such as how a man could wrong his fair Corinna. If that’s the case, I apologize ahead of time for my false comparison.

Sherlock Holmes is anything but sweet. He is, in fact, about as unthinkingly obtuse in his interactions with others as I am. His sidekick, Dr. Watson, also belies a gentle demeanor–he with his military doctor ways. However, who would have thought that it used to be regular for well-respected and educated gentlemen such as these to ejaculate in the middle of conversations?

Here is just one excerpt from A Study in Scarlet:

“Wonderful!” I [Watson] ejaculated.

“Commonplace,” said Holmes, though I thought from his expression that he was pleased at my evident surprise and admiration.

Ah, yes, the evolution of language is astonishing. And while we’ve come to collectively puritanicize fictional dialogue, some annoying aspects of literature refuse to assert their way into a higher sphere of consciousness. For example, characters have essentially become too situational. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve engrossed myself with the characterization of a TV series, a movie, or a novel, only to have the psychological nuance disappear with the dropping of a back story. Oh! So that’s why the protagonist has become a regular tough dick cop! When she was a soft, tender girl playing dollies at the top of the stairs, a serial killer, who is coincidentally still-at-large, entered the foyer of her childhood home and brutally axed her mother! I get it now. If not for that one decisive event, our tough dick cop would most likely be a housewife in an apron who eats pound bags of peppermints (of the low quality variety found by the toothpicks when paying for a restaurant meal), and who coos at babies in the street. Okay, let’s hope that nobody coos at babies in the street, but removes them posthaste. Still, I’m sure you grasp my intended meaning.

But let’s pretend for a moment that all characters do, indeed, suffer through defining moments that turn them into who they are today (relative to the story era, of course). When a detective is so utterly marvellous at detection that men spontaneously ejaculate around him, he will most likely fall into heavy drug use or melancholic screeching on the violin to block the inevitable embarrassment. That does explain a lot about Sherlock. It could also explain why a would-be tough dick cop, who is a housewife due to her mother still being very much in a state of healthy aliveness, would fall into a habit of obsessively sucking peppermints and leaving babies in the street. For example, what would happen if, the last ten times the plumber skipped over with his toolbox, he was faced with a hottie in an apron who conclusively and unemotionally determined who painted with whose Crayola watercolor set on the walls, due to the angle and shape of the splatter?

“Wonderful!” Mr. Plumber might ejaculate. “I wish my wife could do that!”

“Commonplashe,” she might say, while spraying him with just a few drops of sticky peppermint.

p.s. I’ll be taking next week off from blogging, so Happy New Year to you and your kin!

p.p.s. The broken link for Wilmot’s poem has now been fixed.

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6 comments

  1. I’m wondering if anyone has done a comparison of literature pre- and post-Freud. I have a totally baseless hypothesis that there was a surprising uptick of characters motivated by bad childhoods starting somewhere after WWI.

    Do characters always need to a reason? Can’t a cop just be a dick for its own sake?

    1. Why are cops (or detectives, to be exact) called dicks, anyway?

      You might be right about the post World War II thing–it might very well be an offshoot of modern psychoanalysis.

        1. I did. It wasn’t as bad as one would expect. I only turned up one cartoon picture of a naked man. The best guess is that it’s a shortening of detective.

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