Way back in the misty leg-warmer Avalon that was the 80’s, the BBC put out a miniseries adaptation of John Le Carre’s “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy.” (And yes, there was a star-studded feature film remake a couple years ago, but did you see it? I mean, seriously.) But that series, and its sequel “Smiley’s People” remain two of my favorite things on the small screen.
They’re dense and complicated and understated, and a linguaphile’s dream. They’re speaking English. They’re using the vocabulary, grammar, and idioms shared by the UK, her former (and current) colonies, and sellers of Viagra world-wide. They’re speaking English, but you have no idea what they’re saying. The whole thing is about British spies during the cold war, and being spies, they speak in code. They never refer to anything directly, never state anything explicitly, everything is oblique, hinted at, inverted. The head of the agency is never given a name in the story, he’s just referred to as “Control,” MI-6 headquarters is “The Circus,” an elevator is called “a Lift.”
As a Parent, this speaks to me.
There comes a time, shortly after a little person begins to recognize the names of things, when to utter certain nouns is to promise their delivery. If you so much as breathe the word “zoo” then you’d damn well better have the car seat in and the diaper bag packed, or else you’ll spend the next hour or two trying to explain to a 2 year old that you were referring to U2’s 1993 studio release “Zooropa,” and not the place where the monkeys are.
And yet, one must discuss U2’s catalogue in its entirety, and so a code must be developed.
“Zoo” becomes “Menagerie”
“Banana” becomes “Tropical Fruit”
Locomotive, Arts Institute, Biblioteca – such semantic subterfuge allows parents to discuss trains, museums, or libraries as concepts, without having to deal in base material reality.
And when all else fails, there’s spelling. This, though, can be a dubious prospect, and should be used only as necessary. You have to consider the amount of sleep (or lack thereof) and depleted cognitive ability of your average new parent, and you’ll understand why spelling anything over 4 letters could be more effort than it’s worth.
And of course, he’ll learn to spell eventually. One cannot stand against progress.
Though I may not be thwarting soviet global domination, my motives are nonetheless those of security. Some things are better kept from the general populace. Like my cell phone.