Monday, July 21, 2014

"Your bra strap is showing"

A satire on modern Bible interpretation methods

Two thousand years from now, English has ceased to be a living language, and scholars are discussing with the public the analysis and interpretation of 20th century literature. In the body of work they are discussing, there is a work of fiction containing a conversation where a young woman named Emily says to her friend Hilary, "Your bra strap is showing," and this creates a scandal, Hilary gets offended, their friendship falls apart, and these events affect the outcome of the story.

"Now, we see here this critical comment that the woman makes to her friend. She says, "Your bra strap is showing," and then everything falls apart. Why would this be? How could this simple comment have had such implications? What did it mean? 

"Up until now, the common interpretation was that Hilary's bra strap was a piece of clothing, a normal woman's undergarment, and that for Emily to point it out was a suggestion of a lapse of modesty, possibly bringing embarrassment to Hilary. 

"However, what did she really mean? In order to understand the significance of this comment, it is of the utmost importance to discover what it would have meant to one of the original readers. Fortunately for us, recent discoveries have brought to light a couple of ancient documents, dictionaries of the language actually published within 50 years of the same time period. We have discovered from the ancient sources of Random House and Merriam Webster that the real meaning is actually something much deeper. 

"You see, the word 'bra' is actually an abbreviation of the word brassiere, which comes from the Old French bracieres, which came from the root word bras, meaning 'arm,' and it meant arm guard, or armor for the arms, or arm protectors. Other words that came from this word were 'brace' (something that holds parts together or in place) and 'bracelet' (an ornament for the arm), which were both common words in use at the time of the writing. Therefore, we can see how the original meaning of this word gives us an additional depth of understanding into the meaning of Emily's comment. All of these shades of meaning would have been clear to Hilary, and so she would have understood that Emily was insinuating that she was arming herself, putting up shields, raising her defenses, and protecting herself. 

"Now, there's more. Consider the strap. The primary definition of "strap" was a long strip of leather or similar material, for binding trunks, baggage, or other objects. According to our research, trousers first went strapless in 1846, and brassieres in 1935. This work was written in 1964, so Hilary could not have been wearing a bra with straps, or if she was, she was wearing a style that was long out of fashion, as in the case of the old-timer still wearing suspenders. However, Hilary was young in the setting we describe, meaning that Emily was definitely insinuating something derogatory by mentioning straps.

"Finally, our research has turned up some startling new light on the word "showing." We are familiar with the common meaning of the word 'show,' which is to cause or allow to be seen. However, there are many other meanings of the word 'show,' giving us the final key to the interpretation of Emily's comment. It can mean many things, but here are just a few prominent examples: 
  • to present or perform as a public entertainment or spectacle:
  • to give information that proves (something)
  • to offer for sale
  • to finish third in a horse race
"The etymology of this word is fascinating. Our ancient source, Merriam Webster, tells us that 'show' comes from Middle English shewen, showen, from Old English scēawian to look, look at, see; akin to Old High German scouwōn to look, look at, and probably to Latin cavēre to be on one's guard.

"There we are again--the idea of being on one's guard. This goes back to the armor idea that we first discussed and proves that there is something deeper than mere modesty in Emily's comment. She is using innocent-sounding phraseology as code for an accusation that Hilary is beginning to arm herself against her friends as with a shield, strapping it on and being on her guard, with added layers of implication that this is being done ostentatiously, as a spectacle to the public, that it has been proved, that it sells out her friends, and that it is a third-rate thing to do. Hilary's reaction proves that she understood perfectly what Emily said, because she immediately became defensive, and their future actions of being offended at one another and breaking off the friendship make perfect sense if this was what Hilary was doing." 

The crowd applauded the depth and wisdom of the scholarship, and anyone in the future who doubted this interpretation or referred back to the old, plain meaning was instantly labeled ignorant and untaught.

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