kitsch

A gasp of horror with the vocal catch of retching issued forth from the kitchen of Domus Logogustationis, the headquarters of the Order of Logogustation. I recognized Maury’s voice of dismay right away and went to have a look-see. There, in the kitchen, over a hutch, hung a diptych: a cricket match of fluffy kittens, and a poker game of puppies with bows on their heads.

“Who put the kitsch in the kitchen?!” Maury moaned, twitching.

“Which kitsch,” I said, unable to resist a chance to twist Maury’s knickers, “the kitten kitsch or the bitch kitsch?”

“Each. Both. Whatever! I know we’re not rich, but this gives me an itch – to pitch it in a ditch!”

“But it fills out this niche. Maybe adjust them a titch…”

Maury turned to look at me. “You didn’t do this, did you?”

“Oh, no,” I said, actually shivering a bit at the thought. “Perhaps they were picked up at Elisa’s kaffeeklatsch. Well, at least they match.”

Maury peered at them over the tops of his glasses – either for expressive effect, or just to see them less clearly; he’s unmistakeably myopic. “Kittens on a cricket pitch,” he said slowly. “I’d rather dispatch it down the coney hatch. The mutts, too. The worst sort of kitsch. Vulgar. Sentimental. Sickeningly saccharine. Wretched.”

“It’s funny,” I mused, “that something so invariably soapy, smeary, or fluffy as kitsch gets an unfluffy, unsoapy, unsmeary word like kitsch. I think our conversation has established how basically harsh and unpleasant that voiceless affricate is for a word ending. And the onset is the hardest phoneme going in English, /k/.”

“Ironic to say it’s unsmeary,” said Maury, “given that it comes from dialectal German kitschen, verb, ‘smear’.”

“Well, one does smear things in the kitchen,” I said.

“I’d rather have cockroach caca than this botch job. I mean,” he said, gesturing at the dog picture, “this one has taken archetypical schlock – C.M. Coolidge’s 1903 poker-playing dog series – and spatchcocked it with saccharine. The originals were done to sell cigars. These are not for the cigar crowd!”

“Curiously,” I said, “kitsch is only attested in English since the 1920s, if I recall correctly. …The word, I mean, of course. We’ve had the thing for much longer. Along with the words maudlin, mawkish, cloying, and tawdry.”

“Well, who knows what made kitsch catch on just then,” Maury said. He stepped forward, unhitched the kitten picture, and stood there for a moment, holding it, looking for a good place to stick it. “Hand me that butcher knife,” he said.

But just then Elisa came in. “Ah-ah-ahhh!” she sang, and snatched the picture from Maury. “Don’t touch!”

“You can’t be serious,” Maury said in a wounded voice as she replaced the picture.

“Oh,” Elisa chirped, “they won’t stay there forever. They’re on loan from my aunt. They’re just theme decoration for our upcoming vulgarity week.”

“Ross Ewage will oblige quite readily at the sight of these,” Maury rumbled.

“Kittens and vulgarity…” I smiled. “Never mind kitsch. Try Joel Veitch!” I went grabbed a slip of paper and wrote down a link for her: http://www.rathergood.com/Table/all_other_songs/ . “No kitsch there… but plenty of the other, unsentimental kind of vulgarity. And lots of kittens. If you don’t like the vulgar, you might want to skip the sweary kittens. And a few other things.” (This, by the way, is true: if you don’t like vulgarity, stick with his tamer pieces like Independent Woman.)

3 responses to “kitsch

  1. Niche is ‘nitch’, not ‘neesh’?

    (Is this worth a full post or just a reply? Or neither? 🙂 )

    • Both pronunciations are used; “nitch” is actually the first listed in some dictionaries (for instance the ITP Nelson). I actually prefer the French style, but I had an obvious reason for including it with the other “itch” words…

      • Wilson Fowlie

        No, I don’t blame you for that. My ‘niche’ question made me forget that the beginning of your post reminded me of one of the songs from the Wizard of Oz movie:

        The wind began to switch, the house to pitch
        And suddenly the hinges started to unhitch.
        Just then the Witch, to satisfy an itch,
        Went flying on her broomstick, thumbing for a hitch.

        And oh, what happened then was rich:

        The house began to pitch. The kitchen took a slitch.
        It landed on the Wicked Witch
        in the middle of a ditch,
        Which was not a healthy situation for the Wicked Witch.
        Who began to twitch and was reduced to just a stitch
        Of what was once the Wicked Witch.

        … slitch?

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