Daily Archives: November 16, 2014

egret

The egret, it seems to me, is a bird for the future.

It is not that I think the future is exactly like a pretty little heron with an awful squawking voice. It is just that its name and some other things about it seem to be looking forward.

For one thing, we always greet the future with a bit of confusion. And egret is greet with a bit of confusion.

For another, its name comes from Old French aigrette, diminutive of aigron, ‘heron’, but doesn’t it look like vinaigrette – a kind of salad dressing – without the vin? The aigre in vinaigrette (and its source vinaigre) means ‘sour’. So if you take the vin (wine) from vinaigrette, what you’re left with is a little sour. I don’t think that the future will be a little sour and without wine; I think this bird just reminds us that without wine, things can get a little sour. So add a bit of wine in the future and you will still be in your salad days.

For another, egret sounds like it should be an eaglet, a juvenile raptor, lone and threatened and set to become a large, voracious, revered, rapacious, endangered predator. But actually it is a fairly innocuous thing (unless you’re a fish, or own a fish pond) that, even full grown, would easily fit standing under a table and perhaps even under a chair. Not such a threat.

And not so threatened. A century ago egrets were in danger because of the harvesting of their feathers for use in such things as dress hats and uniforms. But collective action by concerned people made a real difference; with the aid of legislation, rapacity was forestalled and egrets are no longer threatened – although loss of habitat due to encroachment and similar changes could still hurt them. Like the future, maybe: the threat is not overt aggression, just the creeping ignorant comforts of humans.

Egrets are nice, egalitarian birds. They take turns caring for their nest eggs; when one comes to take over from the other, it may even hand over a stick, like passing the baton. They are pretty birds, too, as said: they’re herons, lean with needle beak, and elegantly lovely plumage. Especially the snowy egrets.

Snowy egrets. It’s snowy here today. But snow greets you often in the dimmer half of the year around here. So it goes. I live here happily; I have no regrets.

There’s no regrets – there’s snowy egrets. Sounds good, no? That’s the other thing for me linking egrets to the future: they’re regrets that don’t start. That’s the best way to approach what’s coming. If you see a regret coming your way, just knock it off as soon as it starts and have a bird instead.

bro-ffant

The other day, it occurred to me that this is one of those eras where a future person could look at pictures of what we consider fashionable in men’s hair – what’s featured in magazines and seen seated at Starbucks – and date it within a year or two.

Part of it is the massive lumberjack beards. For some reason, these facial muskrats have become all the rage of late, and what was formerly a thing seen on nineteenth-century sea captains and some painting-worthy men of establishment is now panting-worthy and “hot.” (Well, yes, it is hot, in the literal sense. I had one for a while in my 20s and I can tell you that your face is never cold. Nonetheless, I was glad to be shorn of it.) In particular, I must infer that someone passed a law requiring all red-haired men between 18 and 30 to grow huge beards. For brown-haired men it is optional and for blonde men it is simply a serving suggestion. Now, my father has had a beard since I was a small child, and his beard is Dumbledore length, but he is also a generally Santa-Claus-looking person and frankly sui generis in many ways. He is also not 23.

But the other component of the current masculine tonsorial tendance is that hair on the top of the head. If the beard is a bouffée de chaleur, the hair is more like a buffet for the birds and insects. It is trim on the temples but the top looks like a field of heather or heath buffeted by strong winds but held steady by enough gel to stop a Sherman tank. If a mullet is business in the front and party in the back, this hair is marine corps on the side and marine coral reef on the top: trim and tidy by the ears, Paris sequence from Inception up above. Look, look, it’s this: just Google images for |hipster hair|.

But when I wanted to describe it to someone on Twitter, hipster hair was not a good enough term. No, I wanted something descriptive. This hair, this buffeted, almost buffoonish puff of hair – cream puff? powder puff? puff pastry? puffin? Puff the Magic Dragon? – is something of a bouffant, that hairstyle named with the French for ‘puffing’. But it’s not quite the bouffant you see on women. That typically has more on the sides and hanging down. This is a bouffant for guys. So…

…I reached for a portmanteau that would blend bouffant with something signifying ‘guy’. The obvious was bro-ffant, with a hyphen because broffant does not look like it should be pronounced the desired way.

Is it exactly apposite? Well, not completely; bro tends more often to refer to the frat-boy type, the backwards-baseball-cap guy, the stereotypical clueless male pig, not hip enough really. But there is a weakened sense of bro that can just refer to masculinity, and when making portmanteaux, it is most important to go for the right sound. It just is.

So bro-ffant. With that ff looking like the hair and also manifesting more clearly the origin of the parts. Because English spelling has not really been about phonetics any time this half millennium.

Is this a word for the ages? I hope not. I hope not because I hope bro-ffants will not persist unduly. Or undulatingly. Or, really, much at all. They can end in barbers’ wastebaskets along with those baby bears hanging off the guys’ chins. The latest hipster look, in my eyes, is a desperate cry for a lawn mower.

But, then, I’m a quarter century too old anyway. And I remember what was popular hair when I was in my youth, in the 1980s. Yes, yes, famously worn by A Flock of Seagulls. Well, the flock of seagulls is now resting in the bro-ffants, having mistaken them for bent bulrushes. They will surely fly away soon enough, no?