Irritable noun syndrome

Posted on | February 18, 2010 | 4 Comments

Long ago and far away, people who possessed a valuable skill were called artisans. They formed craft guilds that set standards. We owe French bread and English furniture to their traditions. However, the term has gained a new meaning in American English, one that should serve as a cue to hide your cash, put away your checkbook and forget where you put the credit cards. It does not mean that the vendor using it has emerged from a long apprenticeship to become a butcher, baker or candlestick maker. It means that he or she is a pretentious boob. If it’s a cheese they’re selling, read Drop Out Who Bought a Few Goats. If it’s a restaurant name, read Chef Does Coke. If it’s a garden design service, read Socialite Service Charging $50 an Hour to Deadhead Lavender and Paying the Labor a Fraction of That.

The one thing that “artisan” does not connote in the modern US is skill. Since it was a particularly absurd usage of the term by a Los Angeles garden design firm that inspired this bout of irritable noun syndrome, a note about gardening: If you’re lucky enough to have a garden and time to spend it it, you will know that gardening is a skill, it is an art, it is a science and it can become the great love of one’s life. But the only thing that Los Angeles has to “artisan” standards in horticulture is mow and blow teams. It takes skill to operate the loud, noisy and dangerous machinery needed to groom 10 lawns in a day. Maybe the guys should put “artisan” on their trucks, except that they’re neither pretentious nor venal enough to need the term.


4 Responses to “Irritable noun syndrome”

  1. Amy Scattergood
    February 18th, 2010 @ 7:52 am

    Ha. Could not agree more. Always thought that the word Artisan should be on a list of banned words in food writing, along with Bounty and Iconic and Delicious. Imagine such a list in gardening would be a pretty extensive catalog too. Someone should write a code in which all incidences of “artisan” would be automatically replaced by “boob.” All “bounty” by “goats.”

  2. EmilyGreen
    February 18th, 2010 @ 7:56 am

    I like the idea of that code, a great deal.

  3. Veronique
    February 18th, 2010 @ 10:18 am

    May I add a verb — curate — to the discussion? As in vendors who don’t stock the shelves of their shops, but curate. Grrr.

  4. EmilyGreen
    February 18th, 2010 @ 10:37 am

    A most excellent addition and clear cause of Irritable Verb Syndrome.

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