Scale and Proportion


SITTING around my kitchen table last night one of my friends confessed she had driven too close to a parked car and hit her wing mirror. No great damage done. The other car was fine and hers just needed the cover replacing on the mirror. She said her husband tut-tutted in that superior way men have on the rare occasions they are better at something than we are and muttered on about women having no spatial awareness.
I told her it was nothing to do with spatial awareness. Some women have difficulty judging lengths and distances because men have been telling us since they could form whole sentences (early 1900s) that the distance between their thumb and forefinger is 12 inches. No wonder we're confused.
It's all a matter of scale.
Elder sister can remember when she was five or six our eldest brother, a whole two years older than her and therefore a man of the world, trying to explain the vast scale of London. We lived on a farm and he said it was at least as wide as the distance from our house to the gate down the road - about a quarter of a mile - and she was really impressed that there was a city in the world as big as that.
Then this morning I was listening to a local radio bulletin which described three things as "major". It's a word that leaps out of the mouths of radio and television reporters at me - now I've drawn your attention to it, no doubt it will leap at you too.
It's a word that is so misused and abused that it's become meaningless. Every fire is a "major" fire - the fact that it destroyed a factory, caused half a million pounds worth of damage and put 200 people out of work had already alerted me to the fact that it was quite big; but it's also a major fire if a dustbin has been set alight.
All exhibitions are "major" exhibitions. I shout at the radio, "Compared to WHAT? Compared to the Vermeer exhibition that was on at the National Gallery? Are you sure three watercolours of cows and an oil of Elsie Smith's grandson in the village hall constitute a MAJOR exhibition?"
All road closures are "major" road closures. No matter that Farmer Giles' cows have stopped the traffic for five minutes, it's hardly on the scale of a pile-up on the M5.
It's a major incident if there's a siege involving a gunman holding an entire family hostage but it's also a "major" incident if three kids daub some graffiti on a wall.
All developments are major developments, whether it's four new houses in Nymet Rowland or the new town they are planning near Exeter.
Listen to the news and spot the "majors". The only time I want to hear that term used is if it's describing Major Smith in the Army.
In fact, I am majorly pissed off about it. So pissed off that I'm going to throw a major tantrum. I hope I don't make the news.

35 comments:

  1. I like it when Americans use "major league" as a description, as in "major league asshole". The idea that there is a major league for every human attribute is funny.

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  2. "Extreme." Everything over here is "extreme." It's used in all the marketing, too.

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  3. A husband's negative attitude to his wife's driving appears to be a universal trait. :)

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  4. In my long ago television days, my editor's worst bugbear was Major! So I've never forgotten that. Thanks for nudging me.

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  5. I have a major hangover, so I'll come back when my head stops banging and think of somethng majorly funny to say.

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  6. I'm listening intently now for anything MAJOR!

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  7. I wonder how many readers measured between their thumb and forefinger while reading this post?

    You missed having a Major Survey about it

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  8. on the other hand, i AM spatially challenged! though i don't think it's because i'm female.

    i ripped the rear view mirror off my old toyota as i backed out of the garage one day. but i have a good excuse: i was trying to change the CD at the same time. so it was really my husband's fault, for putting headbanger music in my cd player when i wasn't around.

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  9. Perhaps we could swap 'major' for 'general' - still in the same military language league and gives it the mundanity we seek.

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  10. All hail, Ms Kitchen Table. Thank you for your recent kind comments... and I will indeed be blogging from foreign land just as soon as we can connect to foreign internet. But I'm not leaving 'til the end of August.
    To get back to the point in question, "major" is indeed a very overused word. But then so are many words such as "alleged" or "community" or "fuck". What gets to me these days is the number of underused words, such as "please" or "thank you". That's what really gets on my goat.
    ps. The best driver I know is my mother
    pps. that's not true, the best driver I know is me. The second best driver I know is my mother.

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  11. I'm rubbish at judging distances - always overcompensate when I'm in the car.

    I have an issue with the word 'robust' which everyone bandies about.

    At the mo though I have a MAJOR problem - but wonder if I'm making it bigger than it is (see my latest blog).

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  12. Practically, literally, basically, you know, I mean, all put at the beginning of a sentence, all misused and get right up my nose. By the way did you know that we now do not have gear changes in cars, we have “On demand drive” and climate control replaces air conditioning. Probably a case of change the name to something a little fancier and charge more for it.

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  13. I haven't heard the Major thing on the news for a while. It used to be in every report. It kind of fizzled out and it was replaced with Blair this and Blair that. Now a Brown thing is sneaking in.

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  14. I hate weather forecasters who use the term 'spit and spots' when talking about rain. This may just be a local thing, but I've noticed it on the national news too... and like you say, once you've noticed it, you can't get away from it. (In one bulletin, a local forecaster must have used it about five times!)

    Not that they've had much use for the term this summer...

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  15. GB: Well, what you can say about a nation that has World Cups for sports that only they play. Major league assholes indeed.

    Fat Sparrow: How extremely annoying!

    Suzan: I'd have more of a sense of humour about it if I didn't know, deep down, that he is a much better driver than I am!

    Flowerpot: It's definitely one of those 'I feel a rant coming on' words for me.

    Miss U: Your blog is definitely majorly entertaining.

    Akelamalu: There'll probably be a dearth of 'majors' now I've had my rant!

    Grannymar: That measurement is about half what men think it is!

    Laurie: That's definitely hubby's fault, as I'm sure you pointed out!

    Mopsa: Let's make it 'lieutenant' and get people really confused!

    Witchfynder: Thank you for visiting. Please come again.

    Mid-lifer: I must admit I'm not too hot myself on the spatial awareness front. Driving on rural roads, this is a definite disadvantage. I too always err on the side of caution, leading to the dearly beloved saying things to me like, "There's enough bloody room for a coach and horses to get through there!" as I pull in for another car.

    Dave: Literally! Now there's another one that really gets my goat. One young TV presenter, reviewing a show, once told me the audience were 'literally glued to their seats'. I couldn't stop laughing.

    Sneezey: Ha, ha! You never know, the brown one might soon be replaced by the cameron one, although I doubt it.

    Rol: For me in weather forecasts it's the phrase 'cold snap'. I really don't know why but I hate that phrase!

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  16. an award for you, Table - please pass by my place to collect it!

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  17. Ohh, this is going to be like that time I realised the laughter in certain american sitcoms, which I first thought were real audience laughs, were actually canned laughter that stops and starts very abruptly. I've never watched friends in the same way without getting annoyed.

    Well, it's sort of the same thing.

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  18. I ranted yesterday that the bridge collapse in Minneapolis was described by the Governor as 'a disaster of historic proportions'. Now sad and frightening though it might be, it can hardly be described as an 'historic' event. Where has all this hyberbole come from?

    I am now 'major' watching, big-time!

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  19. Overuse of words like 'major' and 'like' etc are one of my pet gripes. However, I get sent into a blind fury when it comes to stupid words like 'combo', 'platter' and 'BBQ'... yes, I am a word snob and proud of it!

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  20. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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  21. Flowerpot: Thanks for award- will be round your place toute suite!

    Jo: Know what you mean. Once you know something is wrong, you keep on noticing it!

    Debio: Maybe the governor is a time traveller!

    Little Cheese: BBQ - don't even get me started on that one. Barbeque is nearly as bad.

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  22. YEAH!!!! THROW A MAJOR, HYPER, UBER, EXTREME TANTRUM!

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  34. I see you've got yourself a spammer up there^
    The only Major I care about is Major Tom, I love that song!

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