Sunday, 12 September 2004

A capital idea

The New York Times' style section devotes a whole article to the decline of the thong, with the usual sociological analysis of the rise of the trend:
The thong underpant became a cultural touchstone, the very symbol of the tease. It caught on at a time when lad magazines like Maxim and FHM, with their photographs of panty-clad but never entirely nude women, took over from the old-man's magazine, Playboy, with its gauzy, fully naked pinups; when adolescent love was celebrated with the soul-free hookup, a form of physical connection without the burden of intimacy. Ms. Lewinsky flashed her thong to begin an affair that didn't feature real sex, at least by the definition of one of the parties.
Right. Of course, beyond sociology, there's the simple fact that, as the article notes, the boy short became trendy. I presume part of that was that a woman can wear a boy short without feeling like she's flossing her butt. Anyway, the English hound in me was more intrigued by the following sentence:
Steve Colbert, dreadlocked and wearing a crocheted cap, was covering the show for Floss magazine and sipping from a plastic cup filled with Champagne.
So the Times has given in to the champagne marketers and started using the capital C for the sparkling wine. Interesting, but I suspect "champagne" has fallen too much into the camp of words that have lost their proper noun status, like "day-glo". It just looks pretentious.

(Ooh, I typed the name of this entry into Google and discovered that it's also the name of a language and usage blog. Exciting times for this copyediting-loving former writer. At some point in my life I'd like to write a column on language.)




Technically, only sparkling wine from the Champagne region of France can be called "champagne"--capitalized or not. A lot of folks get this wrong, wrong, wrong as well.


Depends on whose definition of "technically" you go by. Formally, the French are fighting to ensure that "champagne" refers only to wine from Champagne, but
the rest of the world's wine producers say that the usage as a synonym for "sparkling wine" has become so widespread that it's legit to refer to other wines as champagne. They are/were duking it out in the WTO (the French also want to protect chablis and beaujolais).

Some wine people keep the "champagne is French, all else is sparkling wine" distinction; some go with "Champagne is French, champagne can be from anywhere"; and yet others say that "all sparkling wine is champagne". Depends on who you talk to, although I'll say that the French marketing people have done a pretty good job of convincing people of the champagne/sparkling wine distinction.

There's a lot of food and drink that have geographical names for which we don't really care about origins: basmati rice, Peking duck... guess the lawyers will have to decide if (C/c)hampagne is indeed special.


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