An American Editor

February 3, 2010

On Words: Pose

Although most of my posts have focused on publishers and ebooks, this is an editor’s blog and one of the things editors do is deal with words. Consequently, I am introducing a new topic, called On Words, to the mix. On Words will address words and phrases that catch my editorial eye and discuss their etymology. Hopefully this will broaden my understanding of words and phrases used in English. Today’s post about pose inaugurates On Words.

Reading the newspaper has become a bit depressing. I get tired of the strident right and left wings of the Republican and Democrat parties posing for their radicalized followers and hearing nothing from the centrists. The recent demand for a Republican litmus test reinforces my continuing disdain for the extremists of both parties. I believe that most Americans are centrists and simply want what is best for America as a whole, not what is best for the far right or the far left.

Then came the Mitch McConnell smiles about having thwarted Barack Obama’s vision for America by holding the Republican party together in a chorus of no and now adding Scott Brown as  filibusterer number 41.

That led me to think: Are these politicians — Republican and Democrat alike — who should be looking out for the welfare of all America, really just posing when they say they are focused on what is best for America as opposed to what is best for their reelection. Are they just posers?

Pose is is derived from the French poser, to deposit, and from the Late Latin pausare, to rest, and the Latin pausa, to pause. In American usage, it originally meant the distance the cargo of a canoe was carried before the cargo was deposited for a rest. As was explained in The Spirit of the Times (January 30, 1858), “In crossing a long portage, they do not go through the whole distance with one load, but divide it into ‘poses,’ or rests; and carry in succession each load to the first ‘pose,’ and then carry them to the second one, and so on, so that they can rest in walking back for the loads.” In 1941, the McDermott Glossary stated that the average distance of a pose was one-third mile. (Perhaps we should infer that politicians are a burden to be dropped every so often🙂.)

But somewhere along the path of linguistic history, pose took on other meanings and usages. The American Heritage Dictionary (4th ed.) gives the word its modern definition: “To assume or hold a particular position or posture, as in sitting for a portrait.” But of most interest is the third definition: “To represent oneself falsely; pretend to be other than what one is.” Similarly, a poser is defined as “one who poses.”

Because pose and poser accurately describe politicians of all stripes in 2010, in 10 years I expect to open my dictionary and see these definitions:

  • pose (v.) 1. The campaign promises made by a person seeking political office that will be ignored once elected. 2. To assume or hold a particular position or posture, as in sitting for a portrait.
  • poser (n.) 1. A politician. 2. One who poses.

Still I would like to know how and when the transition was made from a portage measure to the description of a politician (i.e., one who represents him- or herself falsely). Any ideas?

1 Comment »

  1. Webster’s New World dict. shows slightly different translations for the roots of pose. It lists poser as Old French for “to put into place,” pausare as “to place, put.” It also has this interesting note at the end of the etymology: “meaning and form altered by assoc. with L positus, pp. of ponere, to place, put: see POSITION”

    One can easily make a connection between posing (positioning), say, a doll, and posing a politician the way one wants. Today’s politicians, though, are closer to marionettes, only you can’t always see the strings of guilt, ambition, defiance, and revenge. At any rate, there’s the idea of positioning oneself physically, and then by extension politically, in ways that aren’t natural.

    There’s also the French word poseur, which is entirely related to your new definition. No indications (or time to look for them) of what came first, but if there have been poseurs in the French court for a few centuries, we might have just borrowed and Americanized it, fitting it into our lexicon where it seemed to belong and adjusting the words around it to suit.

    Like

    Comment by 4ndyman — February 3, 2010 @ 7:45 pm | Reply


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