Curatorial

I was pleased to extend my knowledge of Australian slang yesterday, when I read that Amber Heard and Johnny Depp’s curio of an apology video (for bringing some dogs into Australia illegally, I think) was ‘going off like a frog in a sock’.

It is, in all senses, a lively idiom. I suppose a frog in a sock would jump about and make some noise. It paints a picture, even if you have never seen a frog in a sock  – and let’s face it: who has?

But it will not last. Over-lively language never does, and that is probably a good thing. I was chastised yesterday by one of my more sensitive colleagues (JM) for using the verb curate in a non-curatorial context. Quite right. I don’t know what I was thinking. I spoke of someone curating an untidy desk. No one would do such a thing. It is a foolish locution.

curate

It is, however, all the rage. It suggests careful organisation and arrangement of parts. Shops ‘curate’ their stock, event’s organisers ‘curate’ an event, and blogs (this one, for instance) curate their content (and in fact, the use of ‘curate’ with regard to the vast museum of objects that the Internet has become is perhaps not so inappropriate; many very good blogs are no more than assemblages of found objects).

The verb is in fact a back-formation from the noun, curator. Back-formation is a phenomenon of language where a new word is formed by dropping a prefix or suffix from an existing word. Other examples would be diagnose (from diagnosis), enthuse (from enthusiasm), escalate (from escalator) and surreal (from surrealist). In each case, the longer word came first.

I suppose I could use that as justification: language changes, and there’s no point going off like a frog in a sock about it. However, there is also something to be said for filtering for pretension – only Tracy Emin would curate a messy desk, and we are much more down to earth than that.

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