February 1, 2011

I blame the Internet

(I guess I have to warn you that this article has nothing to do with boats or boating. But most sailors I know have a reasonably wide range of interests, so the chances are that at least some of you might find it worth reading.)

WHEN I was still quite young and thought I knew everything, I was surprised one day to stumble across a new word in a dictionary. I realized immediately, with all the reptilian cunning of a seven-year-old, that this was a word I wasn’t supposed to see.

So, naturally, I memorized it. I hugged it to me, and practiced pronouncing it in different ways when I was safely in bed at night. For years, many years, it puzzled me, and only yesterday did I realize what it really means.

The word in question is frottage. You won’t find it in all print dictionaries, but the Concise Oxford describes it as “n. 1. (Psych.) abnormal desire for contact between clothed bodies of oneself and another.”

At the time I discovered this word I was not entirely sure what the word “desire” meant, either, but I equated it with a persistent need for Snickers bars and ice cream and cream soda. I found nothing abnormal about that, so I was given furiously to think. But in the end thinking got me nowhere. So, being of a patient disposition, I hid my new word and its description in a secret but easily accessible place at the back of my mind and waited for life to reveal the truth to me at its own pace.

In the meantime, if frottage was “abnormal” contact, I got to wondering what constituted “normal” contact between clothed bodies, and kept my eyes peeled for examples. One warm, sunny day, when I was walking by myself from my home to a large reservoir a mile or two away, I passed through a small wood. There, in a cozy hollow surrounded by leafy trees, I spied a man and a woman on the ground. The man was lying on top of the woman and apparently rubbing his clothes against hers. I was fascinated and froze in mid-step. She was not objecting, as far as I could tell, but she was facing me and became aware of my presence. She said something, and the man, a rather large man, stood up, adjusted his trousers, and shouted at me, upon which I fled.

This was an unsatisfactory encounter; unsatisfactory in that it left me wondering whether I had witnessed frottage, that is, abnormal clothes rubbing, or just plain normal clothes rubbing.

As I grew older, the puzzlement persisted. I watched the television news with great interest when men from helicopters rescued victims from mountains and shipwrecks, fascinated by the way the clothed rescuer hugged the clothed rescuee as they were lifted together, twisting at the end of a thin cable. I noticed also that football players often jumped toward each other and rubbed clothed chest to clothed chest when they were excited after a touchdown. I reasoned, however, that this wouldn’t be shown on family television if it were abnormal; and neither would ballroom dancing, especially the tango, which otherwise seemed to fit the description perfectly.

Years passed, but in all this time I never heard anyone refer to frottage and never read any reference to it. And yet I knew it existed. It was in the Concise Oxford. Somewhere, someone was experiencing an abnormal desire to rub shirt against shirt or, for all I knew, sock against sock. For a while I wondered if washing machines and laundries were part of the conspiracy to commit abnormal contact between clothes, but then I remembered that frottage was all about clothed bodies. There had to be bodies.

By the time I was 15 I had learned a little French at school and I knew that the French wrote bawdy books. Rabelais and Guy de Maupassant came to mind, as did the Marquis de Sade although he made no sense to me. Frottage sounded French, especially if you pronounced it fro-TAZHE, like corsage, rather than FROTT-ij, like cottage. But Monsieur Larousse’s dictionaire was not much help. The verb “frotter” simply meant to rub, or to scrape, and the noun “frottage” wasn’t mentioned at all. Perhaps, I thought, it was only English-speaking people who experienced the abnormal desire.

And so I wandered through life unsatisfied in my quest to solve this mystery, but not really giving it too much thought. And while I was wandering, someone invented the Internet, and the Internet became the source of all the collected knowledge of mankind.

So yesterday, on a whim, I Googled frottage. Wikipedia said it was “consensual sexual rubbing between partners.” Merriam-Webster said it was “the act of obtaining sexual satisfaction by rubbing against a person or object.” About.com didn’t beat about the bush. “Also known as dry humping,” it said.

It’s hard to describe how I feel. More than disappointed. Less than shocked. More than disillusioned. Less than disgusted. But not much less.

It seems to me that after so many years of patient waiting I deserved something grander in the way of a revelation, something more passionate, something more intriguing and satisfying. Certainly something less tacky than dry humping.

I wish they’d asked my advice before inventing the Internet. I would have said no. I could have told them no good would come of it.

Today’s Thought

The words! I collected them in all shapes and sizes and hung them like bangles in my mind.

— Hortense Calisher, Extreme Magic

Boaters’ Rules of Thumb, #154
All propellers lose efficiency because of slippage in the water. Roughly speaking, the slippage of propellers on certain types of boats is this:
► High-speed powerboats: About 20 percent
► Light power cruisers: About 24 percent
► Heavy power cruisers: About 26 percent
► Auxiliary sailboats: Between 40 and 55 percent

“Hey! How come you kicked your little sister in the stomach like that?”
“It was her fault. She turned round suddenly.”

(Drop by every Monday, Wednesday, Friday, for a new Mainly about Boats column.)

1 comment:

Mr. Hjertø said...

Hi. I guess diapointments come in all kinds of shapes. But all though I am feeling badly for you and your disillusion, I think you should take comfort in the fact that the way you put your misfortune in writing, most likely will entertain the people around you to a fair extent. Please don't stay mad at the internet either, but take solice in the fact that you would not have given me a serious attack of ROFL were it not for the World Wide Web.


Note: If the letters ROFL is new to you, witch I doubt. Then rather than go rushing to your computer, I'd urge you to savour the little pearl for at least a little while.