Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Roger (Jolly and Otherwise)

Apart from being a proper name, roger can mean other things, I have recently learned. You could use it to mean “to have sex with,” as in, “We rogered in the bathroom before the movie started,” which is a sentence that I feel someone has probably said sometime, perhaps in a think British accent. The etymology might have something to do with the fact that the name literally means “famous with a spear,” and all the subsequent issues of poking and penetrating, which is probably smart of someone to have thought of.

But I’m not actually talking about the sexual kind of rogering, but a stranger definition offered by Wikipedia: “In nineteenth-century England, Roger was slang for the cloud of toxic green gas that swept through the chlorine bleach factories periodically.” No explanation is offered, and the footnote only identifies the term as being used in the 1897 Robert Sherard book The White Slaves of England. Even if this could be one of those things that Wikipedia gets less than factually correct, can we just take a moment to reflect on a situation where human beings are so accustomed to poisonous gas clouds drifting through their workplaces that they have affectionate nicknames for them? I can picture them now, this roomful of factory workers in their sullied rag-clothes, looking up from the workstations they’re shackled to and in unison saying “Roger!” with the warm familiarity of the barflies on Cheers saying “Norm!” And then they’d cough. Or maybe they’d be allowed to unshackle themselves for a quick run about the place as they dodged Toxic Roger. It would be like tag. Or maybe a Scooby-Doo-style “hallway full of doors” chase scene, just with the notable difference of being caught resulting in death by suffocation.

It also gives me reason to mention “Rabbits,” the weirdo David Lynch project that plays like a nightmare sitcom and in which its titular characters are plagued by periodic visits from an evil cloud monster.

It is perhaps easier to imagine this situation in silly pop cultural contexts than in terms of how awful it would have been.

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