Saturday, April 20, 2013

Party of one

For several years now tv commentators and bloggers have been using the expression "I celebrate" in an unusual way: "Tonight I celebrate the new book by Professor Suzy Q on the fight against FGM". All who use the word in this way, so far as I have heard it, are women who hold no ecclesiastic position. That may or may not be relevant to understanding the career of the locution.

The speakers are not having fun, at least not so's you notice. They are merely stating that they are doing something in the decorous, responsible way suggested by the simple present "I celebrate X", rather than the progressive form "I am celebrating X [, whoopee !]"

"Celebrate" has been a word for what you do at a party, or at high mass. Is "I celebrate" now like "I promise", a speech act in which the saying is already the doing ? Has someone celebrated who says "I celebrate", even though they are holding neither a drink nor a monstrance ?

It's a kind of stateliness scam, I think, more to do with priests than pretzels: "Tonight I will be treating an important topic with all due ritual". It is cheaper than the real thing, since you don't have to buy cases of vino, and you don't actually have to invite anyone nor even sweep out the pews. So whatever you've already got, you have it all for yourself.

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