On cars, old, new and future; science & technology; vintage airplanes, computer flight simulation of them; Sherlockiana; our English language; travel; and other stuff
HERE I’M thinking of LOL as in “Lots of Luck,” one of the many possible meanings for this oft-used internet alphabetical triple. One website lists seven interpretations of LOL earning its top ****** usage rating. “Lots of luck” is one of them; so are the “League of Legends” game, the insurance industry’s “Loss of life,” and Wikipedia’s preferred “Laugh out loud.” Indeed, this last online authority cites “Lots of luck” as “now mostly historical.”
I’m tempted to think that one day Wikipedia will earn the same pejorative itself. But I stray from the point, which is our various ways of wishing good fortune on others.
Let’s concentrate on expressions of genuine sentiment, though many of them do make an ironic statement. For example, rather than wishing each other “Good luck” before a performance, actors and musicians say “Break a leg.” The origin of this is obscure, other than the superstition that an opposite sentiment has a beneficial effect.
Ballet dancers—and curiously enough, auto race drivers—wish each other “merde.” This is French for “shit,” though the French word is decidedly less offensive than its English equivalent. Perfectly respectable French newspapers use it in headlines: A politician might be termed as in “la merde.”
I came to know of its use among race drivers from Road & Track colleague Joe Rusz. Joe in turn learned it from no less an authority than race team owner and R&T correspondent Rob Walker. See wp.me/p2ETap-jU for other Rob Walker lore.
In opera, the appropriate phrase of well-wishing before a performace is “Toi toi toi,” often accompanied by touching wood three times. I wonder if the triple repetition is an invocation of the Holy Trinity?
There are some wonderfully incorrect musings on the meaning of “Toi toi toi,” one of which associates it with the French second person familiar, this language’s “thee.” I’d discount this, though, because the French word “toi” is pronounced “twa,” whereas the operatic wish is said “toy.”
I’ll accept its German language origin: a shortening of the German word for devil, “teufel,” the pronunciation of which is close to “toy-fell.” Invoking his name thrice even more powerfully keeps him away.
Plus, this leads to a great theatrical story concerning devils. In Christopher Marlowe’s Elizabethan play Dr. Faustus, the hapless doctor sells his soul to the devil for earthly pleasures. (Seeing Helen of Troy’s “face that launched a thousand ships” is among them.) The play ends with Satan coming to claim the sinner.
It’s said that in a certain production of Dr. Faustus, an even dozen actor-devils were to encircle him—but in one fateful performance, there were thirteen devils on stage.
© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2012