Decimated Nauseous Prone Aquiline Somewhat Unique State of the Art Older Laundry List Changed the Course of History, and Could Care Less
(Dedicated to the proposition that words mean something.)
Here’s what makes me sick (little joke there, very little) – not knowing the difference between two words that have opposite meanings, such as nauseous and nauseated. Don’t say “I feel nauseous” unless you admit to being offensive, loathsome, sickening and vile. “Nauseous” describes the thing that causes nausea, not the person who experiences it. A pile of rotting meat is nauseous, and causes those who encounter it to feel nauseated, unless they are carrion birds or jackals.
People, people people…. prone means face-down. Face-up is “supine.” A hand, for instance. If you turn it palm up, as if to hold soup in it, the hand is supine. Turned the other way, palm down, it is prone. A human body is prone when the front of it is down, in contact with the ground, the bed, or other horizontal surface. Best-selling author Sandra Brown doesn’t know this, as shown in Chill Factor, Long Time Coming, etc. In her Hidden Fire, a prone man is asleep with his hat over his face, snoring. There’s a prone woman, who gives birth to an infant and then stares at the sky – all in a face-down position. The heroine, “hypnotized by the bulge between his thighs,” gazes at the prone body of a man. I’d be hypnotized too, if I saw a man whose package stuck out the back instead of the front.
The most appalling misuse of the word was in a novel whose title is blessedly forgotten. In it, the protagonists scamper about in a cathedral, where the carved likenesses of knights lie prone on their carved stone coffins. Butt-up is a very undignified posture for an honored warrior’s statue, created to adorn his sarcophagus throughout eternity, is it not?
In fact, almost no authors or editors seem to know what “prone” means. Writers of dissertations don’t know, and prestigious academic institutions are in ignorance. An article from Stanford University, about the effect of music on the brain, describes subjects lying prone inside an MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) chamber. Okay, I wasn’t there, but – prone? I doubt it.
On one of his very popular radio shows, Alexander Woollcott once chided a local newspaper: “In one of our better New York dailies I read a description of a well-dressed woman lying prone on her back on Fifth Avenue. I’d like to have seen that. Must have been quite a sight……”
The most notorious abuser of “prone” was Stokeley Carmichael, in a wine-lubricated conversation with fellow members of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, back in 1964. The civil rights activist was reacting to the recent publication, by Casey Hayden and Mary King, of Position Paper: Women in the Movement. Carmichael cracked, “The position of women in SNCC is prone.” Alluding, of course, to sex. The fact that prone means face-down adds insult to the already-inflammatory comment by implying doggy-style or worse.
In A Hard Rain Fell, David Barber says that in the context of the Mississippi Summer Project, the remark was both humorous and true, since a lot of the Northern white women volunteers took the opportunity to do more than register voters. Carmichael was let off the hook by his contemporaries, including feminists, who said it was just an inside joke, because he was a true supporter of women in the movement. (If he’d said that in so many words, “I support women in the movement,” a double-entendre could be easily heard by anyone whose mind inclines that way.)