zird is the word (lizardek) wrote,
zird is the word

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About a week ago, I started a post with this sentence: Man, it's *crickets* around here. It never even occurred to me how very specific that particular phrase is. To English-speakers, of a certain age, and a certain kind. And also how recent its use is.

yourdictionary.com gives this definition: (US slang, humorous or derisive) Absolute silence; no communication. Derived from the cinematic metaphor of chirping crickets at night, signaling (otherwise) complete quiet. May be used alone or in metaphorically descriptive phrases.

Merriam-Webster has a whole page in their "Words we're watching" site dedicated to it...because it's a word that is increasing in this type of usage but is not yet common enough for them to add as an entry (though I'd beg to differ). None of the citations for the use of the word "crickets" to mean "silence" are older than 2000. This usage is barely a young adult!

The only reason it struck me was because I used it again at work in an online chat this past week and my Swedish colleague had no idea what I was referring to. And then when I explained, it got even weirder.

Swedish colleague: Liz, I just looked through the annual report...it's so nice! Super well done!
Me: Aw, thanks! It's nice to hear some feedback. Mostly, it's been *crickets*
Swedish colleague: crickets...?
Me: hahaha, sorry. It means the sounds of silence other than crickets chirping in the background.
Swedish colleague: syrsor*...? :D
Me: You don't have crickets here! HAHAHAHAH Missing out!
Me: Actually not, because they can drive you bananas.
Swedish colleague: Bananas??
Me: Crickets drive you bananas. English is so weird.
Me: The crickets shut up if there is noise around, so that's how you know it's dead quiet out...if the crickets are singing. No logic at all!

I should have just said that despite the annual review & sustainability report that I worked on for 4 months being released at the end of March, almost no one has said anything to me about it. Dead quiet, in other words. Which is kind of a drag when you consider how much work goes into it. You can flip through it here (scroll to the bottom for the link to the PDF), if you're interested in Axis, the company's work with sustainability, OR my layout design.

Anyway, what struck me most was the fact that she didn't understand the basic concept because there are basically no crickets in Sweden. They have grasshoppers, mostly the green ones, but they're pretty rare, and katydids** as well. We see them once in awhile, in the summer months. But no crickets. Hence no chorus of singing legs rubbed together on summer nights. Which is fine by me, because even if their song is considered soothing, it's also annoying as hell because they never shut up. And they stop and start, which means you can't just block them out as white noise. According to one site I found, there are two species of crickets that can be found in Sweden, one mostly indoors, but both are vanishingly rare.

Swedes' only real reference to crickets is Jiminy Cricket and only because he's included in the Disney Christmas special that airs on Christmas Eve at 3 pm every year, that ALL SWEDES REGARDLESS OF AGE, watch...it's a near-religious experience. You have to live here to get it, and even then, if you're not Swedish, it's still a little boggling. Jiminy Cricket is from Pinocchio. The Disney film came out in 1940. It was the first animated feature to win an Academy Award (two, actually, for its score and best song for When You Wish Upon a Star), but it was a box-office flop. It wasn't released in Europe until after WWII, in 1945, when it finally cleared a profit and, strangely (at least to me) is now considered one of the greatest animated films ever made.

In 1944, Disney started re-releasing its films every 7-10 years. Until the advent and popularity of VHS in the early 1980s, you could only see Pinocchio in the theater and probably only once, maybe twice, during your childhood. Of course, you could always read the BOOK. But I wonder how many people outside of Italy (where it was taught in schools) have ever read Pinocchio. If you've only ever seen the movie, you'd be in for a bit of a shock, as the book is quite grim and Pinocchio himself, to put it lightly, is a complete jerk. And to top it off, in the book he throws a mallet at the cricket (his conscience), squashing him to death against the wall. I'm pretty amazed that Disney thought the story was suitable to be turned into a children's movie at all.

In Sweden, Pinocchio wasn't released on VHS until 1987. But all Swedes know who Jiminy Cricket is thanks to the Christmas special which started airing in Sweden in 1960. He's the host of the hour-long show, interviewing and introducing other well-known Disney characters and the short clips of Disney films that are shown.

I can remember at some point in my childhood reading The Cricket in Times Square (possibly in school), which was published in 1960, written by George Selden and illustrated by Garth Wililams. It won the Newbery Honor in 1961. I don't remember when I read it, and to be honest, I don't remember anything about the story or the characters at all, but it's the only other cricket in popular culture that I could name. Maybe I just saw the short animated film version that was made by Chuck Jones and released in 1973. Apparently Selden wrote SIX sequels, but I've never heard of nor read any of them. I was well-acquainted with Garth Williams, on the other hand, as he also did the illustrations in several other childhood favorites including Charlotte's Web, Stuart Little, and the Little House books by Laura Ingalls Wilder.

So, crickets in general aren't really to be found much in popular culture. In fact, when I googled just now, Wikipedia only has pages for 6 of them, and one of them is the book version of the cricket in Pinocchio who wasn't actually named Jiminy there. Strangely, the cricket from Mulan (Cri-Kee) doesn't warrant his own page in the list of pop culture crickets, even though he's considered a "major character" as a sidekick of Mulan and the dragon Mushu. Oversight!

And that is your fascinating rabbit-hole of a post from me today, which turned out to be much longer and more convoluted that I expected. I wonder if I'll get any comments on it at all. Or if it will just be *crickets* as usual. Hahaha!

*syrsor is the Swedish translation for crickets. One cricket is syrsa.

**The Swedish name for katydid is vårtbitare, literally: wart biter. Folkmyth has it that they were once used to bite warts off of people. Ew.

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Tags: americanabroad, borkborkbork!, culturalquagmire, puttingwordstogether, sillybutt!


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