Random Laundry Thoughts

(Because I did the washing yesterday at my favourite place in Venice — the one with the Sav-on next door which always has Oh Henry!s at four for a dollar or some such unmissable chocolate deal — wearing my PJ bottoms with the penguins on. How very Californian I’m becoming.)

A small group of what in Britain ten years ago or so would have been called ‘crusties‘, one of whom, a strikingly beautiful young woman in dreadlocks, was reading a coverless copy of 1984. Their detergent of choice: Rinso. It really exists! It felt like wandering into a drug store and finding on the shelves a tube of Crelm toothpaste (with the miracle ingredient, Fraudulin).

Aren’t spaghetti straps actually more like fettuccine straps? Does spaghetti just have a better agent?

And what is it with the weird article-less usage of ‘baby’ which is known only to the chummy sales pitch on the back of products by Johnson & Johnson & Johnson & Johnson & Johnson and their ilk (great title for a nature documentary: ‘The Elk and Their Ilk’). Stuff like: ‘Soft on baby’s skin’; ‘Gentle for baby’. Sometimes even self-importantly capitalised: ‘Before Baby comes home’. It’s cloying and precious.

After many years of low-level irk, I think I’ve finally figured it out. Used this way, ‘baby’ is a variable — in the Prolog sense, rather than the C sense. Which is to say: it’s a container which can hold a single thing, rather than something which can freely vary. The thing it’s intended to hold is: the name of the reader’s baby. That’s why it’s without an article. What it’s a place-holder for is a name, and names don’t have articles. Rather than intended to be read as ‘Soft on your baby’s skin’, or ‘Soft on a baby’s skin’, or even ‘soft on babies’ skin’, all of which readings would clang with the awkward absence of the article, it’s intended to be read with ‘baby’ as a variable which is unified with the name of the reader’s actual, physical baby. Hey look, our imagined potential customer reads, this says it’s soft on baby’s skin. But what they process is that [with Baby = little Johnny] it’ll be soft on little Johnny’s skin. Not your little Johnny, or my little Johnny. Just little Johnny, because he’s so damn important that possessive pronouns are distancing enough to be actively insulting.

Perhaps this syntax is something which comes both inevitably and free with the act of having a baby — like the instinct to refer to oneself in the third person (‘Give mummy the grenade launcher, there’s a good boy’). Assuming that’s true, it’s a shrewd bit of marketing strategy, but — like so many things — somewhat dissonant to those of us who neither have nor want the extended phenotype which expels noxious fluids from every orifice.


  • It’s taken me this long to get over the mental image of you in your penguin pants. With Converse hi-tops?
    The only laundry thoughts I’ve ever set to paper had more to do directly with my laundry itself: as I watched the various colors of fabric fly around the dryer, I identified garments and thought about things I had done in and out of them. While many of the clothes had lovely little histories, some of the laundry thoughts were rather bittersweet.
    And ok, I’ll admit to a tiny bit of penguin pants envy.

  • Janice: “It’s taken me this long to get over the mental image of you in your penguin pants. With Converse hi-tops?”

    Of course with Converse high-tops. Like I wear anything else? Actually the ones I’m wearing are on their last legs – um, feet? – and I think I had on a t-shirt whose elbows I’d worn through. Add the blue tape on my glasses and I suspect I was awfully close to having someone offer me some loose change so that I could get a hot drink. *sigh* It’s hard sometimes to be a style guru.

  • Paul: I have just discovered that an old friend (I’ve known him since 1979) has a thing for Converse high-tops. We haven’t seen each other in many years, and I don’t remember his footwear from way back when. Add another one to the club.

    And congrats on your steadfastness in making a fashion statement; weaker men would have caved long ago.

  • It appears that the ‘baby with no article’=’baby’s name’ usage isn’t recent, either. In the Times last week they had an extract from a 50s housekeeping book, and there was an example of this, something like ‘practice your cleaning routine before baby arrives’.

    I wonder when it all started…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *