Guilty Se­crets

Mus­ings are thoughts, the thought­ful kind. For the pur­pose of th­ese ar­ti­cles, a-mus­ings are thoughts that might amuse, en­ter­tain and even en­lighten.

The Star (St. Lucia) - - LOCAL - By Michael Walker

“Ac­tu­ally, there's some­thing I've been mean­ing to ask you for quite some time now, but I've never quite got round to it,” says this ac­quain­tance and you look kind of skep­ti­cal, fear­ing the worst. “Don't worry, it's noth­ing un­pleas­ant or sur­pris­ing,” they go on. It gets even worse, of course, when they con­tinue, “But I can't for the life of me re­mem­ber what it was.” You try to con­sole them with a sym­pa­thetic, “Well, it can't have been all that im­por­tant, can it?” which doesn't help at all be­cause they im­me­di­ately re­spond with, “Oh, but it was! I've been mean­ing to ask you for ages.”

By now, any nor­mal hu­man be­ing would be dy­ing to hear the 10,000 dol­lars ques­tion – I don't think – and in this case I con­sider my­self to be a nor­mal hu­man be­ing de­spite what my de­trac­tors might say – so I usu­ally add an inane word of en­cour­age­ment, “Just don't think about it and it will come to you.” Now, should you try to help your ab­sent­minded friend, or should you sim­ply walk away from the un­spo­ken en­quiry? You see, the more sug­ges­tions we make, the closer we might get to things we re­ally don't want to talk about. You know: Was it about the time I … ? I'm re­ally sorry about that. Or per­haps: I sup­pose you've been won­der­ing why I … Yes, I won­der about that my­self. I re­ally do.

Be­fore long, if you're not care­ful, you've un­cov­ered ev­ery skele­ton in your closet, which is a phrase that was coined in 19th cen­tury Eng­land. The word 'closet' is used nowa­days in Eng­land to mean 'wa­ter closet', that is, lava­tory, which is not re­ally the best place to hide a skele­ton, but then, it is not the worst ei­ther; I mean, who would go delv­ing around in your wa­ter closet look­ing for skele­tons? In ac­tual fact, come to think of it, the English nowa­days pre­fer to use 'a skele­ton in the cup­board'. Skele­tons in the ‘closet' are def­i­nitely more com­mon in the USA. You know how tra­di­tional, hav­ing so lit­tle of it, the Amer­i­cans like to be.

'A skele­ton in the closet' al­luded to an ap­par­ently ir­re­proach­able per­son or fam­ily hav­ing a guilty se­cret wait­ing to be un­cov­ered. The phrase was first used, I be­lieve, by Wil­liam Hendry Stowell, in the UK monthly pe­ri­od­i­cal The Eclec­tic Re­view, 1816. The 'skele­ton' in this case was dis­ease, in­fec­tious or hered­i­tary, that peo­ple were ashamed to ad­mit to hav­ing. “Two great sources of dis­tress are the dan­ger of contagion and the ap­pre­hen­sion of hered­i­tary dis­eases. The dread of be­ing the cause of mis­ery to pos­ter­ity has pre­vailed over men to con­ceal the skele­ton in the closet,” is how the au­thor put it.

Edgar Allen Poe, in The Black Cat from 1845, wrote of a man who had mur­dered his wife and en­tombed her in the wall of his dwelling, but not very well. He wrote, '"Gen­tle­men, I de­light to have al­layed your sus­pi­cions", and here, through the mere frenzy of bravado, I rapped heav­ily upon that very por­tion of the brick­work be­hind which stood the corpse of the wife of my bo­som. The wall fell bod­ily. The corpse, al­ready greatly de­cayed, stood erect be­fore the eyes of the spec­ta­tors.'

Prior to the UK's 1832 Anatomy Act al­low­ing the more ex­ten­sive use of corpses for med­i­cal re­search, it was said that doc­tors would con­ceal in cup­boards the il­le­gally held skele­tons they used for teach­ing. Although con­cealed skele­tons are oc­ca­sion­ally found walled-up in houses, they are usu­ally those of un­wanted in­fants. The Vic­to­rian au­thor Wil­liam Make­peace Thack­eray, in The New­comes; mem­oirs of a most re­spectable fam­ily, 1854–55, wrote, “… some par­tic­u­lars re­gard­ing the New­come fam­ily, which will show us that they have a skele­ton or two in their clos­ets, as well as their neigh­bours'.”

The 19th cen­tury philoso­pher Jeremy Ben­tham is per­haps the best-known ac­tual skele­ton in a cup­board, but he did not wish to keep his skele­ton a se­cret; he willed that his body be pre­served in a wooden cabi­net. It is on public dis­play in Uni­ver­sity Col­lege, Lon­don.

The Amer­i­can ex­pres­sions 'come out of the closet' or sim­ply 'come out' date from the 1960s to in­di­cate that some­one had de­cided to broad­cast his/her/or its sex­ual pref­er­ences to all and sundry as a mat­ter of lo­cal, na­tional and even global im­por­tance. Us­ing the Bri­tish ver­sion to de­clare one's ho­mo­sex­u­al­ity doesn't quite cut it. I mean who would want to “come out of a cup­board” - I mean, it sounds as if some­one got caught with his/her/its hand in the “cookie jar” (I know; I am mix­ing my Englishes).

Per­son­ally I be­lieve that ho­mos and les­bos (which is how my ‘gay' friends re­fer to them­selves) came out of the closet, es­pe­cially the men, when “cot­tag­ing” was all the rage. “Cot­tag­ing” was the habit of meet­ing in public toi­lets for il­licit sex or as one dic­tio­nary puts it, “dis­creet acts of bug­gery per­formed in a toi­let cu­bi­cle, of­ten anony­mous”. Given the gay aban­don with which ho­mos ded­i­cated them­selves to un­pro­tected, ran­dom sex in those days and the in­evitable out­come of HIV-AIDS, they re­ally were deal­ing with “skele­tons in the closet”.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Saint Lucia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.