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Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Stay classy, Ohio

I used to be a bit of a brawler, sometimes literally. I've mellowed with age and therapy, and discovered that apathy is generally the best revenge. I recently found myself between the cross-hairs of a drama queen (interesting, there's no such thing as a drama king, even though men are just as capable self-centered hysteria), and though it's always better not to feed the troll, I was sorely tempted. In my head, I kept telling myself "OK girl, just stay classy."
Later, it occurred to me to wonder where I'd come up with classy. I'd never, ever thought myself classy before. In many ways, I'm the direct opposite of classy - I swear like a drunken longshoreman with Tourette's, I lick my plate in public, and I laughed so hard at Talladega Nights that I almost puked. In fact, I'm more likely to take classy as an insult than a complement. 
And actually, I think it better to embrace classlessness. Spell-check recognizes classlessness as a word, by the way. Class, in this sense hearkens to that ugly notion that some people are inherently better than others based on birth. It's an old, ugly dogma that's far older than Calvinism, but it's Calvinism that's lodged it so deeply in the collective dogma.
The term classy, according to the Online Etymology Dictionary, comes to us from an ancient, ancient ancestor of the English language, in which kele meant to shout. In a process that I can't say I totally follow, the word evolved into the Latin classis, which meant originally call to arms. Classis, came to mean category, which has something to do with the people of Rome under arms, which doesn't so much seem like a logical leap to me, but what do I know? I've got no class. Online Etymology Dictionary tells me that class doesn't start referring to social status until the 1700s, which is a lot more recently than I would have thought. 
About a dozen jobs ago, I taught SAT prep classes.  Once, I told my class that I'd learned that the square footage of a person's house was a pretty good predictor of SAT success. The more square feet, the higher the score. One of my students sneered, "Well that makes sense. Of course rich people are smarter. If poor people were smarter, they wouldn't be poor." This from a kid who's parents were spending 1500 bucks to buy him a higher SAT score.
I guess that a belief that certain people are naturally inferior, and therefore less deserving of success, makes it easier to bask in one's wealth while people starve to death. Still, I'd think that people who are so smart would know how asinine that  notion is.


disheah said...

I've only heard "stay classy" as a sarcastic put-down of sorts, after you do something completely lacking in class.

With regards to the roman call to arms, maybe that has to do with the class-segregation of the Roman military. Slaves and freemen, for example, were largely exempt from military service except in emergencies. Plebs or poor roman citizens were mostly only allowed to serve as oarsmen on galley ships. Property owning romans were allowed to serve as Legionnaires, and only upper-class (minor nobles and consuls) were allowed to serve as Centurions or senior officers, or allowed to join the Calvary.

saltyrose said...

I've heard you tell the SAT prep class story before and I was wondering what the context was for your remark. It just doesn't seem a fitting thing to say given your position.

Brigid Daull Brockway said...

We were supposed to tell the kids that the SAT doesn't measure intelligence or anything like that, it only measures how well you take a test. Or something like that. I threw that factoid into my lecture slightly before realizing that all my students were rich and that this bit of information meant nothing to them.

disheah said...

I think I remember Brigid mentioning that she taught for Princeton Prep. I did the same for Kaplan SAT prep, although my student sounded like a more diverse group than her's. I can't say there were any trouble-makers. Occasionally there were some jock boys that had trouble focusing, but once I got to understand how to motivate them it was pretty easy. I got a quite a few minority students, who tended to be quite focused. One student I remember vividly was an Arab girl who was trying to get into college. She was quite intelligent, but I had a strong feeling that her family did not want her to go. Overall, I loved teaching, but the time spent combined with gas just didn't make it worthwhile.