Friday, February 1, 2008

Attention, All Five-Year-Olds

It has come to my attention that there is some confusion out there about a certain word used frequently in the Ice Age movies. So I offer this post as a public service announcement.

Here are three words with different meanings. They sound similar, but have nothing to do with each other. (Well, almost nothing--more on that later.) Do not confuse the meanings of:
  • sloth--a creature with three toes on each foot, recognized specially for its lack of energy. Often they move so slowly that moss grows on their backs. Because of its general languor, the name of this creature has become synonymous with laziness and apathy. The character Sid from the Ice Age movies was from a now-extinct species of sloth (and yes, he was pretty slothful).
  • slob--someone with a high tolerance for clutter and filth. I suspect this word is related to "slovenly", but I'm not sure of the exact connection. Slobs do not feel much need to clean up the messes they make or otherwise find themselves inhabiting. While it is true that Sid was also a slob, and that slovenliness is frequently related to sloth, one cannot usually use the term sloth to mean slob, or slob to mean sloth.
  • Slav--someone descended from one of several Indo-European cultures of Eastern Europe. This word is not related to slovenly. In fact, there are many Slavs who are quite tidy. And if you mistake Slavs for sloths, they will look at you funny and mutter things in deep voices that you probably can't understand.
As I said, I point out this difference for your benefit. Strange things start to happen when you use the wrong word at the wrong time. For example, if you are pretending to be the Fire King from the second Ice Age movie, and you mention to your parents that there is a whole group of Slavs outside waiting to carry you to the nearest volcano, your parents might get alarmed and call the local civil authorities.

And if you refer to your Russian immigrant neighbors (of whom we have many in the Sacramento area) as slobs, you might find yourself getting hauled up before the Diversity Police, who have become increasingly active in our society over the last decade or so.

During the Cold War, we were not continually threatening mutually assured destruction with the Sloths.

Being a Slav is not one of the Seven Deadly Sins.

Slobs don't usually grow moss on their backs. They might grow fungus, but not moss.

Despite whatever conclusions you draw from the Fire King episode, it's not the sloths that have a tendency to authoritarian government. (But note that, like those particular sloths, the Slavs have also shown a recent tendency to sacrifice their political leaders on a semi-regular basis).

Also, note that these three categories are not mutually exclusive. There are slothful Slavs; there are slothful slobs, and there are Slavic slobs. But there are also unslothful Slavs and slobs who aren't Slavs and Slavs who aren't slobs. And there are sloths who aren't slobs, although it's a pretty safe bet that nearly all slobs are slothful.

Have we cleared that up? Good. Now get it right, before your parents erupt into huge guffaws of laughter again. Thank you.

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