Thursday, August 23, 2012

Sometimes, Sayings Say More than The Sayer Wants Said

Try saying that five times, fast.

Or, consider the saying: "Sow your wild oats."

Users of UrbanDictionary (that august source) suggest the following meanings:

1. "sow one's wild oats, to have a youthful fling at reckless and indiscreet behavior, esp. to be promiscuous before marriage."

2. "to have sex with as many people, [enjoy] life, and have fun before settling down".

And these sentiments seem quite commonly held.

TheFreeDictionary represents about the same range of options, giving the following definitions:

3. "to do wild and foolish things in one's youth. (often assumed to have some sort of sexual meaning.)"

4. "if a young man sows his wild oats, he has a period of his life when he does a lot of exciting things and has a lot of sexual relationships"

Wikipedia notes that the phrase:

5. "...'sowing wild oats' became a way to describe unprofitable activities."

Wikipedia adds: "Given the reputation of oat grain to have invigorating properties and the obvious connection between plant seeds and human 'seed', it is not surprising that the meaning of the phrase shifted towards more or less explicitly referring to the destructive sexual liaisons of an unmarried young male, possibly resulting in unwanted children born out of wedlock."

Now the scientific name for the plant termed the "common wild oat" is Avena fatua. And "Avena" simply means "oats." "fatua" is a cognate of fatuus, which means "foolish, silly, simple[;]...stupid[;]...(of food) insipid, tasteless".

So we see that the idea of "foolishness" is clearly built into the concept of "wild oats," at least as far as the concerns the etymology of the Latin name.

But there's a bit more if we examine some of the characteristics of the wild oat plant itself:

"Avena fatua is spread as a contaminant of cereal seed, by people, by farm animals and through contaminated shared farm implements. ... Avena fatua is considered to be one of the world's worst agricultural weeds ... A  fatua invades and lowers the quality of a field crop, typically wheat or oat fields and competes for resources with the crops. It causes soil dryness and provides favourable conditions for diseases and pests ...".

To summarize: Wild oats are weeds that:

- contaminate fields,
- threaten the viability of nutritious cereals,
- cause soil dryness, and
- encourage diseases

Of course, the assumption in agriculture is that the contamination of a field with wild oats will occur accidentally. It introduces a genuine foolishness, however, if the wild oats are intentionally sown.

"Fool" has the sense, historically speaking, of a person whose head is full of air. A fool is "empty-headed," a "windbag," even "mad, insane".

If we consider human relationships, as opposed to agriculture, I think that we can imagine straightforward applications of our understanding of the wild oat plant to the former. For example, if we take nutritious or profitable plants to correspond to substantial, loving relationships, then the wild oat plant itself will plausibly represent shallow, unloving relationships. Additionally, if we consider fertile, adequately hydrated soil to represent those conditions that are most conducive to the growth of substantial, loving relationships, then we will see that the fact that wild oats promote dry soil, suggests that wild oats will promote conditions that are not conducive to the growth of substantial, loving relationships. Finally, the fact that wild oats encourage disease in an agricultural sense, straightforwardly suggests that persons who "sow wild oats" in a relational sense will similarly encourage sexual diseases. And this latter observation, I take it, has no shortage of independent evidence to support it.

So, given all of this, it does seem insane to intentionally sow one's own field with a weed that is likely to choke out positive relationships, reduce a person's ability to cultivate substantial, loving relationships, and encourage diseases. However, this seems precisely what occurs in the case of a person who "sows his or her wild oats." And thus, it seems to me, the person who explicitly proclaims his or her intention to "sow wild oats" (and perhaps even more the person who proudly summarizes past activities with this phrase) has likely said something far more than he or she likely intended to say. For, in effect, such a person has said that his field (or hers) is a contaminated field. And this is arguably truly spoken.

It serves as a warning too. Any other person who hopes for a nutritious and profitable relationship might be thought wise to plant elsewhere.

No comments:

Post a Comment