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Vincent van Mechelen

TURN-BOTTOMS


They have always been around, those people who change opinions as they change clothes. Usually, they are opportunists: they swim with the tide or, if boat-owners, trim their sails to the wind. Thus, when the tide is a revolutionary one, they will follow the preachers of the revolution; and when the tide turns and the restoration becomes in fashion, they will swear by the restoration, until, of course, the next wave of violent feelings returns. Where the water rises to a religious height, they will be god-fearing members of the flock; where atheism or skepticism is the rule they may reject both gods and norms, that is, until religion is back in vogue and they become born-again prudes and prigs.

Persons who are little reliable as far as their convictions are concerned need not be opportunists tho. They may be recalcitrant individuals instead who enjoy swimming against the tide for a while, until they get tired of that too and change allegiance again. They may even blow hot and cold on one idea within a short period of time. None of these people, however, can be counted on in the long run, because of their susceptibility to their environment or their inner doubts. In Deze Taal the general term for such beings is draaikonten, the plural of draaikont.

Draaikont is a word with two different meanings, one being that of a fidget or somebody with ants in 'er pants. But obviously, in this context we are not talking about a person who moves 'er hands or feet or whole body out of nervousness or boredom or something; here the same word is used in a related but clearly derogatory sense. Lexicographers suggest that it should now be translated as twister. However, a 'draaikont' is not really a twister, even not in the sense of twister which is appropriate here. That is, the meaning in which it refers to some kind of trickster, a dishonest person who deliberately deceives people. Twisters may be said to be unreliable too --unreliability is a personality trait they certainly have in common with 'draaikonten'--, but unlike the twister, the 'draaikont' does not attempt to deceive any particular fellow human being or group of fellow human beings. If anything, 'e tries to please the people around 'im, rather than to cheat them, especially when 'e is an opportunist. More importantly, whereas the twister may be a hypocrite who distorts or even rapes the language in order to make present wrongs sound right, the 'draaikont' may appear an honest person, so long as 'er present beliefs and behavior are concerned.

Some may now say that 'draaikonten' are nothing else than weathercocks. Altho this is not that bad a translation, it is still an unsatisfactory one for three reasons. Firstly, 'draaikonten' may be male or female and this is not what the term weathercock suggests. Secondly, even tho a 'draaikont' may change as readily and often as a real weathercock made of metal, 'e does not necessarily veer with every change of public opinion. As i stated above, 'e may even find pleasure in opposing such opinion, or 'er reason for changing so readily may lie somewhere else altogether. And thirdly, a 'draaikont' does not so much change with the weather as with the climate, the ideological climate to be precise. It is a climatic change 'e undergoes or brings about which may at once be a climactic experience. It may be the kind of dramatic, exciting or intense experience a nonreligious person goes thru who adopts a certain religious creed or a religious person goes thru who turns 'er back on such a creed.

As a 'draaikont' is not a twister in 'er role of 'draaikont', and as not all 'draaikonten' are weathercocks, i am left with the choice either not to translate the word at all or to translate it literally. However, should i let the word enter This Language in its original, foreign shape, i am afraid it will not catch on. For to the unsuspecting native ear it will sound as "dry cunt" and is bound to be pronounced as such as well, even tho every speaker of Deze Taal can assure you that this is definitely not the way draaikont is pronounced. Now, cunt is also used for a person you hate or despise, but the use of this word in the present context is plainly wrong for two reasons. Not only can 'draaikonten' be men or women, as i said before --the men being pricks instead of cunts--, the 'draaikont' is not necessarily 'dry' in the sense of dull or uninteresting either. As a matter of fact 'e may be an easy-going and even flamboyant type of person; so easy-going and flamboyant that 'e does not care about principles for any length of time.

As an untranslated use of the compound draaikont will not do in This Language, i will now have recourse to the two morphemes it consists of. The first one, draai, means turn or twist; the second one, kont, means bottom, in the sense of bum or ass. Now, you may twist your head or your shoulders, you may even twist your ankle or wrist; it is extremely hard to twist your bottom, while keeping the rest of your body still. The 'draaikont' in particular does not twist but turn 'er bottom, and with it 'er whole body, in order to sit right for the moment, usually dependent on the direction from which the wind blows or --which is certainly more appropriate in matters of limited duration-- is blowing, or even happens to be blowing. It is safe therefore to equate a 'draaikont' with a 'turn-bottom' or, if you want to give it a stronger derogatory connotation (and are willing to accept the more vulgar sound of it), a 'turn-bum' or 'turn-ass'. Should there be a grammarian or something in the audience who objects to this neologism, let 'im be reminded of old words such as turn button and turncock and turnkey and turnpike and turnstile and turntable and turntail and then turn silent.

I told you already that, unlike a twister, a turn-bottom need not be a hypocrite. A hypocrite believes and does something now and says something different now. Or a hypocrite pretends to have principles or beliefs 'e does not have. A turn-bottom, on the other hand, defended one set of beliefs in the past, and defends a different set of beliefs in the present, without necessarily lying and without necessarily twisting the language. If the turn-bottom does lie, then it is about 'er past; and if 'e does twist the language, then to smooth over mistakes of the past -- at least things of the past which are now considered to be mistakes. Theoretically, this 'past' does not have to be a period many years ago, it could also be a period only a few days ago, or even hours ago. But obviously, the more abstract and general the idea the longer the time span during which the idea can be held before it is changed for the first time or changed again. Any person may change 'er mind any time, but a reliable person will not suddenly and completely disown 'er belief in an abstract, universal ideal within a few days or weeks. But when we consider much longer life-spans, the issue becomes more complicated, for you are not a turn-bottom, merely because you have an opinion at present which you did not have ten, twenty or thirty years ago, or which you will not have anymore so many years from now.

So, what change of opinion does make you a turn-bottom then? In order to answer this question we must clearly distinguish principles from facts and conditions, since change of opinion or belief is too vague a notion to be of much help here. Someone may stick to one principle during 'er whole life, such as the principle that the minimization and eradication of suffering is the best thing there is, while arriving at very different concrete conclusions at or for different times and at or for different places. Such a person may adhere to that principle while claiming that a large proportion of private property, for instance, is a good thing for one time and place and a bad thing for another; that great sexual freedom is a good thing for one 'age' (in more than one sense of the word) and a bad thing for another. In that case the different claims do not result from a change of principle but from a change in the facts and conditions, or rather from a change in what the facts and conditions for different times and places are believed to be.

It would have been quite something different, however, if the person in this example had taken something like private property itself as a principle, and had defended the wholesale privatization of whatever could be privatized. Then a change of belief is not just a change in what the facts and conditions are believed to be, nay, then a change of belief is a change of principle. Such a change is a change in the foundation, base or bottom of one's belief. It is only a turn-bottom who does that light-heartedly or for the exclusive pleasure of 'imself or those around 'er. A typical turn-bottom in recent history is someone who was opposed to private property in the past and considered collective, communal, public or state property as something good in itself, whereas 'e is now an enthusiastic supporter of the accumulation of private property as something good in itself -- it is only one example.

When looking at it from a nontemporal point of view turn-bottoms may seem to be people with principles, but unfortunately you cannot rely on their adhering to them. That is why in the end, that is, in the course of time, they are as unprincipled as twisters and weathercocks. And like twisters and weathercocks i fear turn-bottoms will be around again in days to come.


58.NML-NLL




©MVVM, 58-70 ASWW

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