Things used to be “fine.”
“A salad with that?”
“That’d be fine.”
“Perfect” was only in fancy restaurants on TV: “House Red with the salmon? Perfect.”
Now, everything is perfect. Your shoes, your teeth, your hair. You build your own burger – it’s perfect.
Language inflation is stalking our nation. With inflation, something we value loses its value. When what used to cost $1 suddenly costs $10, the dollar isn’t what it used to be, and neither is the purchase.
When I was 2,000 miles away from home, my parents were fine. That’s what they told me. Good times or hard times, that’s all they would say. It was their code of honor and their way of protecting me. I hope that if they had once told me they were feeling perfect, I would have jumped on a plane.
In my two professions, one never achieves perfection. As a historian, I cannot imagine perfect history, neither what happened nor the telling of it. This year is the 100th anniversary of World War I. Why did it begin? The assassination of that Serbian archduke? The arms race between European powers or their hunger for territorial conquests? Human events are not tidy. To write that history, one must juggle many variables and search for documentation to give voice to those literally entrenched in the events.
I’ve been a dancer since I learned to walk. One might expect that I’d know how. But no. Like dancers everywhere, I must practice daily. Margot Fonteyn, the great English ballerina, did her ballet barre exercises every day. She said it was like saying her prayers. Dancers work every day to perfect their art, but not one would say, “That’s it – now I’m perfect.” Like the Mets’ great pitcher Tom Seaver said, “Pitching’s what you’ve got that day.”
There is the point of view that everything is perfect in and of itself. I knew a professor who said she owned the best of all possible Volkswagens.
Good, better, best. The language doesn’t put perfect in the order. It’s something different. In baseball, batting .300 makes a slugger who can hit the ball out of the park a star.
There’s another phrase for excessively fabulous, “out of this world.” If there could be “perfect,” that’s where one would have to find it: out of this world.
Mountain View resident Leslie Friedman is artistic director of The Lively Foundation and co-editor of The Hedgehog, the international arts review. For more information, visit livelyfoundation.org.