7.02.2010

Epic Fail!


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I've heard this phrase quite a few times this summer: "Epic fail!" It accompanies a youth splashing helter-kelter into a swimming pool, or the realization that the bruschetta breadlets have burned, or that the next season of Bones is not available on Netflix yet.

Exclamations are an interesting area of linguistics. I remember being told as a child not to say essentially anything that began with the letter "g" so as to protect against breaking the Third Commandment; "Gorsh! Golly-Gee!" The dated exclamations of the loquacious Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles ring in my ears; "Tubular! Kawabunga!" I think of the covert vulgarity of my Canadian Grandpa and his brothers; "Moisie viage!" (?) or the colloquialisms of Southern cartoon dog sheriffs; "Well roast my brisket!" By my family's influence Jessica has begun to say "Golly!" and "Geeper!" (notice it's not "Geepers!" because grandpa can't say his plurals very well). There are obviously other areas of inquiry with this type of speech, but let's keep it PG people! and get back to the topic of the day.
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"Epic fail!" rubs me the wrong way. Not in a big way, just a sort of nerdy way. What I find unsettling is the content of these words compared with the context of its use. I find myself looking at those burnt, crisp slices of bread and thinking to myself, "I'm not sure this counts as an epic fail." Well then, what does?

To me this is the ultimate example of a situation where the exclamation "Epic fail!" could and indeed should be used. Picture an ancient and splendid city, besieged for years in a stalemate war. The prince of the city (let's call him Hector), though he has forebodings of death, has said a final and tearful farewell to his parents and siblings, his wife and child. He stands outside the city's gates face to face with the menacing and bloodthirsty champion of the enemy (let's call him Achilles). There's fighting. There's running around the city for exercise. There's finally a showdown of spear throwing. Achilles' spear misses its aim and falls away. Hector throws his spear and it just bounces off his opponent's magic, god-wrought armor. And then Achilles throws his spear again! (Oh yeah, the goddess Pallas secretly hands him back his weapon. I've got an exclamation for her!) The spear juts through Hector's neck and "prone to the dust he falls" though has enough strength to give one last speech. Let's listen to what happens next:
Picture"By thy soul, thy knees, Thy parents' heads, Achilles, 
I beseech, Let not my corpse by Grecian dogs be torn. 
Accept the ample stores of brass and gold, 
Which as my ransom by my honour'd sire 
And mother shall be paid thee; but my corpse 
Restore, that so the men and wives of Troy 
May deck with honours due my fun'ral pyre."

To whom, with fierce aspect, Achilles thus: 

"Knee me no knees, vile hound! nor prate to me 
Of parents! such my hatred, that almost 
I could persuade myself to tear and eat 
Thy mangled flesh; such wrongs I have to avenge, 
He lives not, who can save thee from the dogs; 
Not though with ransom ten and twenty fold 
He here should stand, and yet should promise more; 
No, not though Priam's royal self should sue 
To be allow'd for gold to ransom thee; 
No, not e'en so, thy mother shall obtain 
To lay thee out upon the couch, and mourn 
O'er thee, her offspring; but on all thy limbs 
Shall dogs and carrion vultures make their feast."

To whom thus Hector of the glancing helm, 

Dying: "I know thee well; nor did I hope 
To change thy purpose; iron is thy soul"...

E'en as he spoke, his eyes were clos'd in death; 

And to the viewless shades his spirit fled, 
Mourning his fate, his youth and vigour lost.

Oh, and then Achilles ties his dead body to his chariot and parades his corpse around the walls of the doomed city to the view of Hector's horror-stuck loved ones. I would personally be appalled if no one in the onlooking crowd, Grecian or Trojan, did not let out a solemn and wonderstruck "Epic fail!"
What do you think? What is an appropriate time to use this phrase?

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