Almost daily, for the past 20 years, life’s more perfunctory tasks have guided me past a drab little collection of pizza-slice windows, poutine joints, head shops, weed stores, and one ramshackle corner lean-to — its architecture the product of disrepair more than design — painted in grime and demarcated only by a spiritless little sign that reads “Canada’s Oldest Adult Store.”
I never once considered this sign might mean anything other than what I thought it to mean — a conclusion reached not just by the neighborhood in which it canted, but by my assumption of the way in which words are summed in the English language.
Specifically, when faced with a phrase whose meaning needs parsed, I simply work my way from right-to-left — summing words in that order to define the intent. In mathematical terms, the following formula depicts this technique:
(Canada’s + (Oldest + (Adult + Store))) = Meaning of Phrase
Following the brackets as if we were in a middle school math class, we begin with the word on the right, “store,” which defines the purpose of the establishment — to sell something. We then add the word immediately to its left to further define the establishment as an “adult store” — euphemistic lingo for “a store that sells blow-up girlfriends, silly costumes, and befittingly garish silicon hot dogs.”
Continuing in a leftward path through the equation, we next modify the phrase “adult store” with the word “oldest,” which tells us that this is “a store that sells sexually-themed products that’s been in business longer than any other store that also sells sexually-themed products.”
Finally, at the far left sits the word “Canada’s” — which, according to the formula, further narrows the meaning to be “a store that sells sexually-themed products that’s been in business longer than any other store in Canada that also sells sexually-themed products.” And this definition, summed in this way, has been my assumed interpretation of this sign for the entire 21st Century.
But a couple of days ago, for reasons I can attribute only to the lingering effects of a recent flu, those four little words grabbed my attention as I stood waiting for the crosswalk signal to change. The more I stared at the sign, the more I realized I didn’t have a clue what it actually meant. The mathematical formula I used to derive its meaning was little more than a presumption — and one I could easily invalidate.
Consider the phrase, “Mental Health Care Professional” — many of whom will, I assume, be reading this post for some evidentiary research into my future hearing. What happens if I sum those four words using the same right-to-left formula I’d applied to the store?
(Mental + (Health + (Care + Professional)))
Doing so causes me to arrive at the assumption that a “mental health care professional” is “a professional who cares for peoples’ health but who is, themselves, mental.” I’m quite certain this isn’t the intended meaning of the phrase, since very few people want their health needs met by someone with mental issues.
Because the actual definition of “mental health care professional” is known, I used this definition to modify my word-summing formula, so that it produced the expected result:
(((Mental + Health) + Care) + Professional)
Having derived a new formula, which produced an accurate result, I naturally chose to apply it to the “Canada’s oldest adult store” phrase:
(((Canada’s + oldest) + adult) + store)
Crunching the English with this new equation tells us this phrase actually means one of two things. Either 1) it’s “a store that sells Canada’s oldest adult” or 2) it’s “a store that sells products meant for purchase by Canada’s oldest adult.”
I’m not 100% certain, but I’m reasonably sure it’s illegal to sell human beings in Canada, so I’m going to assume the second meaning is true. Besides, since North American culture places absolutely no value on age or experience, it would make no sense for a store to try to sell such a thing — particularly the oldest and therefore culturally least-valuable version in the country.
But even the second meaning is doubtful, since it would imply that this is a store that sells products targeted specifically at a single individual — the oldest person in Canada. That’s a seriously exclusive clientele. And what happens if the oldest person in Canada doesn’t live in Vancouver? Why have a brick & mortar store when your one and only client is more-than-likely going to be ordering online?
With my natural inclination toward knowledge, and a realization that my 12 year-old blog is built upon a desire to communicate effectively, I sought the answer the only way I knew how — I walked into the establishment.
And my original assumption proved rather accurate — I saw no old people for sale, nor any old people perusing the wares.
Which means I have absolutely no idea what the correct formula is for summing words in a phrase. If the meaning of one 4-word phrase requires the words be summed in a certain order, and the meaning of another 4-word phrase requires a different summing order, how can anyone hope to speak English and actually be understood?
It’s moments like this that I’m thankful for my propensity to communicate through the unambiguous medium of photographs. I mean, there’s no way those could ever be misinterpreted…
©2020 grEGORy simpson
ABOUT THE PHOTOS: Three floods in the condo and a flu have prevented me from taking any new photos this year. Fortunately, I can still cull from the massive backlog taken during December’s Tokyo trip. All are from the M10 Monochrom using a variety of lenses. “Tindertown” used a v4 Leica 35mm f/2.0 Summicron; “Surrogates” used a Leica 21mm f/3.4 Super-Elmar-M ASPH; While “Venus de Vending,” “Warholier Than Thou” and “Counterculture” all used a pristine Minolta 28mm f/2.8 M-Rokkor, but to wildly different effect.
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