Flattery Will Get You Everywhere
Have you heard that Marilyn Monroe wore a size 16? Whatever size dress she actually wore, she was certainly a bit plumper than our current standard of beauty. Ever since Twiggy (Leslie Hornsby, size 2), the Western ideal of beauty has gone skinny. Whereas in other parts of the world, where food is limited, being plump is a sign of health and prosperity, as it was in the 1800’s in the United States.
Whatever the current ideal is shop keepers everywhere have learned that flattery will get their till to fill. Making your customers feel good, makes them stay in your shop longer, looking at more merchandise, feeling more and more inclined to spend their money to take that good feeling with them.
As the ideal body has deflated, dress sizes have inflated. A size 8 dress will now accommodate a body that was once defined to be a size 12 or 14. The more expensive the brand the smaller the size you can expect to wear. Honestly, one brand of slacks offered me the privilege of wearing a size 6 for only $200! For twice as much I could probably wear a size 4!
Flattery inflation isn’t new. Nor is it limited to the fashion industry. Consider the words “thee,” and “thy.”
Since I only heard them in quotes from the Bible as a kid, I came to the conclusion that they were more formal and respectful than “you,” and “your.” For instance you wouldn’t want to insult God with, “Dude, couldn’t you just pack up your clouds get some sun over here?!”
No, instead, you say, “Father I beg thee, part thy clouds, and bring forth the beauty of thy sun.”
In fact, I had it wrong. “Thee” is singular and “you” was plural. In effect “you” meant “all y’all.”
Your Majesty – Where Art You?
But to add a bit more complexity to the situation, at that time a high ranking, person, such as a king or a queen would also be addressed as “you,” even if there was only one of them present. Their single personship represented a whole country of people.
In keeping with the metaphor, royalty referred to themselves as “we,” even when they meant their one individual self. As in the famous quote from Queen Victoria, “We are not amused.” The context in which she said that is in question; but at the time it would have been quite grammatically correct even if she meant that she herself was the only person in the room remaining un-entertained.
Similarly “ladies” and “gentlemen” was once reserved only for nobility or the “landed gentry.” The terms didn’t include any old adult person of the male or female gender, and they most certainly did NOT include anyone who earned money, rather than just collecting rents. A job?!!! How shockingly undignified.
But the Industrial Age caused the times to be a-changing. Gentlemen and ladies got poor and industrial barons and marketing managers got rich.
What’s a Merchant to Do?
In the past, the merchant at a high end store might not have wanted to have commoners seen shopping his store. But now …
If you were a merchant in that situation, wouldn’t it be helpful to “mistake” wealthy industrial barons for nobles? Wouldn’t it be a good idea to ask any person entering your store, “May I help you?” And if you owned a restaurant, wouldn’t it be a good strategy to offer to seat “the ladies?” And if you were the master of ceremonies, wouldn’t you want to endear yourself to the great crowd before you by calling them “ladies and gentlemen?” And so the terms became genericized.
But now we have a new problem. The terms are so common they have lost their power to flatter.
What is a clever merchant to do?
Perhaps I can look forward to the day that a clerk will great me with, “Your Majesty, we have some lovely dresses that you really should try on. I happen to have a size 4 right here. It might be a bit large for you, but I can probably find a size 2 in the back. Let me look.