Oh, there was a time when my phone would have been ringing off the hook. But not on Super Bowl Sunday. People just grab their phones and say, “Google, what is a pillock?” In a sane world, Google would spit back, “Don’t ask me! Ask your friend Frank; it’s about the only thing he’s good for!”
During the Super Bowl, Budweiser ran a “don’t drink and drive” commercial starring Helen Mirren. Now, on the one hand, I hate these kind of commercials. They remind me of a heroin dealer saying, “Now remember: don’t share syringes!” But on the other hand: Helen Mirren. Also, I’m sure that Budweiser would prefer that people take Merle Haggard’s advice and just stay home and drink.
Toward the end of this one minute long spot, Mirren says, “Don’t be a pillock!” That’s the line that should have had all my friends reaching for the phone — to call me (not to ask Google).
Now, it’s not that I have known what the word “pillock” means for a long time. In fact, although I’ve probably known it a long time, the only reason it stands out to me is because I just recently read The Truth, where William and Otto have the following conversation:
“‘To prance around like a pillock ordering everyone about as if you owned the place,’?” said William.
“Ah, you know it!”
What Does Pillock Mean?
According to the Oxford English Dictionary, “pillock” is British informal, “A stupid person.” It comes from the mid-16th century, and like most insults was originally a word for “penis.”
If Herman Melville’s short story “Bartleby” asks us to consider what we are to do with our mentally ill, I would like to raise a similar question, “What are we to do with the keepers of useless knowledge?” In other words: what are we to do with me.
Don’t get me wrong: I still get by. At work, my vast store of arcane knowledge often comes in useful to spice up otherwise boring subjects. And the writer of that commercial was probably an American who had read some Terry Pratchett or spent a summer in England or otherwise picked up the word. Although you are unlikely to come upon one of us in your everyday life we are everywhere. (We are especially congregated here at Frankly Curious where the odd bit of knowledge is still valued as an end in itself.)
But certainly the day is coming where there will be no need for someone who can respond to “I’m lactose intolerant” with, “That reminds me of Marlen Haushofer!” Soon, your phone will have a setting on it, “Know-it-all friend who sometimes amuses me.” And then we will be these sad figures who roam the streets in the early mornings muttering about Schopenhauer and how Finnegans Wake really calls into question the brilliance of Ulysses. And no one should read Portrait of the Artist past high school. And back to Schopenhauer and why I should even eat today when I’ll only have to do it again tomorrow.
So really, fine. Just use your little phones. But I still think it’ll take you a while to connect “Marlen Haushofer” and “lactose intolerant.” And no cheating by looking it up on Frankly Curious!