Odd Words: Cataphract

CataphractWelcome to page 43 of The New York Times Everyday Reader’s Dictionary of Misunderstood, Misused, and Mispronounced Words: Revised Edition! This was a pretty typical page with a good mix of known and unknown words. I went with “cataphract.”

A Very Special Sex Slave

The page started with a few words in the neighborhood of “catalyst.” They are words most people know — even if they’ve never taken chemistry. But right after them I got a surprising introduction to the word “catamite.”

It is “a boy kept for taking part in homosexual activities.” It’s quite an old word — dating back to the 16th century, when (as I understand it), finding boys attractive was something that heterosexual men did without social criticism. The word traces back to the ancient Greek word for the hero Ganymede.

The word reminds me of Spartacus. There is a scene where Crassus (Laurence Olivier) tells Antoninus (Tony Curtis) about liking oysters and snails — a very thin reference to his bisexuality and intent to bed the young man. This causes Antoninus to run away and join Spartacus.

Medical Words

Not surprisingly, there were a number of medical words. They must be arcane because they mostly don’t appear in regular dictionaries. For example, there is “catamnesis” — “the medical history of a sick person.” Then there was “cataphoresis” — “the action of passing medicinal substances through living tissue in the direction of a positive electric current; electrophoresis.” And so on. Not very inspiring stuff.

Theater

There were two unusual words that relate to theater. The first, I knew: “catastrophe.” Obviously, it has another definition. But in terms of theater, it is “the decisive point in a play, especially a tragedy.” This word I knew, but only because I had researched it in light of Samuel Beckett’s play Catastrophe. It’s 5 minutes of torture — but probably a good encapsulation of the lives most people live.

The other word is “catastasis.” It is “that part of a play immediately preceding the climax.” This is a very useful word. I often find myself talking about that part of play or movie. It is generally when things look like they might work out in a tragedy, or where they look hopeless in a comedy.

Cataphract

Everything in today’s post came from the first column of page 43. That includes today’s word: “cataphract,” which I’ll admit is not all that interesting.

Cat·a·phract  noun  \kat’-əfrakt\

1. an armed warship of ancient Greece

2. a Roman soldier in mail.

Date: Late 17th century.

Origin: from Latin, from Greek kataphraktos, which means “clothed in full armor.”

Example: In brief, from the Battle of Adrianople (378), the supremacy of the Roman infantry legion was superseded by the charge of the heavy armored horseman — the cataphract, a development of, primarily, Iranians that spread to dominate Europe and western Asia for over a thousand years, fundamentally reshaping economies, politics, and social organization. –Harry Eagar, Winning Edge

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No TalesThis weekend, I decided to take my father out to the movies. It is part of my effort to have some kind of life outside of work (an issue I’ve struggled with throughout my life). And at the cheap theater they were showing Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales. I mistook it, however — thinking they were just showing an old film, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest. I was pleased to find that I was wrong. This pleasure did not last long.

Dead Men Tell No Tales is certainly the worst of the Pirates of the Caribbean series. But before you listen to me, you should consider that I believe On Stranger Tides was the strongest of the films. The reason for this is simply that the Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) character is the heart and soul of the franchise. On Stranger Tides is the only film that is focused on him. What’s more, the film is wonderfully absent Will Turner (Orlando Bloom) and Elizabeth Swann (Keira Knightley). Dead Men Tell No Tales is not.

A Romance We Didn’t Want

As much as I didn’t care for the Turner-Swann romance, it was fine compared to a romance involving their son. Here we have Henry Turner (Brenton Thwaites) meeting his love interest Carina Smyth (Kaya Scodelario). Henry has no real personality to speak of, whereas Carina is a stock character: the science woman. But given that they are in the Pirates of the Caribbean universe where ghosts (and anything else the screenwriters find helpful) are very real, Carina’s commitment to Galileo Galilei and the scientific method are of little use and, ultimately, interest.

This romance is the heart of the film. So we are back to The Curse of the Black Pearl, but without characters that are even vaguely as interesting. What’s more, Carina turns out to be Barbossa’s daughter, turning a wonderfully complex and unpredictable character into a fawning “good father” who sacrifices his life to save her.

Fake Barbossa

Is it just me, or does Barbossa seem utterly fake when he smiles? Geoffrey Rush is a great actor, but all his skills don’t seem to be able to overcome such an uncharacteristic change in the character. It was hard to watch. This reached a peak with his sacrifice. I suppose since Barbossa had already gotten a good death in the first film, this second one didn’t need to be good. But it was cringe-inducing — probably the hardest scene to watch in the whole series.

Jack Sparrow

The plot that directly involves Jack Sparrow is only marginally better. He seems to be in the film only to push the plot forward. This is especially true when he trades his compass for a drink. Given how important the compass is throughout the other films, this strikes me as outrageous, even for Jack. But apparently the writers couldn’t come up with any other way to get the primary villain involved in the action.

The villain is Captain Salazar, who gets surprisingly little to do throughout the film. When he does become a major element of the film, it is in the form of Henry Turner (a waste of actor Javier Bardem). And then, he acts like a typical stupid film bad guy. Once the curse is lifted and he gets his life back, he doesn’t try to save himself. Instead, he continues with his vendetta against Sparrow. And this leads to exactly what we expect.

More and Worse Ahead

At the end of the credits of each Pirates of the Caribbean film, there is a short scene — a postscript. In general, it is meaningless. For example, in the first film, the monkey goes back to the chest and takes a coin out of it — becoming undead again. Yet the monkey showed up normally in this film without having ever returned the coin (at least according to the films).

But in Dead Men Tell No Tales, the post-credit scene seems to point toward a sixth film in the series. In it, Davy Jones is about to attack Will and Elizabeth as they sleep. But then Will wakes up, showing that it was all a dream, except that there are barnacles on the floor. Not exactly inspiring material for another go at this.

The whole franchise has really overstayed its welcome. Almost everything we saw in this latest offering had been in previous films. The thought of Will and Elizabeth on the run against Davy Jones sounds quite a lot like At World’s End. But I guess as long as these things continue to make money, Disney will continue to grind them out.

Afterword: Post-Credits Scenes

Overall, I like post-credits scenes. They are a nice kind of Easter egg for the film geeks around. But I think that Dead Men Tell No Tales broke a convention in its post-credits scene. Since there were no credits at the beginning of the film, the opening credits were put right after the end of the film. After they were done, the normal end credits scrolled up the screen.

A convention has been developed over the years that if you do such a thing, any post-credits scene will go after the first credits and before the scrolled credits. Dead Men Tell No Tales did not do this. As a result, everyone but my father and me exited the theater after the first set of credits. Badly played on the filmmakers’ part.

None of this would be a problem if it weren’t from the ridiculous 5 or more minutes of credits we are now forced to sit through. Although film is a collaborative art form, I don’t think this use of credits helps to make this clear. Instead, it tends to relegate someone who does make an artistic contribution to the final product (eg, an assistant editor) to the same position as one who doesn’t (eg, a caterer).