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artisanal film reviews | by maryann johanson

The Princess and the Frog (review)

Processed Princess Product

Is it too churlish — or maybe even downright contradictory — to complain about The Princess and the Frog? But I can’t help but think: Wait, Disney finally gives us a black princess… and she has to spend most of the movie as a frog? Disney finally gives us a black princess… at the very same moment it decides to give us a “realistic” “princess,” a decidedly nonroyal gal who works (hard!) for a living to achieve her realistic, down-to-earth dreams and isn’t waiting on romance for her life to begin? I mean, that’s good — Tiana here is an independent adult, not a woman-child — but they couldn’t stick with fantasy just a little while longer? The white girls all got to be mermaids splashing around in undersea fantasylands and book-loving lollabouts in the French countryside… and the very best reward that Tiana here can be said to get is the prospect of a long difficult slog in one of the toughest businesses there is, the restaurant one?

You almost wish Disney hadn’t done us any favors.
Still and all, it’s actually pretty ironic that there’s such a kerfluffle over Disney’s first black princess, because The Princess and the Frog feels so old-fashioned — and not entirely in a good way — and so familiar — definitely not in a good way — that you’d be forgiven for thinking that this was a movie lost in the early 1990s and just rediscovered. (Surely there’s been a black princess for years, hasn’t there?) It’s true that a certain fluid, organic style and a certain lush, cozy look has changed since animated movies have mostly been turned into CGI productions, but there’s no reason at all why a traditionally created movie like this one — Disney’s first hand-drawn feature since 2004’s Home on the Range was supposed to have been the final one — also had to cover ground already very well covered indeed by all the Disney princess films of the late 80s and 90s.

Except, of course, that Disney isn’t about to let go of its stranglehold on the hearts and minds of princess-addled five-year-old girls of all ages and genders. You know how they say that cops come in only one color, blue? Well, Disney princesses come in only one color: pink.

This is a pink, pink movie, serving up heaping great servings of by-the-number romantic adventure and de rigueur Showstopper(TM) musical numbers. That wasn’t the case with wonders like Beauty and the Beast or Aladdin, when these elements truly were fresh. But those were from the days before Disney had a franchise called Disney Princess catering to all your princess needs.

I use the word pink metaphorically, of course. The Princess and the Frog is mostly warm browns and golds and cool greens and blues that serve to create a visually sumptuous early-20th-century New Orleans — the film is lovely to look at, indeed. The actually-pinkest stuff here comes in the form Tiana’s best friend, the rich, spoiled, blonde brat Charlotte (the voice of Jennifer Cody), who is an intentional parody of Disney princesses, but not enough of one to be intriguing in any sort of meta way. That could be the worst flaw of the film. It has no subtext, and is nothing other than what it appears, on its surface, to be: an indulgence of princess fantasies Disney has trained us to crave. The reason the Pixar films have been so wildly successful is not because they’re CGI but because they’re telling us new stories in new ways. But directors Ron Clements and John Musker — who also wrote the film with assists from four additional credited screenwriters; in the past, Clements and Musker gave us Treasure Planet, The Little Mermaid, and other Disney toons — don’t appear to care about breaking any new ground at all, or at least as little as possible.

And so we have Tiana (the voice of Anika Noni Rose), who is saving up her tips from waitressing jobs so she can open her own restaurant someday; she’s an awesome cook. Instead of the usual Disney absent mother, it’s her dad who’s left the scene, leaving her alone with Mom (the voice of Oprah Winfrey: Bee Movie, Charlotte’s Web). Tiana bums around with Charlotte — there’s fantasy for you: a rich white girl in pre-WWI New Orleans is BFFs with a poor black girl, the daughter of her seamstress — and it’s through Charlotte that she meets the ne’er-do-well Prince Naveen (the voice of Bruno Campos). He’s visiting from “Maldonia,” which sounds vaguely Baltic and perhaps explains his middle-brown Mediterranean look. (Again, it’s a dilemma whether to complain about this: On the one hand, yea mixed-race romance that no one seems to have a problem with, but on the other hand, boo no black prince.) Naveen is determined to enjoy all that New Orleans has to offer, including voodoo, which is how he ends up turned into a frog by the spooky witch doctor Facilier (the voice of Keith David: All About Steve, Gamer). He can be turned back into a human by the kiss of a princess, which he mistakes Tiana to be. But since she isn’t a princess, she gets turned into a frog instead. Cue bayou adventure — including encounters with a jazz-loving alligator (the voice of Michael-Leon Wooley) and a hopeless-romantic mosquito (the voice of Jim Cummings) — as they go in search of a Cajun fairy godmother who can turn them back again.

Need I tell you how it ends?

There are a few pretty good songs by Randy Newman — Tiana, on the verge of seeing her entrepreurial dreams come true, belts out the triumphant “Almost There”; Facilier relishes his supernatural helpers in “Friends on the Other Side” — but even they are ringingly familiar even on a first hearing. The Princess and the Frog might have been one of the greats had we first seen it back in 1993. Of course, it’s specifically designed to make you feel as if it’s already an old favorite, which makes it feel more like manufactured goods than a movie. Though even Hollywood usually has the grace to pretend it’s not merely selling you a prepackaged product.


MPAA: rated G

viewed at a public multiplex screening

official site | IMDb
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  • Drave

    Disappointing. If this fails to do well, I’m sure it will be blamed on the mistake of having another go at cell animation, instead of, y’know, a lack of innovation. Voting with your wallet is tough when you are voting in two contradictory elections, but you only get one vote for both. I vote yes to traditional animation, but I vote no to bland, prepackaged Disney Product.

  • Paul

    I wondering about the level of sarcasm/irony in your last sentence. Based on the other posting here, concerning your $50 trip through Disney’s New Orleans, I’m wondering.

  • MaryAnn

    I wasn’t being sarcastic. I’m saying that even grading on the Hollywood curve for crass commercialism, this film feels more manufactured and calculated than most.

  • Susan

    The white girls all got to be mermaids splashing around in undersea fantasylands and book-loving lollabouts in the French countryside…

    With two notable exceptions: the most famous princess, and the whitest one.

  • why couldn’t she have been a real princess, daughter of an african king or tribal leader? or even a tribal leader herself? on the other hand, belle, cinderella, snow white and mulan — not really princesses either. some guy has to turn them into a princess. i don’t know what happens at the end of this one, but belle, at least, never gets to have adventures in the great wide world as she sings about at the beginning — she settles for a beast turned prince. all disney “princess” movies are more insidious than they seem. fun as they might be.

  • Eric Dale Eubanks

    Even the “diversity curve” from Disney seems calculated, like a vintage “United Colors of Benneton”. {Since I’m a lay minister for a progressive denomination that uses inclusive language, I’m generally “all about” inclusivity in any form — as long as it’s not so apparently calculated for commercial purposes. When the objective becomes “make-a-buck-from-THIS-untapped-demographic”, I get twitchy}.

    While I DO applaud Disney’s efforts at breaking the lily-white mold, they could do a bit better with actually celebrating the cultures and ethnicities they are centering these things around. As it is, many of the “postmodern princesses” have seemed paint-by-numbers storytelling and filmmaking, interchangeable. Which sorta defeats the purpose…

    I was teasing a friend the other night that the only remaining Disney-princess for the post-Walt company to include in their calculated roster would be “Princess Billy”, an ethereal and girly boy with flowing locks who gets to sing the eleven-o-clock number a la “Part of Your World”….

  • With two notable exceptions: the most famous princess, and the whitest one.

    Lady Di? Princess Stephanie? King Juan Carlos’s daughters? Inquiring minds want to know…

  • It sounds like this movie DOES give us a look at another culture, that of New Orleans / the Delta. It’s not “black culture”, but its a subset of it; just like there isn’t one single “white culture” – Snow White is a German story, Pinocchio is Italian etc.

    As for the interracial aspect, I’m not sure what Naveen is either. Crimean Tatar maybe? Central Asian? I’m part Eastern European / Near Eastern myself. The princess is cute. Nothing wrong with a little black-on-offwhite action :^) It’s annoying that she is a toad for most of the movie, but I still have her voice to listen to.

    As for the black males out there, um, I guess you have James Earl Jones in the Lion King… – Nah, I agree, that’s probably not enough. Disney and Pixar haven’t done a proper African fairytale yet, but they should, and probably will have to now.

  • Knightgee

    I don’t think it’s necessarily fair to complain that Disney isn’t portraying their first black princess in the same way they would portray her 10-15 years ago. Many people I know had a problem with the message of the Little Mermaid being somewhat sexist and someone already mentioned Belle giving up her dreams to settle on a life with her prince. When the fantasy that so many other girls got to indulge in comes with the tinge of sexism that most people today would recognize as sexist, is it really fair to fault Disney for not falling back on that fantasy it employed a decade or so ago?

  • Martin

    …Pixar haven’t done a proper African fairytale yet, but they should, and probably will have to now.

    Which is the problem, isn’t it?

    Why should Pixar be told what stories they should tell?

    If Pixar come up with a strong story idea about black culture themselves, I’ve got no problem with it, but when it’s a cynical marketing ploy to appeal to a ‘demographic’, then I’d rather not.

    If Pixar gave a damn about demographics, I’m pretty sure Wall E would never have been made.

  • amanohyo

    Pixar doesn’t need to do a proper African fairytale, but considering that it’s an American company telling stories that often take place in America (and the main studio is in the freakin’ Bay area), it would be nice if someday one of its human characters just happened to be black or hispanic or native american, or middle eastern, in the same way that Russell in Up just happens to be asian american. There’s no pressing need to make a big deal out of it and center an entire movie around the culture of another country (much less an entire continent). That’s not really Pixar’s style. They tell their stories primarily from the wistful yuppie perspective, I get that, but not all wistul yuppies or yuppiespawn are white/asian, and they certainly aren’t all men (or boys… or erm “male” toys).

    Or maybe they realize that nonwhite males and women aren’t as wistful because their situation has actually improved? Or maybe nonwhite males and women are just as wistful even though the past was generally more sucky for them, but the creative directors at Pixar are unable to see through their subconscious guilt and self-absorption to realize this fact? All I know is that the main characters in their “universal” human stories are conspicuously unrepresentative of even the children in the audience, to say nothing of the population of the country or of the western world (or of the world at large). Forget about shooting for Africa, how about just middle-class America?

  • amanohyo

    Yes I do remember Lucius Best. That was a nice baby step, as is this Disney movie.

  • Bluejay

    @amanohyo: I don’t know what the demographics at the Pixar offices are; if they’re all mostly one thing, then that could certainly skew the perspective of the team, even if only unconsciously. Maybe diversity in the workplace is the solution to the imbalance you’re seeing.

    Having said that, I’m a nonwhite middle-class male and I’ve enjoyed Pixar’s movies tremendously. They do have blind spots just like everyone, and I think they’ll be corrected in time–but I hope it’s always done in the service of a great story, and not just to satisfy identity politics.

    I read somewhere that an upcoming Pixar feature, “The Bear and the Bow,” will finally feature a female protagonist…but that she will be a princess. Well, baby steps, as you say. Maybe, being Pixar, they’ll do something clever with the premise to subvert and criticize the whole princess idea, similar to what Robert Munsch did in his book “The Paper Bag Princess.” We’ll see.

  • i was under the impression that this was *not* a Pixar film. just a straight Disney production.

  • Bluejay

    Which one, “The Bear and the Bow”? It’s Pixar.

  • I never said it was exclusively Pixar, bronxbee; it’s person B snipping my comment and then person C ranting over that snip. Ahh, the interwebs.

    As for black characters in fairytales, um, welllll… the earlier tales were set in small kingdoms or citystates in mediaeval Europe and mediaeval Europe was not famed for its black population. Setting a version of “Princess” on the Gulf Coast is *the best we can do*. “Snow White” would just be silly if the characters were black. I mean, duh?

    That’s why I recommended that Pixar OR!!!DISNEY!!! (did I make that loud enough for the selective clippers?) do an “Aladdin” or “Mulan” – just go whole-hog with an indigenously African culture. I admit they don’t “have to”. They don’t have to admit that black people have a (primarily) non-European origin; they don’t have to accept that the African culture is worth writing a story about. But I still think it would be nice if they did.

    I know, “baby steps”; but from what I hear around the place blacks don’t like it when they hear “baby steps” concerning elevating their social status.

    PS. Wall-E? A pile of reeking SWPL trash. Hated it. HATED IT.

  • Nina

    Disney was actually planning on turning Aida into an animated film about ten years ago. They went with the Broadway route, instead. It’s a great show, but I would still like to see it animated. Here’s some of the original concept art.
    http://www.jimhillmedia.com/mb/images/upload/Aida-Concept-Art-web.jpg

  • Nathan

    PS. Wall-E? A pile of reeking SWPL trash. Hated it. HATED IT.

    I fail to see how a robot love story appeals to “WP” any more or less than anyone else. Please, do tell how that movie is “reeking SWPL trash”

  • Bluejay

    I have to say, I’m enjoying expanding my vocabulary by reading this site (with an assist from Urban Dictionary) and learning all the rad, far-out new slang they’re using on the intertubes. TL;DR… “poored”… and now SWPL. More, please!

    TTFN.

  • jwt

    DO NOT SEE THIS MOVIE!
    The ad I saw showed a croc and a frog, I thought the princess was a crocodile
    Instead it was a ….black woman, false advertising
    And the prince is ….arabic or muslim
    This is Obama multi ethnic brainwashing again to innocent KIDS now
    i’m scared my kid will rememeber the movie
    Dont go back home like a loser with a bad taste in your mouth, ask
    your money back like me! Go spend it on Avatar

  • TL;DR… “poored”… and now SWPL.

    A quick translation for those still unfamiliar with those acronyms:

    TL;DR = “too long; didn’t read”

    SWPL = literally, “Stuff White People Like” though I suppose you can also translate it as “Single White Politically Liberal”

    DO NOT SEE THIS MOVIE!
    The ad I saw showed a croc and a frog, I thought the princess was a crocodile
    Instead it was a ….black woman, false advertising
    And the prince is ….arabic or muslim
    This is Obama multi ethnic brainwashing again to innocent KIDS now
    i’m scared my kid will rememeber the movie
    Dont go back home like a loser with a bad taste in your mouth, ask
    your money back like me! Go spend it on Avatar.

    I sincerely hope this post was meant to be a bad joke. Because otherwise it’s just sad.

    After all, Disney has been advertising this film for months and most of the ads I saw did not downplay the fact that one character was a black woman. And why should the presence of a black woman or a Muslim character in an animated cartoon be such a problem anyway?

    I’m scared that most of the children of mixed race that I know will be growing up in a country where people still think like this…

  • For that matter, I find it scary that any child I know would grow up in a country where people still think like this.

  • Katie

    I agree with several points MaryAnn made re: how the movie feels like a retread of Disney princess conventions (I kept thinking while watching how Tiana reminded me of a black Barbie: brown plastic injected into the same mold as the original, i.e. different, sort of).

    For some reason, though, I enjoyed the film. A few astute readers over at Justin Chang’s review in Variety showed how Disney did attempt to address racial issues with the usual caveats in place: 1)the fact that it is marketed toward children and 2) the fact that it IS a Disney film and thus a corporate product. So kudos to Disney for going there as far as as it dared.

    Tiana is no Belle (my favorite Disney princess, I think, of all time) but she IS smart, hardworking and deserving of a happy end. And yes, the restaurant business may be hard, but I found the realism of her dreams refreshing.

    The only problem I have with any of these reviews–including MaryAnn’s–is the assumption that Prince Naveen is somehow not black (i.e. of African heritage). He’s certainly not African-American, but I think there is no doubt he’s part of the African diaspora. Interestingly, his name sounds vaguely Indian (I’m thinking of the actor Naveen Andrews) and the name of his fictional kingdom Maldonia which–upon a little after-movie research– is supposed to be a conflation of Malta and Macedonia. Malta–like many of its neighbors in the Mediterranean–has quite a bit of African influence. This is the same reason why Sicily–Malta’s island neighbor in the Mediterranean–is often looked down upon by mainland Italians. A man I knew from Malta had unmistakable African heritage, but did not consider himself “black” in the usual, fucked-up American way of thinking about these things goes. So it goes. Furthermore, the character is voiced by a man from Brazil, which is, of course, a huge melting pot containing a large helping of African bloodlines. Personally, I like that he’s racially ambiguous. I think that it speaks to the experience of many people–self-identified African-Americans included. I am not without bias–my own son is “racially/ethnically ambiguous” as he is half Chinese and half European.

    To me, the prince was clearly a part of the African diaspora, with all the complications and ambiguity that entails. I’m still not sure why reviewers keep saying he’s not black. He IS…just not African-American. That’s all. And yes, the Disney princess experience can be a bit much, but I far prefer that to the constantly self-referential, ironic CGI movies that get made now, with all their meta-commentary. Those types of movies can be fun, sometimes. Other times, however, an old-fashioned princess movie is what you need. And frankly, the consistent message of hard work and not being a spoiled brat is one American children desperately need to hear and as often as possible.

  • Anne

    We shouldn’t have to debate about the ethnicity of the Prince. It’s clear that the Princess is black so why not the Prince. Why can’t we have the first black Princess and the first black Prince in the same movie? Is that too much to ask? I think Disney purposefully wanted to leave the Prince’s race open to individual interpretation instead of certain. I think it’s sad because what about all of the little black boys that could have seen the first black Prince on screen?

  • MK

    I took my 4 1/2 year old to see the movie yesterday and thought it was mostly charming. Granted, I’m looking at it from the perspective of a parent of a small child. I agree with the above poster that the implication is that the prince is African diaspora from a South American/Caribbean kingdom. He is a fluent speaker of Spanish and French and has a Brazilian accent. At the wedding scene at the end, his parents are shown, and are also African in appearance. The good: New Orleans looked so absolutely gorgeous in 2D animation, I teared up. Mama Odie was dressed precisely as serious practitioners of Voodoo would be and kisses her snake like my neighbor does her cats. Keith David’s amazing singing as Dr. Facilier almost made me forget it was another Randy Newman score. The bad: The continued depiction of “bayou people” as toothless, ignorant lunkheads (see The Rescuers).

  • MaryAnn

    This is Obama multi ethnic brainwashing again to innocent KIDS now…
    Dont go back home like a loser with a bad taste in your mouth, ask your money back like me! Go spend it on Avatar

    OMG! Don’t see *Avatar*! It is Obama brainwashing us into multispecism! Friendly blue aliens? It’s obvious they want us to think ETs are better than humans! It’s all softening us up for the moment when the New World Order reveals that socialist aliens will be taking over our health care! Won’t someone think of the children!

    You know who else liked science fiction? Hitler.

    We shouldn’t have to debate about the ethnicity of the Prince. It’s clear that the Princess is black so why not the Prince. Why can’t we have the first black Princess and the first black Prince in the same movie?

    Yeah! Tinia got her light-skinned boyfriend, just like Precious!

  • MK

    Disney’s choice to make Prince Naveen not African-American was a necessary one. It’s a plot point (spoiler) for the rich white debutante to have romantic designs on the prince. However improbable Charlotte’s friendly relationship with Tiana may be, a marriage between an African-American man and the daughter of a white sugar baron would have been absolutely impossible in 1920s New Orleans. The choice to make Naveen’s race indeterminate was a narrative necessity.

  • Mel

    To be super-nitpicky, Mulan never became a princess: not only was Shang not a prince, but they weren’t actually together (yet) at the end. Which is part of why Mulan is my favorite, and probably why she’s never really been as popular a part of the Disney Princess Franchise (in the movie she’s pretty clear about NOT liking the pretty lady clothing, and it’s harder to pink up armor).

    Mulan came along a bit late for me to be into as a little girl, but I think she’s one of the best of the Disney franchise.

    Incidentally, there were quite a few black people in 16th century Europe, particularly Germany. But most of the specific examples I’ve found so far have been men in mercenary landsknecht units. I’m not sure it could be shoehorned into a kids’ movie, but I’d love a 16th century romance about a black landsknecht and his working-class ladyfriend. And there were quite a few Italian nobles in the same time period who were mixed race (what exactly is unclear, since “Moor” was a pretty general term at the time). Nobles are pretty close to princesses. So a black Disney princess could be done in a European/fantasy-European setting. But I don’t think I’d want to see that done without also having a black Disney princess in an African setting, especially since most people would probably dismiss it as ridiculous because everyone knows there were no black people in Europe back then.

    @Tonio…
    Most famous Disney Princess: Sleeping Beauty
    Whitest: Snow White

  • Robert

    All I know is that I’d rather my daughter take after Tiana (or Mulan) than any of those pampered do-nothing white gals in the earlier cartoons. ;-)

    I also find it ironically amusing that people are arguing that Prince Naveen isn’t black… in a society that says mixed-race folks like President Obama and Tiger Woods are. Last time I checked, most Americans will peg anyone with a skin tone darker than “lightly tanned” as “black”, regardless of their actual ethnic background. But just because Prince Naveen isn’t the darkest-skinned character in the movie, suddenly he’s Anglo? WTF?

  • Having recently seen The Princess and the Frog, I think that your review is unnecessarily cynical, and somewhat self-contradictory.

    So, on the one hand, you ask, “they couldn’t stick with fantasy just a little while longer?” because Tiana is a modern, self-directed character who has goals, instead of a lazy princess who does nothing more than pine away, waiting for a prince to rescue her. Then you turn around and complain that it’s a retread, and feels “more like manufactured goods than a movie.” Well, which is it? Is Tiana a modern reinterpretation of the classic Princess tropes, or is she a tired stereotype? Your complaints refute each other.

    “Need I tell you how it ends?” Yes, you should tell me how it ends, because you imply that it has the typical Disney ending, when it clearly does not. (SPOILERS!) A Disney princess usually waits helplessly until her prince shows up, and he whisks her away to a life of luxury. But in this movie, she does not kiss the frog and turn him into a prince, and he does not swoop in and take all of her cares away. They choose their life together as equals, and while it is a life of happiness, it is not a life of luxury. The prince needs rescuing; Tiana needs rescuing. When have you seen that before? What was the last Disney movie where both leads were flawed and needed fixing?

    I just find it odd that you assert that The Princess and the Frog is a typical paint-by-numbers movie, then complain about any deviations from the usual fantasy tale.

    And as for the commenters, don’t even get me started on those who complain that it seems like Disney is just catering to demographics, but also complain that we don’t finally have a “real black prince.”

  • liz

    I’m confused. Were Mulan, Pocahontas, Esmerelda and Ariel, White Anglo Saxon Protestants? I thought they were …other.

    And weren’t Cinderella, Belle, Sleeping Beauty and Snow White charectors from Northen European folk tales? I deliberately said folk tales instead of fairy tales, because if they are originally charactors from European folk tales, that I am afraid makes them Caucasion and editorialy it wouldn’t be possible to turn then into women of colour.

    These comments read an awful lot like reverse discrimination.

  • LaSargenta

    to Liz…I can see your confusion. The thing is, in the context of Disney overall, and the US racist experience, these don’t exactly work in the way you might think. Many other people have written really eloquently on that and their articles are around on the web; I’m afraid I don’t have them bookmarked and don’t have much time at the moment.

    In response to your musing about ‘reverse racism’, I think you might be interested in this website http://www.antiracistalliance.com/whiteness.html which gives a lot of information and some very interesting writing on racism and the idea of ‘reverse racism’.

    The way I see it, racism is a system of control and management, just like any other -ism (communism, socialism, capitalism, objectivism, sexism, etc., etc.) and if there is a system, then the thing or people being controlled aren’t normally in control of the system, so they cannot ‘reverse’ the system and impose racism.

    That doesn’t stop bigotry — there’s loads of that everywhere and can be found in prejudiced individuals of whatever background. But, to my way of thinking, that isn’t the same thing as having the power to enforce racism.

  • Jurgan

    I’m pretty sure “reverse racism” refers specifically to people who are personally bigoted in the opposite direction of institutional prejudice. Hence, a black man in the U.S. who hates all white people is a reverse racist.

  • LaSargenta

    I’d just call that person a bigot. A widely accepted definition here is prejudice + power = racism. Needs both addends.

  • You may want to use the synonym “bigot,” but that doesn’t mean that “racist” doesn’t also apply. Although some want to say that racism requires the person to have power, that is not the accepted definition. I look through multiple dictionaries, and none of them say that power is a requirement for racism.

  • LaSargenta

    Warning: Word Geekery Ahead (For those who remember the conversation, I’m the person who dragged the history of Morris Dancing into a discussion about male action heroes.)

    Andy Bates: The term “accepted definition” is in itself a rather slippery thing. For an extreme example, I have just pulled from my reference bookcase a well-respected dictionary, Chambers 20th Century Dictionary, that is British and nonetheless gives the following definition to wally:

    (Scot.) adj. excellent, fine-looking, ample (a general term of commendation): made of china, glazed earthenwre, etc.: tiled –adv. (obs.) finely, well –n. an ornament

    *cough* If there is anyone reading here from Scotland, I am sure they are laughing their heads off at this point.

    The suffix -ism indicates a system or a condition. Now, these days, most people use “condition” pretty much without concern for how it might have been used 500 years ago and “system” is mostly unchanged in its use. However, the latin root of condition gives us a hint of what “condition” was for many centuries and still partly is: condicio, condicionis — a compact; which is, in its turn, from condicere — to say together.

    That is, to my reading, that it is an agreement of what exists. It takes more than one person and it is setting rules. (Also, in order to set rules, the rule-setting body must have power.) The word indicates rank as in “a person of condition”, in law it is some provision that incurs an obligation, as a verb it is to agree upon something or to make terms. So, it is still a system.

    Now, if a definition doesn’t take that into account, then I wonder if there is a possible agenda or personal prejudice that the lexicographer is operating under. Omitting or denying the system aspect of racism is failing to give a full definition.

    Too, there are two (main) schools of thought about how to write a dictionary: One is that a dictionary is a list of words and explanation of how they are used currently, the other is that it is a list of words and how they ought to be used. Both philosophies can include etymological information in their entries. Most dictionaries are a mix of the two, that is one of the things at work when definitions are ranked and when abbreviations like coll., slang, var., vulg. or obs. come into play.

  • Bluejay

    Too, there are two (main) schools of thought about how to write a dictionary: One is that a dictionary is a list of words and explanation of how they are used currently, the other is that it is a list of words and how they ought to be used.

    LaSargenta, have you read The Lexicographer’s Dilemma by Jack Lynch? It’s a history of the struggle between the prescriptivists and the descriptivists in the English language, published last year. I’m just starting it now and it’s fascinating.

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