Le castor fait tout - Macleans.ca

Le castor fait tout


I wonder if any of the other Macbloggers have been straining at their imaginations trying to find a PG-rated way to talk about the name change over at Canada’s second-oldest magazine. It took me a while to remember that General Semantics has an answer for this. So: The Beaver, now to become Canada’s History, was named in 1920 for what we’ll call beaver1, the rodent Castor canadensis. The periodical was obliged to make the change because of jokes about and search-engine confusion with beaver2, a colloquialism for an anatomical neighbourhood in the human female.

Beaver1 is, for my money, the best of the popular symbols of Canadian nationhood. Unlike the maple leaf, which is utterly unknown west of Lake of the Woods, the beaver1 is ubiquitous throughout Canada, yet is integral to our history as seen from most regional standpoints. (I was well into my twenties before I saw an actual maple leaf. I had always assumed that the silhouette on the flag was heavily stylized; when I saw just how similar the real thing was to the icon, I almost fell down laughing—partly at my own ignorance.) Perhaps the beaver1 and the maple leaf are best understood as representing “Hamiltonian” and “Jeffersonian” aspects of the Empire of the St. Lawrence, the one signifier standing for the agrarian past of our dreams—hot sweets, home cooking, big families pounding taps into trees at sugaring-off time—and the other representing progress, engineering, and the industrial virtues.

It would be a great shame indeed if one pole of this dialectic were broken and lost just because of the beaver2 metaphor. I almost feel that The Beaver, as in the magazine, has been derelict in giving up the fight. But it’s not my money. The brand could perhaps have stood up to any amount of silent snickering, but no media organ can afford to offer confusion to search engines and spam filters now. Google is a powerful, underestimated force for prosaicness: just ask any sub-editor who’s been ordered to re-do a charmingly cryptic headline and get rid of the cute irony.

As Google gets smarter, or when some more subtle Nietzschean über-engine displaces it, such problems should disappear. Natural-language computing will, sooner or later, be able to tell whether a searcher or questioner is concerned with beaver1 or beaver2. The funny thing is, the beaver2 metaphor may have long since disappeared by then, and the story of why The Beaver had to change its name may be an incomprehensible piece of trivia as far as the future is concerned. “Beaver2” is already an outmoded vulgarism, something I would expect to hear spilling out of the mouth of a person my father’s age rather than a 30-year-old.

And we all know why: beavers2 aren’t seen in photographs or on video with their defining pelt very often anymore. Feminine depilation has become the norm—certainly not in everyday life, but in the visual culture. As a consequence, in all-male environments of the sort signified by the “locker room”, the favourite metaphors of today emphasize different sensory aspects of the part in question. This is true even where the context involves a strictly visual encounter: the beaver2 is not only called that because of its fur, but also because a gentleman is invariably excited to have caught a glimpse of one, as it were, in the wild. (Think about Jim Bouton’s discussion in Ball Four of the baseball player’s “beaver2 shooting” hobby.)

While reports of the extinction of the beaver2 are much exaggerated, North America’s experience of sudden shifts toward leg and armpit depilation suggest that women will change their grooming habits to match the visual culture. And not in the “long run”, either, but in a matter of a few years. There is no evidence that there will ever be any mass anti-depilation backlash. If you are a traditionalist sort who has been waiting around for one, you have already been waiting quite a while. The arc of history bends toward bareness. (Indeed, it does so even when it comes to men’s bodies.)

So it seems near-certain that we will, one day, be able to speak of the beaver1 without the suppressed giggles. But will it still be associated with Canada, or will the symbol have been irretrievably relegated to the semiotic landfill?


Le castor fait tout

  1. Arcadia University led the charge in 2001, destroying a traditional subject of campus art: "Study abroad at Beaver College"

  2. I don't get why searchers' confusion of the one with the other would have hurt the magazine's hit count; if anything, it should have been a blessing. And their readership of Canadian history fans could presumably have been trusted to get the intended reference.

    I didn't even know the slang term til I moved to the States at age 23. I remembered encountering it in The Naked Gun earlier, but was mystified. Seems to me it's an American term.

    • Ah yes, that scene in The Naked Gun had my adolescent self rolling around with laughter. I agree it must be an American term. I must've known that term because I grew up in a border city– when we later moved further up the Ontario peninsula my new classmates didn't seem familiar with it. Or maybe growing up in a border city just made me more vulgar at a younger age!

  3. The real question is when Roots is going to change its name in order to better penetrate the vital Australian market.

    • I had no idea what you were talking about and had to look it up on google. Well played, Potter.

      But to take your comment more seriously than you probably intended, having Roots on your clothing might appeal to the youngsters, at least. French Connection's sales in UK increased substantially when they started branding their clothing with FCUK

    • Also good times: Observing an Australian as he or she comes across a Mr. Rooter truck for the first time.

      • Absolutely. Or giving an Australian a Roots sweatshirt with the old beaver logo on it.

  4. In my youth I spent some time traveling in Scotland, and made the acquaintance of a gorgeous girl from Brisbane. Things were going well till I pulled on a Roots shirt. She and her friend could not stop laughing.

    • I feel for you – it doesn't get better than gorgeous girls with accents showing an interest in you. So maybe not well played, than, depending on how the evening ended.

    • That is so funny! I'm kicking myself for not having knowledge of this slang, as I most certainly would have invested in this clothing before heading down there 9 years ago.

  5. In grade 11 history/english – can't remember, I did a presentation on the beaver – and its importance in opening up Canada. So, to get some material, I trucked down to the local library with my 35 mm camera and tripod, and took some Kodak ektachrome slide shots that I processed, and mounted for my presentation. One of them was the cover of that month's Beaver magazine.

    While I was giving my serious presentation showing shots of beaver coats, hats etc. and talking about Canadian history, Mike L. was sitting in the back of the class making slightly heard but noticeable "beaver" jokes, to much snickering. So, I went over and slugged him.

    True story – except for the ending. So no, not an American term. Well established in Canada. One of our gifts to culture.

  6. Reminds me of one of the best Kids in the Hall monologues by Bruce McCulloch:

    "The only job I had worse than that is the job I had in Collingwood workin' in the woods. I was on the beaver patrol. Rotten job, mud in your boots, trapsin' through the underbrush lookin' for beaver dams that are clogging up the irrigation system. One beaver even bit my thumb. But it's all part of the course on the beaver patrol. You know, I'd go out after work, beaver bites all over my thumbs, go to a bar for a quick drink and I'd see guys there wearin' t-shirts that said my job on them. Never see them with names of other rotten jobs on their shirts like "fry cook" or "night security guard at an out of the way mall." So, I'd be sitting there, tryin' to take pride in my work, wearin' my beaver patrol t-shirt and the women staring at me. Well, I'm sorry ma'am that I'm not a doctor but thems the brakes. One woman even bit my thumb.

    I'm thinking about quitting my job though, thinking about becoming a "muff diver", I read it on a t-shirt, I don't know what it is but it can't be much worse than what I'm doing now."

  7. I wonder if the magazine changing its name will prompt the Canadian mining company, "Beaver Drilling," to do the same. I've never come across that company's name without laughing out loud.

  8. I still don't see what the big deal is about Beaver.

    Beaver beaver beaver beaver beaver beaver beaver beaver beaver beaver beaver beaver beaver beaver beaver beaver beaver beaver beaver beaver beaver beaver beaver beaver beaver beaver beaver beaver beaver beaver beaver beaver beaver beaver beaver beaver beaver beaver beaver beaver.


    Beaver beaver beaver.

    So there.

    • Careful, you might attract some people from the web seeking their 72 virgins.

  9. You're an articulate man, Mr. Cosh, but this is the closest you've come to waxing eloquent…

    • Like Mr. Cosh, I saw my first beaver(1) at the local beach as a young child (and my first beaver(2) at a different beach in the south of France at the age of 12), but didn't see a maple leaf until I moved to Ottawa as an adult.

      I always thought the Maple Leaf was the perfect symbol for the government of our fine country, however; it is limited in range and scope to the southern reaches of Ontario & Quebec.

      • Yeah, some people never tire of that, do they. Next thing he'll be bringing up the Crow Rate.

        • You know me too well . . .

          If the NEP had never happened, we Western Discont types would still be obsessed with the abolition of the Crow. Or its implementation. We never could get a consistent position on this issue.

          And if it wasn't the crow rate, we'd be griping about the NWB, the layout of the provincial boundaries, of the PFR Act, the current route of the CPR passenger line . . . Oh, when will you understand it's not about LOGIC? Heck, we CHEER for the Maple Leafs. You expect reasoned, nuanced logic?

          I do have a well-tempered rant about the Crow Rate I could dust off, but I'll keep it in reserve.

          • How about sunrise? Nflnd gets it first, and starts work while most of the West is still sleeping. Gotta be something profoundly unfair about that.

          • I didn't mention it because I didn't think the SK debates on daylight savings time were exciting enough to make national headlines, but yeah, pretty much. There's a certain element among the small business community who think the NDP legislated limits on the amount of sunlight per day in order to allow their lazy employees to work fewer hours.

            You mean you easterners really work?

  10. Am I the only one who misses the 70s?. An era when beavers were proud to wear their pelts full and thick.

  11. Let's see . . . I live on Athol Street in Regina, formerly known as Pile O'Bones. And my country's oldest magazine is called 'Canadian History'.

    Any of you right wingnuts working on a rant about lefty intellectual political correctness, now would be the time to strike.

    • The guy who named the street had a lisp?

  12. "There is no evidence that there will ever be any mass anti-depilation backlash."

    Spoken like someone who's never had a Brazilian wax.

    • Indeed, spoken BY such a person.

  13. Yeah, it seems American to me. Wore a "Beaver Canoe" shirt as a freshman at Dartmouth, got some strange looks.

    But why did they have to pick _Canada's History_ as a replacement title?!?! Talk about confirming a certain stereotype. "Worthwhile Canadian Initiative," indeed.

  14. "Feminine depilation has become the norm—certainly not in everyday life"

    Ah, Mr. Cosh, I suspect you might not be getting out enough in your everyday life, and if so, are perhaps paddling in the wrong streams.

  15. After reading this, I had to go our and buy a copy of Ball Four – luckily Chapters in Newmarket had one left!

    And remember – the only proper way to hunt anything, including a beaver, is with a camera.