Wander 2. "Bachelor"
Updated: May 17, 2019
Having just wandered through some species of reality, we find ourselves in reality TV. The Bachelor has wrapped up its twenty-first season since its premier in 2002, elevating it to the #1 trending topic on Twitter as it aired.
We are perhaps less commonly aware of the title's fittingly phallic etymology:
There you have it. A rod at the root.
In all seriousness, if you bail on an imbecilic bachelor for bacterial reasons, you are playing on rather tight linguistic turf.
If that bacteria were staph, though, that would be totally unrelated. It derives from the Greek, staphyle, or "bunch of grapes."
The English "staff" can be traced back through Old High German stabēn, "to be stiff," to the Sanskrit stabnati, "he supports." The theoretical (thus the asterisk) Indo-European root for that is *sta, meaning "to stand upright," also the root of the English "stand." We perform this shared history by "standing with" causes we support.
The rod, a longstanding emblem (sorry) of patriarchal power and masculinity, brings with it a history of associations with rigidity and force, but also anxiety. While youthful and vigorous, a bachelor is also defined by what he is not. He is unmarried in the modern sense, and an aspiring knight in Middle English. The medieval baccalārius was a tenant farmer, not a land owner. The medieval Irish bachlach was the same: an itinerant worker on common land controlled by feudal lords.
In ancient Rome, the fasces, or a bundle of rods with an axe sticking out, was a symbol of power. The term, plural of the Latin fascis, "bundle," underwrites the English word fascism, and the symbol featured prominently in Mussolini's Italian regime. Pictured is a commemorative badge he printed to honor Hitler's visit to Rome.
The ancient version was used to lead processions of important officials like Consuls (see below).
Jona Lindering points out that the rods might have symbolized corporal punishment (spare the rod...), while the axe signified execution. Britannica notes that lowering the fasces demonstrated submission to officials with higher status, and each rank deserved a certain number of fasces in its procession.
This Latin root makes tight bedfellows of power and anxiety. A second definition of fascis is "a burden" or "load." Its stem, fasc, appears in fascino, "to bewitch or enchant," or "to envy," (see English fascinate). Perhaps one who wears a fascinator today plays out each of these senses of the root. Perhaps even more accidentally relevant are the phallic accessories now marketed to bachelorette parties.
Fascinum, more than any of this stem's companions, will demonstrate a dictionary's willingness to "go there."
The ever diplomatic Lewis & Short prefer "membrum virile" to describe this explicitly shaped magical amulet.
Online Latin Dictionary, on the other hand, provide a more forthright (rude) explanation. The phallic charm was a defense against witchcraft (the above is from 3rd-century Italy). This protective impulse and fear of outsiders is well synthesized in the English fascine, a fortification strategy for barracks and camps using ditches, obstacles and, of course, bundles of rods.
Fascina, a small bundle of sticks, is a predecessor of the English slur, f*ggot. The word's status as an offensive term for members of queer communities seems to have emerged in the USA during the early twentieth century. As the OED shows, the term was used to degrade women from the sixteenth century in England:
The OED also puts forward this definition from 18th-century sources that offers some blurring between the ancient sense of "a bundle of sticks" with this more recent turn in its usage:
"The embroidered figure of a faggot, which heretics who had recanted were obliged to wear on their sleeve, as an emblem of what they had merited."
This "scarlet letter" sense of the term invites us to consider how outsiders like heretics are made. The rod that symbolizes the power to punish is also the framework of the fort and the fuel for the heretic's fire. It builds walls against the enemy without and purges the enemy within. Recant, by the way, comes to us from the same Latin root as enchant (cantus: song or chant). The difference comes down to the tune you are singing . . .
. . . or chanting. The rituals associated with the bachelor party bend a group toward a common purpose. That might include downing Jaeger bombs rapidly, paying for "illicit" services, and waking up on the roof of a casino. It also communally ushers a lone bachelor into masculine majority. One rod is brittle. A bundle is strong.
An eligible bachelor performs this choreographed "sewing of wild oats" before the bond of marriage. It's a planned transgression that gives a taste of unruliness, of heightened manhood. When tradition permits a walk on the wild side, it reinforces its own boundaries. Even the prodigal son returns to the fold eventually, and the forgiving father has to remind his responsible, judgmental eldest son: "love thy bro."
Ironically enough, The Bachelor evaporates much of the bromance typical of bachelor celebrations. The Bachellorette, on the other hand, seems to invite exactly that. So many bachelors in one place makes the magic happen.