Wordsmithing 101: Bread and Circuses

Welcome back to Wordsmithing101, where we’ll continue to be flabbergasted at odd words together.

…Maybe next week’s word should be flabbergasted.

As I was in search of a word this week, I came across the most ridiculous phrase I think I’ve ever heard.  I was playing this really nifty dictionary.com game that I will link to because it is fun, when I came across this beauty:

Bread and circuses.

Initial reaction: “What. The.  Heck.”

And then I stared at my computer screen for a moment or so because I couldn’t comprehend a world where those two words would go together in some sort of coherent fashion.  Unless you were throwing slices of bread out to the crowd at a circus.  But bread is not a traditional circus food.  Cotton candy or popcorn, yes.  Giant mugs of rainbow slushee, absolutely.  Bread? No.

So I looked it up on the most reliable of reliable sites, Wikipedia. Because Wikipedia is totally legit.  Right.

Which is why I also checked out a few other dictionary-type sites as well.

Anyway, apparently “bread and circuses” is really a metaphor for appeasing people by catering to their superficial wants and desires.

Still kind of confused? It’s okay.  I was too.

Think of it this way.  You’ve got some douche bag running for public office, and he wants to curry some favor with the people so they’ll elect him.  So he passes out shiny stickers to make the people happy.  Which is cool, I guess, but the people are in desperate need of shoes.  And they’re angry because they need shoes and he gave them stickers.  But then he gives them all free cell phones to appease them because he knows that the people really want cell phones.  So even though the people are running barefoot in the streets, they promise to vote for him because, hello, cell phones are awesome.

Except that’s only half the definition.  The other half is a description of a people who shift from valuing things that really matter to valuing trivial things that are fun but aren’t really needed.

It’s when having fun trumps working hard.

That sounds an awful lot like our culture, does it not?

This phrase is awesome because:  It’s deep, man.  Deep.  I’m pretty sure it changed my perspective.

Likelihood of me using this phrase: 3%

Yeah, I don’t want to have to explain what “bread and circuses” means every time I use it.  I don’t have time for that sort of long-winded conversation, and it makes me feel kind of guilty for how society views the world.  And how I view the world.

“Already long ago, from when we sold our vote to no man, the People have abdicated our duties; for the People who once upon a time handed out military command, high civil office, legions — everything, now restrains itself and anxiously hopes for just two things: bread and circuses” (Juvenal, Satire 10.77–81)


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