Friday, April 07, 2006

Americans put the FUN in Dysfunctional

I was recently speaking with a history professor about family life. He related to me how his daughter came home one day from a visit to her boyfriend's family. She was very pleased to tell her father that "Daddy, they're even more dysfunctional than we are!"
It struck me that the term "dysfunctional" doesn't translate well into French. Any particular language is loaded with words that don't translate well, mostly because of a precise meaning that they convey to their users. Dysfunctional, however, is part of a set of words that don't translate well because they are too weighed down with cultural baggage. Mention dysfunctional to an American and she knows exactly what you mean. The word's origin is medical. It meant, and still means in medecine, "the improper functioning of an organ or body part."
It still retains this meaning in French (the French are known for their carefully chosen scientific names - i.e. angina = sore throat). But Americans have a way of appropriating words that just get the job done. The Oxford English Dictionary grants the following definition to the popular usage of dysfunctional:
Chiefly Sociol. and Psychol. Exhibiting or characterized by dysfunction; (of social interactions, family relationships, etc.) disruptively aberrant or abnormal, esp. when harmful to the emotional well-being of those involved; (of a person, group, family, etc.) incapable of forming or conducting normal social relations; maladjusted.
That sounds nice. But the best way to describe it is someone who is incapable of friggin' normalcy. The father who wears polyester suits from the 70s, the mother who smothers her child with "love," the child with every inch of his body tattoed or pierced, the sweet aunt who denies her alcoholism. Even sweet little Suzie who carries her childhood blankie (doudou) to college. They're all dysfunctional.
Hell, we're all dysfunctional in some way or another. Every child goes to college thinking their family is the most dysfunctional family in the world. Every child comes home from college realizing that their family is actually quite normal. The art of dysfunctionality, is to embrace it. If we had the money, J2T would print up t-shirts with the following simple word to stress the fraternity of dysfunctional citizens:
American't

1 Comments:

At 17:20, Blogger A Shave and a Haircut said...

I think you have it backwards for the half of us who went to college thinking our families were normal and came out realizing how dysfunctional they actually were.

shave

 

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