A television commercial that’s been running for years — or so it seems — has aggravated me long enough. Don’t they ever retire these things?
It’s for a laundry product that shows a young man and woman on their first date. She’s wearing Sunday-go-to-meeting attire, but he is dressed casually. In the longer version of this commercial, he pulls a sweater over his head and puts it in his lap. A mercifully shorter version begins after he’s shed the sweater and shows him wearing a sloppy, no-collar V-neck that looks like a U-neck.
In response to his comment on her “amazing” appearance, the young woman says the only diplomatic thing she can think of: “You look amazingly… comfortable.”
He squirms while grabbing his “half-washed” shirt. The message is, if he had used Downy, he wouldn’t look so slovenly.
There’s a lot here to dislike. First, the guy is an oaf for dressing like this on a first date. Then, when the young woman says “comfortable,” she uses four syllables. “Com-for-ta-bul.”
I’ve always used three. “Comph-ter-bul.”
After consulting the Research Department, which has recently transitioned from Google to Bing, I found that both pronunciations are accepted, although the way I learned it is offered first. In my world, that means it’s preferred. Are there no absolutes in life any more?
Recently, my fascination has turned to the quirks of the English language, and numerous Facebook followers are probably tired of puns. Yet, like the Downy television commercial, I will not be derailed from fulfilling my mission.
Many words have multiple meanings as well as multiple pronunciations. “Comfortable” can mean the air-conditioner is working. It can mean your financial situation is sound. It can mean you’re fine talking religion and politics with like-minded friends. It can mean you’re happy with a certain philosophy of living. It can mean you’re still wearing your dirty, smelly athletic shoes because of the way they fit.
I’ve written in this space previously about my need to be in a comfortable place when writing. For decades, it was my desk at the newspaper office. Upon retirement, adjustments had to be made. I worked at our home desktop computer for a year or so, but the desk chair had become a favorite sleeping platform for one of our cats. When I sat down, she would want to rest on the keyboard or stretch out around the back of my neck.
The cat finally won. I took a laptop to the dining room table.
That table has become my “comfortable” space in recent years, but I’m having to relocate this week. Some plumbing work at the house makes it difficult to write because, as you can certainly tell, I think quite deeply about what I’m doing here. My creative comfort level is compromised, but the deadline looms regardless.
The sibling of a friend is moving back to Brownwood after growing up here. Job responsibilities have changed — for the better — so the freedom to relocate presented itself. She didn’t think twice about the destination. The reason? Brownwood feels “comfortable” to that family, and that was exactly the word used.
Certain places and situations do become comfortable, even if the factors creating such an environment are curiously difficult to define.
“Familiarity breeds contempt” rings true with annoying commercials, but familiarity also breeds “comfort.” That can happen when people live somewhere, especially for those not bound to the community by a job or family.
Our city’s motto is “feels like home,” but in time it actually “is home.” And home is amazingly comfortable, however it’s pronounced.
Gene Deason is editor emeritus of the Brownwood Bulletin. His column appears on Fridays. He may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.