big wigs

I’m beginning to think about bigwigs.

Or, big wigs.

And the intricacies of meaning, signification.

All things carry traces of meaning through time. Objects and language retain and accrete significance as they travel through history – as do places, and even people. In other words, in all things are traces of their origins.

Bigwig began in eighteenth century France, and originally really were big wigs.  Really big. Many feet high, in fact. The court was full of men and women who carried upon their heads wigs which were far more than simply adornment and aesthetics, vanity and purely without function. They indicated, among other things, the absolute lack of need to actually do anything worthwhile. And wigs grew in size and weight until they had to be placed on one’s head by a series of ladders, scaffolding, ropes and a myriad of people. Our imaginations can call to mind instances in which these wigs might topple over, perhaps, or pull their wearers over onto their bums. I don’t know if this happened; it’s conjecture. But it’s fun to think about. And no matter what actually happened, essentially these wigs incapacitated their wearers; they became the mark of someone who was superfluous, despite the trappings of power.

Today the term ‘bigwig’ is still used to refer to someone in power. Given the above, this means that the word contains traces that go back to that imagined French court. So today’s bigwigs are etymologically – and perhaps functionally – direct descendants of those whose vanity created towering, ridiculous headpieces… those whose vanity required height rather than depth, essentially… those in control, with the power to make us eat cake. And they issue proclamations and we scurry to obey while marveling at the beauty of their useless crowns.


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