Playing with fire

Three incendiary things for this November 5th: it’s Guy Fawkes Day (when the English get to light bonfires and set off fireworks); today’s Calvin and Hobbes cartoon, in which a small child is (hot-)wired by sugary cereals; and today’s Steam Room Storie episode, in which straight guys are inflamed by gay sex toys.

The holiday. Notable as a remembrance of a failed enterprise,  a 1605 attempt by a group of English Catholics to burn down the Houses of Parliament.


A conventional Guy Fawkes mask for the occasion

Actual fire in the original event; bonfires and the fire in fireworks (fire in an extended sense, referring to the combustion of gunpowder or similar materials) in the holiday practices.

Wired by sugary cereals. The Calvin and Hobbes:


Sugary breakfast cereals marketed to kids is an old theme on this blog, but here my interest is in Calvin’s use of wired. Green’s Dictionary of Slang takes this use (4 tense, nervous, irritable, full of ‘electricity’ [first cite 1968]) back to Standard English wired ‘carrying electricity’, that is, metaphorically hot.

From the root sense of hot — ‘having a high degree of heat or a high temperature’ — with its close connection to fire (as one of the canonical sources of heat, the sun being the primary one), we move to an assortment of figurative uses. From NOAD2, two extended senses in physics,

[a] informal (of an electric circuit) at a high voltage; live

[b] informal radioactive

and then a bunch of metaphorical senses turning on the idea of exciting heat and/or fire, among them:

[c] (of a food) containing or consisting of pungent spices or peppers that produce a burning sensation when tasted [hence, the Red Hot Chili Peppers]

[d] passionately enthusiastic, eager, or excited [“in hot pursuit”]

[e] lustful, amorous, or erotic [hence, to be in heat; compare “(Come on baby,) Light My Fire”]

[f] (of music, especially jazz) strongly rhythmical or excitingly played — “(Baby, won’t you play me) Le Jazz Hot”

[g] informal involving much activity, debate, or intense feeling [“a hot debate”]

[h] informal (especially of news) fresh or recent and therefore of great interest [“hot off the press”]

[i] informal currently popular, fashionable, or in demand [“What’s hot and what’s not”]

[j] informal (of a person) sexually attractive [“hot babes” / “hot hunks”]

Sense [a] is the basis for the compound verb hot-wire, via (as Green’s puts it) “the ‘hot’ electric spark produced by touching two wires”:

(orig. US) (also wire) to start a car without an ignition key by making the required connection between two wires [first cite 1954]

Toys in the steam room. Two familiar topics on this blog: Steam Room Stories and sex toys (especially toys for gay men). In this episode of SRS,


four straight buddies have come across a shipment (intended for one of their gay bros) from (an actual company that sells items in six categories: gay sex toys, gay underwear, gay dildos, anal douches, gay sex DVDs, gay sex lube), and they do their best to understand them in terms they can comprehend: as a massage tool, a necklace, a baster for the Thanksgiving turkey, and a device for opening wine bottles. You can watch the episode here.

The sex toys are intended to be hot in sense [e] ‘erotic’ (that is, sexual), but the guys understand them to be hot in sense [i] ‘popular, fashionable’ (and useful).

(Of course the guys are in a steam room, where it’s literally hot.)

Meanwhile, keep the bonfires burning.

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