Ambiguities, identities, and bullshit artistry

A while back on Facebook, the following exchange — call it X1 — appeared out of the blue:

Dennis Lewis: In Hyacinth’s defense, I doubt many natives of Britain know the Super Bowl is being played tomorrow.

It’s like Mrs. Bucket’s American counterpart asking if the World Cup [AZ: the World Cup, the soccer contest, has a trophy, but it’s not in the form of a cup] has hand-painted periwinkles [AZ: flowers suitable as decorations on teacups].

Hyacinth Bouquet > Dennis Lewis: Sheridan has a large collection of sports cups.

I could recognize familiar stuff in there, but was also baffled by parts of it. Gamely, however, I responded to the developing discussion of ambiguities in cup:

AZ > Hyacinth Bouquet: sports cups (for insertion in an athletic supporter / jockstrap) are rarely made of bone china, for obvious reasons. Sometimes, beauty must give way to practicality.

So I’ll start with that.

Three (families of) senses of cup. Among those in NOAD:

— a small bowl-shaped container for drinking from, typically having a handle (to appreciate some of the complexities concealed in typically here, see William Labov’s famous study “The boundaries of words and their meanings”, in Bailey & Shuy, New Ways of Analyzing Variation in English (1973), on the boundaries of CUP)

(#1) A Royal Worcester Sheridan teacup

— an ornamental trophy in the form of a cup, usually made of gold or silver and having a stem and two handles, awarded as a prize in a contest; (Cup) a contest in which an ornamental trophy in the form of a cup is awarded

(#2) Trophy cups

— a jockstrap having a protective reinforcement of rigid plastic or metal [AZ: or such a reinforcement]

(#3) An athletic / sports cup (a plastic reinforcement for insertion in a pocket in a jockstrap)

Identities. Hyacinth Bucket / Bouquet was certainly familiar to me. From Wikipedia:

(#4) Patricia Routledge as Hyacinth Bucket in Keeping Up Appearances

Keeping Up Appearances is a British sitcom created and written by Roy Clarke. It originally aired on BBC1 from 1990 to 1995. The central character is an eccentric and snobbish lower middle class social climber, Hyacinth Bucket (Patricia Routledge), who insists that her surname is pronounced “Bouquet”.

Call this identity tvHB, for the tv character Hyacinth Bucket / Bouquet. She hasn’t appeared at all in this discussion. Instead, we have some person or persons posting on Facebook under the name Hyacinth Bouquet. Call this identity pseudoHB. We know absolutely nothing about this character, since Hyacinth Bouquet is a pseudonym, and pseudonymous writers are free to conceal any facts about themselves and to invent any nonsense they wish about themselves. (On the net, pseudonyms are often used to cloak malicious postings, but there are other possibilities.)

On their FB page, pseudoHB identifies themselves as “Hyacinth Bucket, Comedian” — as distinct from “Mrs Hyacinth Bucket, Fictional Character” (tvH), thus suggesting that whatever they write is sheer invention, for fun.

At this point I wondered where Dennis Lewis’s opening contribution to X1 —  “In Hyacinth’s defense, I doubt many natives of Britain know the Super Bowl is being played tomorrow” — came from, in particular who the Hyacinth was, and why the Super Bowl was relevant to the conversation. So I wrote Dennis, who told me that pseudoHB had posted X2:

an image of Hyacinth Bucket having tea al fresco with the Dowager Countess of Grantham [from the tv series <em>Downton Abbey</em>] and the text: “The Super Bowl? Is it Wedgwood?”

I never saw this material, and it seems to have disappeared irretrievably from FB. After a bit of research, it became clear to me that this image and text were not from the tv show (you can search all episodes of the show), though there is a brief (1:06) telephone exchange between tvHB and the Dowager Countess: “Hyacinth Invites The Dowager Countess to a Candlelight Supper” from S2 E3, viewable here.

That is, pseudoHB’s X2 is sheer invention, a kind of cartoon, presumably a matter of image manipulation by software. The Hyacinth Bucket in it is yet another identity, a character I’ll call cartoonHB. The exchange in X1 is about cartoonHB.

Bullshit artistry. The background is Harry Frankfurt’s 2005 book On Bullshit; according to Wikipedia, the book

defines the concept and analyzes the applications of bullshit in the context of communication. Frankfurt determines that bullshit is speech intended to persuade without regard for truth. The liar cares about the truth and attempts to hide it; the bullshitter doesn’t care if what they say is true or false, but rather only cares whether their listener is persuaded.

I see the bullshit artist, a bit more broadly, as aiming only at a performance (at moving their audience  in some way or another, not necessarily by persuading them), and see them as not only failing to care about truth and falsity, but also failing to care about consistency. Maybe it’s all a joke — “just pulling your chain” —  but it’s some kind of show.

I’ve come to suspect that pseudoHB is a bullshit artist, passing off their invented scene X2 as a moment from the tv show and claiming in the final bit of X1 that “Sheridan has a large collection of sports cups”, when Sheridan is not a china company (instead, it’s the name of vaguely similar patterns from many different china companies), and when I haven’t found any bone china that comes in sports patterns. I’ll expand on these factual observations below, but if pseudoHB is a bullshit artist, then what I say is beside the point; the bullshit artist makes no factual claims, just puts on their show.

Addendum: Sheridan china. In any case, for the record: there is no Sheridan china company. Instead, many different china companies have produced Sheridan-pattern china at one time or another.

In #1 above, a Royal Worcester Sheridan teacup. From the Microwave Cooking for One site:

Royal Worcester Sheridan was produced from 1993 to 2001.

From the same site:

(#5) Noritake Sheridan (69533) teacups

Noritake Sheridan is the name of two discontinued patterns. Noritake Sheridan (69533) is a vintage pattern orginally introduced around 1921. Noritake Sheridan (5441) was produced from 1953 to 1958.

And from the Replacements, Ltd. site, this Minton Sheridan footed cup and saucer set:


There are more.

5 Responses to “Ambiguities, identities, and bullshit artistry”

  1. J B Levin Says:

    I read the Sheridan comment completely differently. TvHB and husband Richard have an adult son named Sheridan, who has never appeared on the show but frequently writes home for money, and who in Hyacinth’s mind can do no wrong. He also, if I recall correctly, has interests and hobbies that are attributed in such sitcoms to gay men (to which Hyacinth is oblivious, Richard less so).

  2. J B Levin Says:

    It’s just that the remark “Sheridan has a large collection of sports cups” would never have brought the world of china to my mind (understanding that china is something I am completely ignorant of); I stopped at Sheridan as a junior Hyacinth possessing a collection of sports cups in sense 2, as she probably believes he is a star athlete. Even the mention of Wedgewood in exchange X2 would not have made me think of it, as even I have heard of that and simply took it as the joke on “super bowl”.

    • arnold zwicky Says:

      At some point, you have to realize that you have fixed on a totally idiosyncratic understanding of what was going on in that exchange (the reference to Wedgewood would have made things clear for almost anybody else), that you have in fact misunderstood. There’s no shame in that; this sort of thing happens to everybody. But it’s just annoying of you to insist that your misunderstanding is just another possible interpretation of things. (The appropriate response would be something like “Oops!”)

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