Learned Vol. 6, Issue 22
"It was the Shearwater Daughter, however, who was the real cynosure. She was wearing black high heels, black stockings, and a wine-red dress slashed to below the waist at the back to reveal a considerable portion of her snake tattoo."
That line comes from Flip Back, the fourth entry in Andrew Catmel's fantastic The Vinyl Detective series. In the scene, the beautiful young woman described above is seated at a pub at the one area of the bar where her view of herself in the bar mirror would be unobstructed, all the better to cater to her own vanity. She has, as the kids say, main character energy.
I'm not much on social media these days. I took an extended break from it over the summer and, well, I have yet to find a compelling reason to go back to it. Never-the-less, social media has a way of bleeding into my life through the not-quite-social media platforms of YouTube and Reddit. And lately I kind of love how much new slang is derived from media tropes. People who don't seem to be capable of thinking for themselves are NPCs, people who are tired of being pushovers are entering their villain eras, and those...people...whose egos allow them to take up space at the expense of everyone around them, those people think they're the main character.
A person that unintentionally lives, breathes, and is like the protagonist in a story or series.
When you envision yourself as the main character of the movie version of your life, highlighting the parts of yourself that would make you unique or likable.
Both of those definitions are slightly more positive than I have heard or seen the term used in real life. But I like them because they give a more complex definition than merely writing it off as a synonym for arrogant or narcissistic. But the main reason I chose those two definitions lies in the word unintentionally.
The second definition is more in-line with the usages I've seen online wherein someone with main character energy is willfully making themselves the center of attention; most of the usages I've seen actually come from a relatively new subreddit called r/imthemaincharacter where people post or repost Tik Tok style videos of people just generally being clueless about how their actions affect other people whether its being a Karen or a Chad or just being so intent on getting your shot for the 'gram that you piss off everyone around you.
But that first definition implies that someone can have main character energy through no fault of their own. Their charisma (excuse me, rizz) is just naturally so high that they become the center of everyone's attention just by walking into the room. In other words, a person with unintentional main character energy is a cynosure.
Cynosure is one of those good, old words that got handed down to English fromGreek through French and somehow acquired a patina of formality and seriousness that belies its actual, literal meaning. From Etymonline:
from Greek kynosoura, literally "dog's tail,"
Remember looking up at the night sky and finding the Big Dipper and the Little Dipper as a kid? Remember finding out that other cultures called the same constellations Ursa Major and Ursa Minor, the Big and Little Bears, and trying to figure out how what were clearly ladles were also bears? Just me? Okay. Anyway. The constellation was once known as Cynosura, or the Dog's Tail. The star Polaris, which ancient mariners used to navigate across the seas, lies at the very tip of the tail. Over time, as the dog's tail moved from literal navigation aid to common metaphor, the word cynosure came to mean something that attracts attention.
Which brings me back to my point, a cynosure attracts attention simply by being. Polaris is not trying to get you to look at it, it's just vibin', shining like it doesand we mere mortals are drawn to it almost against our will. So, main character energy? Main character energy. Facts.
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What We’re Reading
All links to books discussed here go to A Very Learned Bookstore on Bookshop.org, meaning I'll get a small commission on any books purchased through these links.
By Andrew Cartmel
Music just sounds better on vinyl, right? Right. In Cartmel’s Vinyl Detective series, our hero makes a meager living tracking down vintage vinyl records for collectors. He’s got his two cats, his cold apartment, his solitary life, and all is well until a client comes along looking to pay handsomely for a very singular record. Mayhem and chaos ensue and a series is launched.
Look, these are really fun, but very stylized. If you’re a fan of London, calmer, quieter mysteries, jazz, and vinyl, you’re going to love these. For reasons I can’t really explain they give me a vibe similar to Lilian Jackson Braun’s The Cat Who mysteries.
Slang is such a constantly evolving force in our language and our cultures that studying it is watching history happen in real time; I'll freely admit that part of the reason this particular subset of slang amuses me is because I actually understand it the first time I hear it, unlike, say, "cheugy" or "moots."
Or the approximation of real life that is Tik Tok.
If you've got your lyrics bingo card out, check off the box for INXS' minor 1985 hit, Shine Like It Does.