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A 'nice' 'surprise'

Posted by GPP on August 12, 2003

In Reply to: On a slightly more banal level posted by Word Camel on August 11, 2003

: : : : 1.In "Hotel California", the Eagles sing, "What a nice surprise, bring your alibis!"
: : : : How could a surprise be "nice"?

: : : : 2.IN "Love changes everything" (a musical sing), the lyrics say,
: : : : "Off into the world we go, planning futrues shaping year"
: : : : How the understand "shaping year"?

: : : : 3. In the film "A.I", I saw these excerpts from one of Yeats' s poems (http://www.moonchild.ch/Library/poetry/StolenChild.html):

: : : : Come! O, human child!
: : : : To the waters and the wild,
: : : : With a fairy hand in hand,
: : : : For the world's more full of weeping
: : : : than you can understand.

: : : : Could you introduce a little of this poem, what is it about and what is the mood of it?

: : : : Great Thanks!

: : : 1. The lyrics of Hotel California are very strange. Perhaps somebody else can explain them.

: : : 2. "Shaping years" means much the same as "planning futures." "Shaping" in this instance means "putting a form to," so planning a sequence of events over the next few years is "shaping years."

: : : 3. The words in "Stolen Child" are spoken by a faery who is trying to entice a human child away from his home. Irish folklore has many stories about faeries who substitute a healthy human child for a weak faery child, known as "changelings."

: : I agree with Shae, "Hotel California" ranks alongside "Whiter Shade of Pale" in the odd lyrics stakes.

: : If you refer back to HC, the listener hears that it could be "heaven" or "hell" - which as the song has drug-related overtones suggests a good trip or a bad trip. Therefore what happens and which you get is the "surprise". So far as "alibis" are concerned - "alibi" means "elsewhere" and is a legal defence that somebody was not where the crime took place. Even if drug-taking is not being seen as "criminal" in the song, going off on a "trip" is being "elsewhere" and perhaps the tripper may need to find an excuse as to where they have been.

: : HC is full of evocative imagery and double meanings - what about "they stab it with their steely knives but they just can't kill the beast" - injecting drugs does not ultimately kill the desire to take them - unlike "stairway to heaven" HC is not a druggy "song of hope", it speaks of the despair of drug addiction.

: "How could a surprise be 'nice'"? You seem to be implying that a surprise is, in and of itself, a bad thing. I'm wondering if it's because the material you are reading only deals with surprises in the negative sense.

: While it's true that many people do not like surprises, not everyone feels this way. There are lots of potentially nice surprises, like finding money in the street, waking up to go to work and finding you can go back to sleep because it's Saturday, finding and absent friend has returned early from a long trip - that sort of thing.

'Nice' is an interesting word. Especially in current American usage, it's taken to mean 'pleasant', so there's no confusion in this sense, that a surprise might be pleasant. But historically, looking at 1934 Shorter OED, it meant: foolish, stupid; wanton, lascivious; strange, rare; over-refined; affectedly coy; fastidious; minutely precise; trivial; etc.

Actually, 'surprise' has also transformed, not in meaning per se, but in context, where the word is now usually assumed to refer to a pleasant 'surprise'. Its older usage would normally connote unexpected attack, alarm, terror, etc.