Is that a word? Ordinarity? The quality of being ordinary? Chrome’s spell-check prefers Ordinariness, but I don’t like that one as much.
Anyway, I watched some plays last weekend, some one-acts by David Ives. I am, generally, not a huge fan of David Ives — I think his premises habitually go on about thirty percent longer than they should, and that his insights into life and the human condition are on the banal side. (Quick digression: American Heritage Dictionary lists three acceptable pronunciations of “banal”: to rhyme with canal, to rhyme with anal, and to rhyme with panel. Which one do you like?)
One of the one-acts is a monologue — this one I really liked — about a guy that is, deep down, secretly a typewriter. Here’s the thing, though, that I found really interesting: the very first line of the monologue is something like, “I know what you’re thinking. You look at at me and you’re thinking there’s a regular, ordinary guy.”
I find this fascinating because, of course, I wasn’t. No one ever looks at anyone and thinks to themselves, “Well, that’s guy looks pretty ordinary,” do they? ”Ordinary” is the adjective that you use when you’re trying to describe somebody and you’ve already run through all of the available adjectives in your vocabulary and can’t find anything that fits. ”Ordinary” is what you’re left with when you can’t describe someone.
But more than that, you don’t use “ordinary” unless you have to — if a guy has a huge wart on his face, you might look at him and think, “Whoah! Huge wart!” If a woman were eight feet tall you might look at her and think, “Whoah! She’s unusually tall.” But you’d hardly look at something ordinary and think to yourself, “Whoah! How perfectly ordinary!”
That’s really the definition of ordinary, I guess. How do you know how ordinary something is? Well, look at it. If you don’t notice anything, you’ve found ordinary.
I just think the way that we describe things is interesting; I talk to friends of mine who are women or who are black (or who are black women!!!) and we have discussions about what “privilege” means, and what a privileged perspective is. If you’re a white guy, I suppose it stands to reason that if you see another white guy, you might not notice is white-guyness, and thus you might think he was ordinary. It’s not wholly unreasonable that we presume similarity to ourselves as ordinariness.
Is the same true if you’re a black guy? I realized that, in my book, I don’t always mention a character’s skin color (because, well, why should I?). If you were a black man reading that book, would you assume that, in the absence of other defining characteristics — of explicitly mentioned descriptors — that a character is white, or black?
Is ordinarity connected to personal likeness, or is it actually culturally imposed?