Please explain “garden variety” in this sentence: There’s charm in the backyard, but it’s still of a garden variety.
In other words, common, ordinary. Even though this backyard is charming in its own way, it’s still a common and ordinary backyard, a type you can see in many other homes in the same area.
That is to say the garden is pretty plain, if truth be told. The flowers and plants in the backyard are all everyday plants, varieties grown everywhere. To wit, nothing special, if we are allowed to be truly blunt about it.
Garden, here as adjective is equivalent to common. In fact, the full expression is “common or garden variety”. It is, as you may guess, British in origin. Common refers to things that belong to the commons, or commoners, i.e. everybody (common language, e.g.). Commons, by the way, as in the House of Commons in contrast to the House of Lords (noblemen).
This additional explanation, meanwhile, is culled from an English language usage website (English.StackExchange.com):
The derivation of the phrase obviously does have something to do with gardening, or more precisely, agriculture. Its original meaning, as has already been said, relates to the type of plant, fruit or vegetable which is found frequently in gardens or on “commons”. (Historically, “commons” were the large patches of grass or woodland that ancient rural villages designated as being for the use of the community as a whole.) If such a plant is found growing in “the common or garden” it is likely to be unexceptional because of its abundance. The phrase has since come to be applied to anything that is common or unexceptional.
So, in short, the garden variety is the commonplace kind (as if all the plants and flowers are so ordinary that you can see them in each and every common garden).
All right, here are media examples of things that are of the common or garden variety:
1. On the front of Jenny Lawson’s book is a stuffed raccoon looking like the most thrilled guest at a surprise birthday party. Arms outstretched, mouth fixed in an ecstatic grin, this is a raccoon determined that the evening will go with a swing. He – Lawson tells us that his name is Rory – is much more than a charming novelty or a “wacky” talking point. No, Rory is Lawson’s personal happiness coach, a gurning reminder that, no matter how awful life seems, you always have the choice to be happy. Not mildly happy, or even mindfully happy, but furiously happy.
The “furious” bit is important to Lawson because it is a measure of the effort and determination that goes into trying to feel OK when you have a brain that is busy trying to kill you. Lawson came out several years ago as being “mentally ill” but what has given the Texan her particular appeal – her blog gets millions of hits a month – is that her illnesses are of a common or garden variety. She is not schizophrenic, nor even a little bit bipolar. She never hallucinates: if she thinks about how cool it would be to have monkey butlers, that’s because she also knows it’s never going to happen, not least because they’d eat all the peanuts before passing them round. In other words she has a perfectly good grip on reality, if reality is mostly a scary place where something very bad is about to happen. Lawson has been diagnosed as “a high-functioning depressive with anxiety disorder and mild-self harm issues”. In other words, she is in an abusive relationship with her own head. Many of us can relate to that.
Lawson’s first book, a memoir of growing up dirt poor in rural Texas, was a hugely popular hit in 2012 and sat at the top of the New York Times bestseller list for weeks. In it Lawson dealt obliquely with her mental illness, reframing it as the cultural by-product of her delightfully eccentric family. Her father is a taxidermist with an equal interest in living animals, and once sent her to school with a flock of turkeys that he insisted were “jumbo quail”. Her mother, meanwhile, had a habit of dressing Lawson and her sister in Little House on the Prairie smocking and sunbonnets, with the result that they resembled “the lesbian love children of Laura Ingalls and Hollie Hobbie”. Let’s Pretend This Never Happened was a bit like My Family and Other Animals, but ruder and with more stuffed bobcats.
The texture of Furiously Happy, however, is altogether more jagged. When Lawson announces at the beginning that this will be “a collection of bizarre essays and confused thoughts” she is spot-on. Whereas Let’s Pretend was written, like so many first books, over a decade during which seams had been smoothed and corners nicely jointed, Furiously Happy is a scrappy, blog-like affair. Indeed, it reads like a series of bulletins about hanging on to your mental stability by your fingernails – if only you hadn’t pulled them out long ago, thanks to a propensity for self-harm. “I am broken,” Lawson admits, before turning it into a badge of honour and a battle cry – “I am broken. Come Join Me.”
- Furiously Happy by Jenny Lawson review – how to feel OK when you have a brain that is trying to destroy you, by Kathryn Hughes, September 16, 2015.
2. Up to this point, he was more of a garden-variety blowhard.
In the 17th century, poet John Milton called it a “goblin word” — a sobriquet so low that it was reserved for only the most insidious of rabble-rousers — yet in the last few months, any number of observers, from GOP presidential also-ran Rick Perry to former Labor Secretary Robert Reich, from the Economist to, most recently, the New York Times, have crossed a rhetorical line in our politics by calling Donald Trump out as a “demagogue.”
Until recently, I’ve resisted it. As the author of “Demagogue: The Fight to Save Democracy from Its Worst Enemies,” I have been asked countless times in recent years whether Trump is a demagogue, and have always responded — indeed, thought — that he was not. Clearly, though, with his escalating effrontery toward the American creed, he is now.
This is not a matter of mere semantics. In the same way that precision should be used when issuing a terror alert, the term demagogue, properly applied, should be a tocsin of democracy — deployed judiciously and ringing loudly to foretell a singular menace to our republic.
The word dates back to ancient Athens, where the original term in Greek literally meant leader (agogos) of the people (demos). In 1838, American author James Fenimore Cooper observed that true demagogues met four criteria: they posture as men of the common people; they trigger waves of powerful emotion; they manipulate this emotion for political benefit; and they threaten or break established principles of governance.
I used to give Trump a pass on the first and last of those points. It was a bit difficult to regard someone who’s always made such a spectacle of his glitzy skyscrapers and lavish private golf courses as a man of the people. And in the presidential race he seemed, initially, more intent on bringing the parlance of business to governance than on undermining government itself.
But over the last several weeks, Trump has crossed both lines.
Despite his billionaire status, he’s fashioned himself into a mirror of the masses by appealing directly to the anxieties of a “silent majority” of mostly working- and middle-class white voters.
And he’s come perilously close to sanctioning not only inflammatory language — blithely impugning Latino immigrants and Muslim refugees — but violent behavior, reacting to an incident in which a protester was physically confronted at one of his campaign events by saying, “Maybe he should have been roughed up.” On Sunday’s “Meet The Press,” he called last Friday’s shooting at a Planned Parenthood facility in Colorado Springs “terrible,” but at the same time made a point of remarking on what he described as “a lot of anxiety” and “a lot of dislike for Planned Parenthood” among the supporters who attend his rallies. He’s demonstrated a penchant not only for perpetuating falsehoods, but for doubling down on them, such as the canard that he “watched” as “thousands and thousands” of people in Jersey City cheered the 9/11 attacks — bringing maximal heat and minimal light to the public discourse.
Cooper observed, “The demagogue always puts the people before the constitution and the laws, in face of the obvious truth that the people have placed the constitution and the laws before themselves.” And while, so far, Trump has only said he’d “strongly consider” closing certain mosques and briefly flirted with the idea of instituting a registry for Muslims, even entertaining these proposals undermines our shared civic values.
- Donald Trump wasn’t a textbook demagogue. Until now, by Michael Signer, WashingtonPost.com, December 2, 2015.
3. In the Alentejo region of central Portugal stands a town that looks as if it has been created just to surround a central market square where all roads lead.
True, there’s an imposing castle and palace high on the hill, but pride of place in Estremoz is where it belongs — at the weekly Saturday markets.
How different from markets anywhere, we wonder. What’s so special about Estremoz?
Hard to define, really. There’s the usual display of genuine farm produce (no wholesale trucks here) offered by genuine gnarly farmers and their robust wives and wild-eyed kids. It’s berry season and the place is a riot of strawberry and raspberry reds, blackberries, blueberries and goodness knows what other kinds.
One standout is a pale gooseberry lookalike that you pluck singly from its little leafy bed. One thing they have in common: they’re all sweet and delicious.
Apart from the more common or garden-variety vegetables, where potatoes, greens, capsicums, garlic and eggplants reign, there are the animals. Chooks, geese, turkeys and pigeons flutter and flounce; then rabbits and guinea pigs (for pets, we hope); and finally cage birds of every description, a riot of colour and noise — not for the pot, these creatures.
As you would expect, the huge selection of hams, sausages and pates ranges from a black pudding kind of monster to various chorizo types, individually made in local farms with their own smokehouses (and, it must be said, augmented by the ever-present passive smoking all around us).
Then there are the local breads, traditionally rough and rustic to accompany the various sheep and goat cheeses; and those Portuguese bakery delicacies such as pastel de nata (creamy egg tarts), travesseiros, pane de casa rolls and almond brioche clones. And the berries make another welcome appearance in all kinds of cakes and pastries. The patisserie section is definitely not for the Weight Watchers crowd.
Tearing ourselves away from the food market, we find the adjacent flea market with masses of antiques, including some of the vendors. There’s an element of gypsy about the place and once the haggling starts we get the feeling that perhaps we are out of our depth in negotiating techniques. But it’s all good fun.
There is furniture and clothing, too. Spread out across the carpark is enough to furnish an entire palace and clothe the servants as well. We spot some exceptional hand-carved wooden chairs but, tempted as we are, the thought of shipping to Australia serves as a deterrent — and besides, our palace isn’t big enough.
- Estremoz in Portugal is the best kind of market town, by Phil Hawkes, TheAustralian.com.au, July 20, 2016.
About the author:
Zhang Xin is Trainer at chinadaily.com.cn. He has been with China Daily since 1988, when he graduated from Beijing Foreign Studies University. Write him at: firstname.lastname@example.org, or raise a question for potential use in a future column.