Thought Balloon: Curate This!

thought balloon small asterisk

*When I hear the word “curate” I put on my biretta and reach for a smoked ham.

Curate used as a verb was once a high falutin’ term limited to the precincts and catalog texts of museums and art galleries. It was what curators did, a curator being a specialist in handling, preserving, interpreting, and displaying collections of documents, art, or historical objects–for instance, a gentleman such as the curator of the William Blake manuscript collection at the Library of Congress who hovered over me in the Rare Book Room as I basked in the illuminated pages of  Blake’s Marriage of Heaven and Hell.

But curate the verb has gone low falutin’ clutching its pearls all the way. Now, you can “curate” the merchandise of a shoe shop in a mall; “curate” local bands at the hipster bar; “curate” the menu of a food truck or the booths at a flea market. Online, you can “curate” a Tumblr blog or a Facebook page or presumably a collection of hamster stomping porn on a subreddit. Curation inflation. The one who curates hamsters or gourmet hamburgers inflates the endeavor with a whiff of aesthetic legitimacy.

When I hear or read the word curate used in this sense it crosses a couple of wires in my deviant brain. First, I think of the word curate as a noun.  To wit,

Curate, n. [LL. curatus, prop., one who is charged with the care (L. cura) of souls. See {Cure}, n., and cf. {Cure}] One who has the cure of souls; originally, any clergyman, but now usually limited to one who assists a rector or vicar. –Hook.

In my mind’s eye I see one of these:

biretta curate 3

Always wearing a biretta (the funny hat). I’m not sure why. The other live wire that sparks the gap is cure in the sense of curing meat. I see sides of beef and salted hams hanging on hooks in a smoke house or meat locker. Then the wires cross, and I see a priest hanging on a hook among the hams; a priest wearing a biretta with a black pom pom. So, when I hear the word curate, the actual thought balloon that pops into my head is:

*The priest is hanging in the smokehouse, again.


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