LEXIS/NEXIS is the blog-writer’s crutch, and here I am using it for my first real post. Consider this the inaugural edition of a feature on the use and misuse of medieval as an adjective. Today’s sample comes from the Ottawa Citizen:
Two people were crushed to death and 16 were hospitalized when an IKEA store opened recently in the Saudi Arabian town of Jeddah.
In a scene one eyewitness called “medieval,” nearly 20,000 shoppers lined up to be among the first 250 shoppers and receive vouchers worth 500 riyal, or about $133. An 18-year-old security guard, who’d been spraying perfume into the faces of shoppers who were overcome by the crowds, described for Arab News the death of a Saudi man crushed in front of him:
Nothing strange here, right? People die senselessly, and the word medieval naturally springs to the mind. The Middle Ages were horrible, weren’t they? But wait, it’s not the crushing deaths that are being called medieval–it’s the “scene” of 20,000 shoppers lined up in front of an IKEA.
Just what is medieval about people in a queue? Surely it’s not the sheer numbers. I doubt 20,000 people lined up for much in the Middle Ages except maybe to fight in a battle. Consumer frenzies strike me as a relatively modern phenomenon. Certainly, medieval Swedes weren’t known for their furniture making abilities.
Maybe it’s just a chain of association. It seems like “medieval” is starting to mean “Muslim, in a bad way” in the press. Still, it is really weird to call an unruly Muslim mob caught up in a modern, hyper-consumer scramble “medieval”.