What does a medieval murder have to do with your television viewing habits?
How could a bit of historical treachery lead to a description of your propensity for watching endless hours of Netflix, abandoning family and friends for 28 consecutive episodes featuring a British actor playing an epically depressed Swedish detective, or your continued, addictive retreat into the vast canon of Sex in the City?
Indeed, the old saw is all too true: “Those who do not know history are doomed to re-watch it.”
There’s a Shakespeare quote from Henry VI, Part I that offers our first clue. “A base Walloon, to win the Dauphin’s grace/Thrust Talbot with a spear in the back.”
“Who the heck was Talbot?” you wonder as you search for your Amazon Fire remote. “Glad you asked,” I reply. Sir John Talbot, 1st Earl of Shrewsbury, was an English commander during the Hundred Years War. (Yes, back in the 15th century warfare was a more leisurely pursuit.) He was defeated by Joan of Arc at the Siege of Orleans, and eventually killed by the aforementioned “base Walloon” at the Battle of Castillon in 1453.
“What the heck is a Walloon,” you inquire half-heartedly, as you browse the menu looking for that eight-episode series starring the onetime “King of the North,” post-Red Wedding, Medici: Masters of Florence. “Once again, glad you asked,” I answer. The Walloons are an ethnic group, who populate a region in Belgium centered on the Sambre and the Muese rivers. Descendants of Roman soldiers and Gaulish collaborators who stood on the lower Rhine against the Germanic barbarians back in the day.
“And I should care about them, because?” you interject as you give the Turkish miniseries about Suleyman the Magnificent, Muhtesem Yuzyil, a single star review because you didn’t like the music. “Well, because they have a Carnival,” I explain.
“Get on with it,” you’re getting a little exasperated now. “Where is this going?”
You see, at this Walloonish carnival that precedes Lent just like Mardi Gras, the citizens of one old walled town parade around wearing scary wax clown masks and ostrich feathers, throwing oranges at people. Everyone gets wild and does crazy things they couldn’t do any other time of year. They go wild. Excess is the rule of the celebration. If you can avoid being struck by too many oranges, or being traumatized by a feathered waxy clown, you can indulge yourself without pause.
“Indulge myself without pause?” Now I’ve got your interest. “And the name of this town?”
I thought you’d never ask. The tiny walled city is called Binche.
Yeah, Binche. Say it out loud. Repeat. Binche. It’s the origin of our new favorite word.
“Oh! I get it! Binge!” Your face lights up. Not from any sudden understanding, but from the glow of your 77-inch black matrix LED big screen as episode one of Breaking Bad starts. You’ve got a long weekend ahead. You’re starting your latest binge.
So, Shakespeare mentions a murder, which brings attention to an obscure ethnic group who have a yearly party in a walled town full of fruit-tossing creepy clowns, and that gets us a word that describes us stuck on our TV room sectionals.
Stop, I confess! I made it all up. Well, everything about Henry VI, the dead Talbot, Walloonish clowns, and the walled town of Binche was true. Unfortunately, none of it applies to the origin of the word in question. It’s another case of fake lexicography. In reality the word “binge” comes from the Northampton, England, dialect, “To binge,” meaning to soak. Yes, even the truth can be wrong.
Ain’t that the way it goes these days?
Otis XII hosts the radio program, Early Morning Classics with Otis XII, on 90.7 KVNO, weekday mornings from 5-9 a.m. Visit kvno.org for more information.
This article was printed in the March/April 2017 edition of Omaha Magazine.