Mar 19, 2010

The precipitous decline of RSVP---discuss

Rand Richards Cooper has a piece in the NYT in which he laments the decline of RSVP. He sends an e-mail invitation to 45 friends with the customary RSVP request, for an evening of food, drink, and literature, with readings by himself and two other writers, one month out, and he provides a follow-up email message, two weeks later. His initial message brings in a dozen responses, and the follow-up a few more, but days before the event, he has a paltry 23 replies in total. Not 23 who plan to come, but 23 who had bothered to respond. He is upset.

We are reporting this because we had a similar experience last year. We issued an RSVP request by email and, yes, not everybody replied (our response record was better than Cooper's, of course, but then we promised a poolside orgy to celebrate my birthday in the company of sexual slaves). We blamed the non-response on the bad French of our English neighbors, as Cooper blames it on the bad French of his friends, but our new affiliation with the University of Metaphysical Sciences necessitates a more in-depth historical study.

Sexual slave #1

The first know source to lament the decline of civilization in general was Socrates, in whose days RSVP had an unspeakable Greek meaning (what with those pederasts). In Roman times, Romanum Saeculum Veritatis Protestas meant roughly (we improvise here) in vino veritas, but with more emphasis on the wine and less emphasis on the veritas.

Sexual slave #2

The Gauls, in turn, who inherited the torch of civilization from the Romans, spoke Gaulois in those days, not French, and their meaning of RSVP translates into F@@K, or, more politely, F---. That changed when Charlemagne took over and united France and Germany under his leadership. No sexual undertones with prudish Charly, who proclaimed, famously: "Vorsicht ist die Mutter der Porzellankiste," which is a nicer way of saying "breakable." He used only the P, but he had a tight disposition, and did not want to squander any alphabet soup. (Saddam Hussein later did a riff on Charlemagne with his "Mother Of All Wars," but MOAW is a different story all-together.)

Sexual slave #3

Then, civilization moved eastward with the Vikings, who founded the Kingdom of Rus, and established a dynasty for Ivan the Terrible. Ivan used it a lot, RSVP, because in Russian it means "When it flies, floats, or f@@ks, rent it." Yes, I know, we repeat ourselves, but that's Ivan's fault.


One day, Ivan got a visit from the Roi Soleil, Louis XiV, and Ivan explained his concept to Louis. Louis immediately thought to himself: "Come to think of it." But Louis was a good husband (he always spent the nights with his official wife while his mistresses had a chance to recover from his daytime routines, so this was really a win-win-win triangle situation---I am not making this up, folks), and he sought a way to make RSVP palatable to his squeamish court. Whence the modern meaning of RSVP.

What did we learn? Well, RSVP had its ups and downs, but it is perhaps too early to blame it for the general decline of civilization, or to blame the general decline of civilization for RSVP's recent troubles.

Cooper suggests to replace RSVP by RVOM ("répondez vite, ou mourir") but the French are increasingly moving away from the formal "vous" toward the informal "tu", which brings us to RTOM, or ATOM, for simplicity, which was discovered by Democrit, a predecessor of Socrates. Plus ça change....

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