“One feels precious Kosher casualness in Edgar Degas’ ‘Woman in the Bath.'”


I take delight in this Horror but have no idea where to begin to think about why my student wrote it.

Is “precious Kosher” meant to be “precocious”? But would that be any improvement?

Is the casualness Degas’ or the bathing woman’s? What’s the difference between Kosher casualness and Tref casualness?

I have a sneaking feeling, largely because of the “one feels,” that this sentence is copied from some critic’s statement but with vocabulary substitutions, my student trying not to plagiarize but not realizing that 1) mere word-substitution is no protection from plagiarism and 2) the sentence as now written has no discernible meaning.

The alternative, of course, is that he was trying to say something deep and just made a series of disastrous word choices. “Kosher” would be a particularly ironic choice in view of the fact that Degas became decidedly antisemitic in his later life.

I beg for suggestions from my resourceful and inventive readers. WHAT do you think my student is trying to say?

About RAB

Teacher of English writing and literature (college-level); academic-freedom activist; editor and copy editor; theater director, costumer, actress, playwright. View all posts by RAB

11 responses to ““One feels precious Kosher casualness in Edgar Degas’ ‘Woman in the Bath.'”

  • thegreenstudy

    “Casualness” bothers me more than the rest of the bizarre statement. A simple Google search has the entire art world connecting “casualness” with Degas. The more I say that word, the more awkward it sounds. I think you are correct that it is a case of poor vocabulary substitution, possibly combined with a spell check twist. It’s definitely a puzzle!

    • RAB

      So he just took the word “casualness,” figuring it was an ordinary word and therefore exempt from any plagiarism charge (or might he have thought it was “common knowledge” if he actually bothered to look at more than one critic?), and then went on to play the substitute game with the rest…this does sound like student behavior, alas. The thesaurus in Word gives “acceptable,” “legitimate,” and “above-board” for “Kosher,” and “valuable,” “prized,” “costly,” and “dear” for “precious.” “Valuable legitimate preciousness”? A bigger thesaurus might take us to a phrase that begins to work, at least for an art critic!

  • Mary Jane Schaefer

    He couldn’t have thought, could your student, that Degas’ baths were the kind Orthodox Jewish women take after each menstrual cycle is over? Hence, the Kosher thing?

  • shovonc

    It’s the feeling of euphoria when you get to eat something rare and kosher very casually, as if you do it every day. This is the feeling the painting evoked in your student.

    • RAB

      Wonderful. And now I’m trying to think of rare Kosher food I’ve had! I would certainly try to eat it as if it were no big deal. What a feeling that would be! Thanks!

  • theseasidehermit

    Well, perhaps the student is too immersed in his profundity that his pronouncements confuse us mere mortals. The quality of Kosher casualness is so rare that it is a precious one. I am one of the unlucky members of the world’s population deprived of this experience. But, he knows what Kosher casualness means, so maybe we are the ones who fail to understand his meaning.

    • RAB

      I just did a quick search of my posts but couldn’t find something I know I wrote about like this, so I’ll write about it again. Many many years ago, when Apple first made personal computers available to (and affordable for) educational institutions, the days of floppy disks, our academic division’s writing lab used some diagnostic software that supposedly evaluated writing levels. It was pretty primitive—warning, for example, “this may be the passive voice” for every use of a verb of being, and “this may be a run-on sentence” for every sentence over six words…. It rated writing levels primarily on the basis of vocabulary choices. One of my students who was dyslexic ran this assessment on a paragraph he had written, hoping to be shown his mistakes. Instead, the computer told him that he was writing on a “very advanced” level. It had noted the number of words “not in program’s dictionary” and assumed they were high-flown scholarly language, not misspellings of perfectly ordinary words. When I typed in the same paragraph but with the spelling corrected, the assessment quickly fell to “lower high school level,” probably because his sentences were almost all one-clause sentences.
      Anyway, my point is, we are encouraged by the powers that be to assume that if we can’t understand something the fault is in us, and this sentence makes me feel that, yes, there’s something deep going on and I just can’t figure it out. Maybe we ARE the ones who fail to understand his meaning! Thanks for your charming irony!

  • philosophermouseofthehedge

    Just awash in emotions over this one….like wanting to grab the author by the scruff of the neck and holding the person under the bath water for a bit.
    Obviously, this writer this taking too casual approach to his school work – and that isn’t Kosher, Precious.

  • bashothegreat

    loucheness or insouciance would have been better than casualness. if “loucheness” is even a real word…

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