Substantive-Hungry Trouser-Word – songwriting

The music for this was originally written for one of the bands I play in: Mum, Dad and the Kids (MDK). Tim said “very Berlin”, having just been there, but it didn’t stick with the band. It’s not really a very MDK track anyway, so I took it back for Junior Electronics. The music was written at the piano, with the sung melody doubling the bass line in the first half of the verses, and then going its own way.

The lyrics refer to philosopher J. L. Austin’s discussion of the word ‘real’ in Sense and Sensibilia (1962). He described ‘real’ as a substantive-hungry trouser-word (also discussed by Ian Hacking in Representing and Intervening (1983), which is where I came across the phrase). Austin thought that ‘real’ couldn’t have any meaning until it was attached to substantive such as life, Rembrandt, cream, man, etc., and noted that real tends to be used in opposition to its inverse: not paste (a real diamond), not a fake (an authentic Rembrandt), not imitation (real cream). Trouser-word refers to the power issues at play in the phrase ‘who wears the trousers’ (not a real man).

The phrase ‘substantive-hungry trouser-word’ fit perfectly with my opening sung melody, and what follows plays with all kinds of ways of thinking the word ‘real’. The third verse refers to an episode of Inspector Morse, where Morse is explaining to Lewis exactly what real tennis is. Lewis quips: “what do they play at Wimbledon, then? Virtual tennis?”