Thursday, December 18, 2014


Of course it would seem to be obvious why I picked this word to look into, given that I've illustrated it with the poster of the movie that has gained notoriety over the past few days. But life is a little weirder than that. And I am a little denser. I was actually beginning to write this post while I had the news on, and then, thinking it was going to maybe turn out to be a little thin, I googled the word "interview" just to see what would come up first. And only then did I realize that the news I had been watching about Sony pulling a movie that North Korea vehemently objected to--to put it mildly--had to do with a movie called "The Interview". Somehow the title hadn't registered till then.

The real reason I became interested in this word is that I was down in L.A. this past weekend, where my sister Julie was one of a few MFA candidates who gave readings from their work at Venice's Electric Lodge theatre. (She rocked it, of course.) While I was down there, I also went and heard a few other readings and presentations given by others at Antioch University, which were also interesting. One woman happened to give a short talk on The Art of the Interview. I like interviews, especially, for some reason, printed versions, like the Paris Review interviews, or the ones they do in Tin House. But I had never really thought about the word until this woman led us to consider it a little more closely. I won't plagiarize her material here, but I think the etymology is fair game.

The Electric Lodge

We all know what an interview is, right? One person asks another person questions. But the word originally comes from the Middle French entrevue, which according to the Online Etymology Dictionary is verbal noun coming out of s'entrevoir--"to see each other, visit each other briefly, have a glimpse of", the components being the French entre--between, and the Old French voir, to see. Intriguing, non? I think the French word recognizes how little is actually knowable of another person better than the English does. And the French had to borrow the word "interview" back when they needed the more brash sense of the English. Originally the English meant simply a face-to-face meeting or formal conference. That was in 1510. Journalists didn't get into the picture until somewhere around 1869, and this is first attested in American print. Somehow, this figures.
Again without going into the details of our lecturer's talk, we were led to think a lot about what is going on in an interview, which is basically a lot about power and control. A cat and mouse game. Who's holding the reins--the asker or the teller? If we submit to an interview, how much do we really want to reveal? And to what end?

Congratulations, Julie, and to all your Santa Ana cohort.


  1. Delightful! And, indeed, congrats to Julie!

  2. Thanks, Kathleen. And I'm sorry I haven't given credit to the woman who gave the talk, but I didn't catch her name, and Julie is still too busy to bother at the moment. Perhaps she will stop by and can clarify this.

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  4. If I recall correctly, P.G. Wodehouse often used interview to mean a face-to-face meeting, often uncomfortable and therefore to be avoided, say, between Bertie Wooster and his Aunt Agatha. The word never had anything to do with a job, since most of Wodehouse's characters did not have to worry about such a trifle as a job.

    And congratulations to Julie.

  5. Yes, that seems more like the original English usage. For our more current understanding, at least in America, you may appreciate this quote from the Online Etymology Dictionary, which our speaker also used:

    The 'interview,' as at present managed, is generally the joint product of some humbug of a hack politician and another humbug of a newspaper reporter. ["The Nation," Jan. 28, 1869]

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  7. I always enjoy the Wodehouse-era usage. It's amusingly formal, and sometimes Wodehouse uses this to amusing effect, along the euphemistic lines of "After a brief, unpleasant interview ..."

  8. Yes, this seems like a good season to go back and read some more. I've watched more of the Fry and Laurie shows than I've read, but I think some of the language comes through even there.