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Could it be that somebody’s watching me?

by Mellissa Martinez

This week, a Claremont resident was up in arms when he discovered through home video surveillance that two election canvassers were engaging in some hanky-panky at his front door. He decided to share the furtive footage with the COURIER, and from there, it went viral…Claremont style.

Many weighed in on Facebook with comments from residents spanning from the hilarious to the outraged. Some fumed, and others chuckled, with expressions like ‘creepy,’ ‘grab-ass,’ ‘titillating,’ ‘embarrassment,’ ‘voyeur,’ ‘steamy,’ ‘ashamed’ and, dare I repeat, ‘cooter’ flooding into the COURIER Facebook page, one after another.  

Not to make light of the situation, but I admit that I could not stop laughing. Some tense citizens questioned the paper’s journalism ethics, while those offended by the behavior of the employees delivered fiery judgment. Others took the adolescent humor approach, with observations of reaching ‘third base’ and a few locals parodying the situation with images from classic, classless television favorites like Dukes of Hazard and Family Guy.

Although one conspiracy-minded commenter posted the words ‘big brother’ in response to the video, another pointed out that there is clearly no right to privacy while standing at the front door of somebody’s house! The expression ‘Big Brother’ comes from George Orwell’s infamous novel Nineteen Eighty Four and refers to the seemingly benevolent but ultimately oppressive authority that oversees our every move. In all fairness, I’m not with the commenter on this one. As I see it, the resident has every right to surveil his own front door.

Having said that, it should be noted that the verb ‘surveil’ is still not entirely accepted by English purists. It was formed through the linguistic process known as backformation. Whereas most English words are created by adding prefixes and suffixes to base words, this one was formed backwards. It came to English as the noun ‘surveillance,’ and speakers started removing the perceived suffix to create the verb ‘surveil.’ Other words formed in this manner are ‘edit’ from editor, ‘laze’ from lazy and ‘bartend’ from bartender.

The word ‘surveillance’ comes from the French surveillance, ‘oversight, supervision, a watch.’ This word was derived from a combination of sur- ‘over’ and veiller, ‘to watch.’ It is believed that the expression was created to describe committees formed in France in the 1700s to monitor the actions and movements of suspect persons, outsiders and dissidents. I’m guessing that in the Claremont situation, the homeowner was not staring down from a huge video monitor watching over the groping outsiders. I suspect he viewed the video in disbelief, shocked by what he saw.

‘Video’ comes from the Latin video, ‘I see.’ So, the logical question is what exactly did he see? Interested readers will need to see the video for themselves to interpret the level of lewdness. I’m sticking with my earlier description, hanky-panky, which says a lot. ‘Hanky-panky’ is a slang term from British English, which originally meant ‘trickery.’ It came from ‘hoky-poky,’ ‘deception or fraud,’ which was derived from ‘hocus-pocus.’ Perhaps Golden State Water actually knows of this wordy connection and is purposely spreading hanky-panky around Claremont doorsteps to subconsciously assist with trickery and deception. Did the libidinous hired hands get a promotion for a job well done? Probably not. This seems like a case of canvassers taking matters into their own hands.

Whatever the case, I thank the covert Claremont     resident for sharing his video with the rest of us, as it brought a bit of levity to a tense and tiring water debate.

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