“Filthy!” Serena shouted. “Filthy, filthy, filthy, filthy—”
Tannhäuser threw up his hands. “Doctor, it didn’t work!”
“I disagree,” Dr. Brinner said. “She may still be saying the same word, but at least she’s out of bed. That’s definitely an improvement!”
Tannhäuser had to admit, it was better than before. But she’d gone from having some sort of filthy rest energy to having some sort of filthy kinetic energy. She seemed to be trying to sweep, mop, and dust simultaneously. With a surprising amount of success.
“Is this really a cure, though?” he asked. “I mean, redirecting her efforts is nice and all, but…”
“Don’t be such a damn—”
“Filthy!” Serena interrupted.
“Oh, right, sorry,” the doctor said. “I mean, don’t be such a darn spoilsport. Didn’t this room need to be cleaned anyway?”
“Yes… I suppose.”
Dr. Brinner beamed. “Then there’s nothing to worry about! Just be patient and you’ll have both a clean room and a healthy, um… Girlfriend? Fiancée? Wife?”
“It is difficult,” Tannhäuser said, “to define. But what if she doesn’t stop at the room? What if this new behavior sticks around as the original one did? From room to house to yard to… to what? Will she have to clean the whole world before she is cured?”
“I continue not to see how this is a problem. There’s not an infinite number of things to clean. At some point she will run out of things, and you’ll see that I’m right. Besides, we could use a cleaner world, in any case. And who better to do it than a woman, right?”
Tannhäuser sighed. “Doctor, do they teach male chauvinism in medical school, or were you simply born this way?”
“Obviously I was born this way. I am a male, after all—”
“—so what other kind of chauvinism could I have?”
“Er, that’s not quite… See, the word chauvinism originally meant a kind of exaggerated patriotism. It was a synonym of jingoism. Over time, the meaning generalized to an exaggerated loyalty to any particular concept. Nowadays, it’s almost never used outside of ‘male chauvinism,’ so the concept is, in those cases, gender. Because of that, it’s come to absorb the sexist meaning into itself, so it means that without the modifier in most contexts. This isn’t always the speaker’s intent, however, so it’s important to keep the context in mind.”
Now Dr. Brinner sighed.
“Oh,” Tannhäuser added, “that’s called a metonym, by the way.”
“Tannhäuser, you…” The doctor paused.
“I’ve gone way above your head once again?”
“Tannhäuser, you disgust me sometimes.”
Tannhäuser sputtered, not knowing what to say.
“Serena!” Dr. Brinner called.
“Tannhäuser here is, um… filthy!”
“Filthy, filthy!” the young woman shouted.
She dropped her cleaning implements, tackled Tannhäuser, and—in between shouts of “Filthy!”—began kissing him and tearing his shirt off.
Dr. Brinner smiled at the energy of youth.
Then he quietly exited the house through the front door, leaving an itemized bill of services in the mail slot as he went.