Is this a step too far for Marks & Spencer? Read today's blog post to find out more about "getting set for an affair"!
Recently, the Hong Kong Marks & Spencer Facebook page took advantage of Valentine's Day to post the image and comment you see here ("Get set for an elegant affair…"). What happens when a writer uses the word "affair" in a context like this?
"Affair" has a relatively safe main meaning, and a second more dangerous one. Its safe meaning is summed up in the Oxford Online Dictionary definition: "An event or sequence of events of a specified kind or that has previously been referred to", as in "Listing the company was a disaster-- I just want to forget about the whole affair!"
Its dangerous meaning is much more specific. The Oxford dictionary defines it as "a love affair", but here I think the Cambridge Online Dictionary is much more accurate, describing it as "a sexual relationship, especially a secret one".
When "affair" is used in this sense, the adjectives used with it usually either emphasise its (im)moral nature or else the physical and emotional characteristics of the liaison:
Emphasising (im)moral nature: a secret affair, an illicit affair, an extramarital affair
Emphasising physical/emotional nature: a passionate affair, a steamy affair, an intense affair, a tempestuous affair
Which brings us to the Marks & Spenser posting, "Get set for an elegant affair …". English readers will make a snap decision about which sense of "affair" is being used here -- and certainly this picture of a shapely lingerie-clad woman looking longingly at a bare-chested man on the bed in the mirror suggests we are talking about the dangerous sense!
But the word "affair" is 'dangerous' in another sense, too. Its moral connotations are generally negative; often it implies that cheating is going on. Affairs are not generally things that most responsible companies (like M&S) would normally endorse or encourage. Yet here, M&S is telling its women reader to "get ready" for one by buying M&S lingerie!
There's another odd thing about the M&S post too -- its use of the adjective "elegant" in front of "affair". "Elegant" is normally used to mean "graceful and stylish", and these are not qualities that are normally considered relevant to a secret sexual liaison.
A better version? "Get set for love…." The good thing about "love" is that it has no negative connotations and does not specifically refer to specific relationships, or even to sexual behaviour.
About this blog
This blog arises from keeping an eye on English in Hong Kong. I often use signs, notices and advertisements that I see as starting points to write about English issues that commonly challenge Hong Kong writers.