Last gleaming: a date changes a connotation

I’m not going to state a source for this image. It probably wasn’t original to the site where I found it,  and the site itself is a fetish blog mostly devoted to Third Reich militaria.

The blogger has contributed one detail, however:  a caption which lovingly specifies the model of the bayoneted American shotgun held in the man’s hands. But that love isn’t of a kind to take in the man himself or the date on the wall with which he (or somebody who spoke the language of his epoch) once attempted to signify the expression on his face.

It’s an expression which now comes to us time-stamped with an expiration date: “44.” The meaning of the date changed as World War II slipped into history from the zone of the immediate, but for the date itself the process of aging has been slowed by its embracing quotation marks. Those functioned then as they function now: to communicate a sense of intimacy with their reader, as in

Source: “The ‘Blog’ of ‘Unnecessary’ Quotation Marks,”

In the past seventy years, the history of language hasn’t changed folk punctuation, but the history of the body may have imposed changes on the expressive nature of intimacy itself. In 1944, the date on the wall could have been interpreted as a subject for which the smile on the man’s face was the predicate. Subject and predicate, the completed sentence could have communicated a proposal for action on the level of culture itself: “Together, you and I and all of us, let’s defend.” Seventy years later, however, the smile on the man’s face has been taken private. Now it seems to mean only something like:

“Maybe I own a hedge fund and maybe I don’t. But you’d better believe I do. “