Writing 101, Day 14: An open letter to Prestige

My dear esteemed Prestige:

Excuse me for beginning this letter in such familiar terms. I would imagine that you would prefer to be addressed as “Your Excellency”, “Your Highness”, or something else equally ego-satisfying. You may not remember me, but we met on page 361 of In Search of Lost Time by Marcel Proust, Volume 5, “The Captive”. You are a truly interesting word, I must admit. I googled your definition for the sake of exactness and came up with this: “widespread respect and admiration felt for someone or something on the basis of a perception of their achievements or quality.” And therein lies the rub.

It is, if you will pardon me for saying so, that little word “perception” that bothers me so much. “Perception” is relative in its meaning. I suppose this makes sense. Little children often feel that some character on television has great prestige by virtue of some completely imaginary superpower; grown-ups attribute prestige to those who have achieved great wealth through their own efforts, such as Bill Gates, or great notoriety, such as Paris Hilton. And this is what bothers me.

I really prefer things to be a little more precise than what you seem to be. After all, what is prestigious one day is quite old-fashioned and comical the next. So, if you will excuse the question, “What good are you, anyway?” Your definition is so slippery and fickle that I’m not quite sure I have much respect for you anymore. Nowadays when I hear you used, you are almost always followed by “university”: This or that institution is a “prestigious university”.

It must annoy you to know that you have been largely replaced by the phrase “trending now”. I’m sorry for this; that’s a rather clunky term and you are a truly musical word when pronounced correctly. So please hang in there. You may not be trending now, but I think you will come back. And not just because they built another university. But if worst does comes to worst, just remember that once upon a time you were a word used by Marcel Proust in one of the most brilliant novels ever written. That amount of prestige ought to be enough to set you up for life.

Well, I won’t take up any more of your time. You probably won’t hear from me again, as you keep changing addresses. Have a good life and take care of yourself.

With great respect,

An anonymous admirer