Lower the boom, release the Kraken, and open the kimono

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The kimono, opening
Because the piece was in the New York Times's Great Homes and Destinations section, it was less a profile of Mediabistro founder Laurel Touby than it was a profile of Touby's loft in Gramercy Park. It is an extremely nice loft, and extremely expensive—purchased for $3.9 million in 2009 and since renovated for another $2 million. The loft features what is surely the world's first "hand-woven leather, chain-mail and fur indoor swing" not expressely designed for BDSM play; a "sprawling sectional sofa" that set Touby and her husband, Jon Fine, back more than $30,000; and a $3,500 coffee table, which is described in the Times as among Touby and Fine's "relative bargains." Whenever I read details like this I think about what Joan Didion said rose in her throat when, as a twentysomething, she witnessed the excesses of the moneyed Manhattan elite—a "Veblenesque gorge," she called it, after the economist Thorstein Veblen, who coined the term "conspicuous consumption."

Anyway, Joan Didion's made her nut; set aside class anxieties and wonder at the free flow of all this specific information, from Touby's lips to the Times reader's ear. The author of the profile procured this information with little difficulty, she says, because Ms. Touby's "policy regarding her affairs is relentlessly open kimono."

This adds a sort of haute flourish to the piece that also sounds a little disgusting, like the scene in The World According to Garp when Mrs. Ralph drunkenly lets her robe slip open in front of Garp, our protagonist, who gets a hard-on (or something, I can't remember). The phrase open the kimono is actually hard business, defined by the Times (always the Times) in a 1998 piece about office slang at Microsoft as a "somewhat sexist synonym for 'open the books,'" though the writer specified that it was of non-Microsoft provenance. (Apparently the advice against sexist language wouldn't keep till the present day.)

The author of the Microsoft piece, Stephen Greenhouse, thought the phrase might have come from the Japanese business juggernaut of the 1980s, though other sources have emerged. An earlier incarnation was even more sexually charged. The Double-Tongued Dictionary found the phrase as early as 1959 in the journal Folklore Studies:

It was believed that the wolf was shameful of sexual things, having no strong sexual instincts. He would never disclose his organ, but hide it behind his hanging tail. Should a person perchance see his sexual act, he or she would have to open the kimono and disclose his or her own organ, so as not to shame the wolf.

In 2009 Dan Bloom blogged on Salon that he'd heard from a Japanese lecturer who thought the term derived from the phrase kamishimo o nugu, which had to do, simply, with the act of coming into somebody's house and removing the kamishimo, a sleeveless coat worn over a kimono—in other words, to "relax, speak and behave openly," in the words of Bloom's correspondent.

Today not everybody is behind the phrase, with various bloggers seeing it tinged with racism and sexism. Bruce Watson, writing in 2010 at AOL's Daily Finance, found it perhaps dated: "when Kwittken announced that Goldman Sachs needed to open the kimono, social media strategist Jason Chupick quickly responded that the phrase was 'an unfortunate expression leftover from the dot-com VC days,'" Watson wrote. And:

Japanese allusions have a somewhat 1980s' retro feel, but the term's growing popularity suggests that open kimono is not a flash in the pan—or the boardroom. Still, as the slightly racy phrase catches on, users should be careful: Open kimonos work both ways, and dropping them into casual conversation may reveal some things that should probably remain under wraps.

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