Just Wo-ahn Out

The snowy owl
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Sometime back in the 1930s, my grandmother picked up the telephone receiver just in time to hear the Methodist minister’s wife, on the party line, drawl, “I am just wo-ahn out. I’ve been waterin’ the yahd.”

The statement might not seem significant, but my family has its own criteria for significance. And so those two sentences entered the vernacular.

They were used under a variety of circumstances: after stretching barbed wire, frying chicken, mowing the lawn.

My father would fold the newspaper, set it on the table, and announce, “I am just wo-ahn out. I’ve been waterin’ the yahd.”

I am wo-ahn out, too. I’ve been taking the Jeopardy online test.

Fifty questions, fifteen seconds to type each answer. Spelling didn’t count but was appreciated. Short answers were accepted, not in the form of a question.

I didn’t do too badly, I think. Better than last year. Last year was a mess.

I won’t include specifics, but I did okay on questions related to literature, biology, and chemistry.

But I won’t be called in for an interview. My natural distaste for geography and abject ignorance of popular culture took care of that.

Katie Who?

And there was the What’s-His-Name problem. I can see his face but–

Time is up. Proceed to the next question.

Students used to say, Why do we have to study literature? Why do we have to read Shakespeare? Beowulf? Canterbury Tales? All this stuff?

I would say, So you will know the pleasure of beautiful words and elevated thoughts. So you will understand literary allusions. So you will be culturally literate. So you will be educated.

So when you see an ad for fat-free cheese with a caption reading, A lean, not hungry, look, you will recognize the copywriter has read Julius Caesar.

Finally–finally–I came up with the right answer: You study literature so when Alex Trebec says, “The blank ‘for all his feathers, was a-cold’ you will buzz in and put the answer in the form of a question and walk away with a pile of money.

That got their attention.

I don’t know that it’s actually happened for any of them. But I fully expect to turn on the television someday and see one of my students clicking away.

It hasn’t worked for  me. But that’s all right. It is the student’s job to surpass the teacher. I shall have a vicarious victory.

Now it’s almost midnight. I must post and then retire.

Because I am just wo-ahn out. I’ve been waterin’ the yahd.

Day 23: The most beautiful words

The most beautiful word in the English language is the compound word cellar door.

J. R. R. Tolkien said that. I have no idea why.

I’m partial to murmur and serendipity.

A student once told me that hearing the word button just drove her up the wall.

When I was about four years old, I discovered that if I repeated tuna over and over, it lost all meaning. Army worked the same way. I was afraid if I went on repeating long enough, I might fall into a trance, so I always stopped after a reasonable interval.

Instead of saying garage, my father said car house. My mother told me the phrase was related to the buggy house of his boyhood. He also sometimes referred to light bread. Both of my parents called the refrigerator an ice box at least half the time. My grandfather and many of his contemporaries used the same terms. I’m sure there were others I don’t remember.

A cousin helps me keep ice box alive. But I miss car house and light bread. They were a link to my father’s boyhood. They spoke of his memories of horses and buggies, of homemade bread baked from white flour rather than brown.  Those words were living history. 

The Oxford English Dictionary is set to retire a number of words, as it does periodically. Our language continues to change, and old words fall out of use.

It seems a shame to let them go.

Save the Words allows logophiles the opportunity to keep endangered words in circulation. The site places words for adoption–find a specific word or let Save the Words assign one–and offers ideas for using them.

I’ve registered for STW but haven’t yet adopted my word. There are so many to choose from.

Vampirarchy* is on my short list. I could work that one into conversation with no problem at all. I can imagine other people picking it up, too. It could go viral.

And the word has nothing to do with Twilight.

When it comes down to it, I’ll probably adopt several.

But back to beautiful words.

Tolkien was a fine writer, but he had a tin ear. Or perhaps he just forgot.

In any case, the most beautiful words in the English language are these:

lucent syrops tinct with cinnamon.

If that line went viral, the world would be a more beautiful place.

~~~~~~~~~~

* A set of ruling persons, comparable to vampires.

References

The Hot Word

The Eve of St. Agnes, by John Keats

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