A sentence I found while revising my latest manuscript:
I ran to the house and collapsed on tubsided.
I have no idea.
I’m a distractible adult.
I wasn’t a distractible child, but things change.
I blame the Internet. Open it to check one thing, and I’m lost for hours.
It’s like a dictionary. You know how it is: you look up ablative and right below it you see ablative absolute, and before you can close the book, you see abhenry and abraham’s bosom, and before you know it you’re on zedonk and zyzzyvas. It’s the Ice Age equivalent of web surfing.
Today the dictionary and the web got together and here I am writing a post.
I opened my email (the first mistake ) and there was my daily post from Dictionary.com with the word of the day. I usually skip those. Sometimes I already know the word; sometimes I just don’t want to get hooked. Today’s word is messan–interesting enough to check out but surely not interesting enough to lead to disaster.
It turns out that messan, a noun, is Scottish, a lap dog; small pet dog. The accompanying photo implies it’s a cute lap dog.
That’s good: a new word for my personal lexicon.
But–next mistake–scrolling down the page, I found a link to “Superb Owl and Other Copyright Loopholes.” Click bait. And then “Words (and Phrases) That Will Show Your Age.” Couldn’t resist that. Click.
Words that show my age: fuddy-duddy; web surfing; Dear John letter; How’s tricks?; Davenport and Chesterfield; long-distance call; VCR and videotape; little black book; wet-blanket; making whoopee; Rolodex™; Pet Rock™; mood ring; “Just one more thing”; “The thrill of victory (and the agony of defeat)”; “Up your nose with a rubber hose”; Fotomat; Walkman; Pigpen, you got your ears on?; “Good night, John Boy.”
Instead of saying, “Hahaha, I’m not old enough to remember that,” I have to admit I knew all of them without looking them up, but I don’t use them all. When I was a child, I heard some from older people. Wet-blanket was in general usage (until I read the article, I thought it still was). My mother explained Dear John letter, and, having lived through World War II, said it was a pretty awful thing to send to a soldier overseas. She also explained little black book, which I probably first heard on television; I don’t think I knew anyone who had one.
How’s tricks? also came from television, but I never heard it elsewhere. I guess fuddy-duddy came from television, too, or maybe my mom said it once or twice, but just to be amusing. Most of the adults I knew were over forty and immune to television language.
Back then, most long-distance calls were made after 9:00 p.m., when the rates went down. They were usually from my grandmother in Dallas, and were pre-arranged by letter so we knew when to expect them. The line crackled, and speakers on both ends had to repeat a lot. An un-prearranged call after nine, long-distance or not, meant bad news, or, sometimes, a new baby.
In Fentress, there was an unspoken rule that no calls were made after nine except in exceptional circumstances. The only mention of the rule occurred when my high school English teacher asked if it was a rule or just a tradition her family observed.
Fentress residents made many long-distance calls; the only town that wasn’t long-distance was Prairie Lea, the same size as Fentress, two miles away.
I refused to initiate all such calls because I was too shy to talk to a live operator. At eleven, I had a baptism of fire. I’d gone with my piano teacher and her other students to a dog show in Austin, and when we returned to her house in Martindale, I had to call my mother, seven miles away, to come for me. I was embarrassed to tell Miss Louise that I avoided operators.
I called my mother because, except for calls from long-distance family, my father rarely used the telephone. He wore a hearing aid, the kind worn in a harness against the chest, and often had to ask people to repeat. He left a job because it required frequent long-distance calls, often from high-ranking military personnel relaying sensitive information. A misunderstanding could have resulted in an airplane going down. He was also embarrassed to ask them to say things a second time.
While we were visiting his aunt one evening, her four-year-old granddaughter crawled into his lap and asked about the button in his ear and the attached wire. He gave the usual explanation–“It’s my telephone”–and let her feel case under his shirt. A few minutes later the aunt’s telephone rang and the child turned to him and said, “Is that yours?” She looked so pleased, and so hopeful, it was a shame to disappoint her.
But back to words and phrases.
“Making Whoopee” was the title of a song I heard sung by Julie London when I was ten. She sang it slowly, in that smoky voice that was hers alone, on an LP (another word I remember) my cousin had standing in a record rack. The cover had a green background and showed Julie in profile from just below the shoulders, red hair flowing down, her face turned toward the camera. She wore a skinny strapless dress positioned so low that it made my mother say, “My goodness.” I would have simply died to wear a dress like that.
Twelve years later, Julie was a regular on TV’s Emergency! wearing a nurse’s uniform complete with cap. After the LP cover, that was such a come-down for her, and for me, a memory tarnished. She deserved better.
I began this post for a specific purpose but so far haven’t fulfilled it, but I must leave the rest for another day. I recently vowed to write posts of no more than five hundred words, and this already tops nine hundred.
Long-distance calls distracted me.
baptism of fire – noun;
From Wikipedia, the origin of the phrase:
“Matthew 3:11 “I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance: but he that cometh after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear: he shall baptizeyou with the Holy Ghost, and with fire” King James Version 1611
“The phrase also occurs in Luke 3:16 and it might be taken as a reference to the fiery trial of faith which endures suffering and purifies the faithful who look upon God’s glory and are transformed, not consumed (Mark 10:38, James 1:2-4, 1 Peter 1:7, 1 Peter 4:12). See also Dante’s Purgatory 27:10-15.”
Note: Nothing about telephones.
trunk call – noun; ();
ablative absolute – noun, Latin Grammar. a construction not dependent upon any other part of the sentence, consisting of a noun and a participle, noun and adjective, or two nouns, in which both members are the ablative case, as Latin“the road having been made.”
Mark Twain cared about words: Pa’s boot with a couple of his toes leaking out of the front end; the sow lying in the middle of the street looking as happy as if she was on salary; and Miss Watson, a tolerable slim old maid, with goggles on.
And, “Use the right word, not its second cousin.”
In his autobiography, he tells the story of a time his mother used the right words to teach him a lesson that lasted a lifetime.
There was, however, one small incident of my boyhood days which touched this matter, and it must have meant a good deal to me or it would not have stayed in my memory, clear and sharp, vivid and shadowless, all these slow-drifting years. We had a little slave boy whom we had hired from some one, there in Hannibal. He was from the Eastern Shore of Maryland, and had been brought away from his family and his friends, half way across the American continent, and sold. He was a cheery spirit, innocent and gentle, and the noisiest creature that ever was, perhaps. All day long he was singing, whistling, yelling, whooping, laughing – it was maddening, devastating, unendurable. At last, one day, I lost all my temper, and went raging to my mother, and said Sandy had been singing for an hour without a single break, and I couldn’t stand it, and wouldn’t she please shut him up. The tears came into her eyes, and her lip trembled, and she said something like this—
“Poor thing, when he sings, it shows that he is not remembering, and that comforts me; but when he is still, I am afraid he is thinking, and I cannot bear it. He will never see his mother again; if he can sing, I must not hinder it, but be thankful for it. If you were older, you would understand me; then that friendless child’s noise would make you glad.”
It was a simple speech, and made up of small words, but it went home, and Sandy’s noise was not a trouble to me any more. She never used large words, but she had a natural gift for making small ones do effective work. She lived to reach the neighborhood of ninety years, and was capable with her tongue to the last – especially when a meanness or an injustice roused her spirit.
Tybalt is gone, and Romeo banished;
Romeo that kill’d him, he is banished. ~ Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet, III.ii
They are free men, but I am banished.
And say’st thou yet that exile is not death?
Hadst thou no poison mix’d, no sharp-ground knife,
No sudden mean of death, though ne’er so mean,
But “banished” to kill me? “Banished”? ~ Romeo and Juliet, III.iii
Lake Superior State University has published its 2013 List of Banished Words, and, judging from what I found on Google, so has everyone else.
I intended to write about the LSSU list, which introduced me to the word YOLO. (That shows how far behind I am with regard to popular culture.) But while researching, I came across LSSU’s archive of banished words and decided to share them–as many as I can before I have to post this–starting at the beginning.
(Since 9:00 a.m., I’ve changed topics about fifteen times.)
1976 At this point in time – A holdover from the Watergate hearings
1977 To Share – Do we still do this?
1978 Nuk-U-Lar – Still here, but not widely used since President Obama took office
1979 Energy Crisis – Still here, and for good reason
1980 Interface – From a full professor in a faculty meeting I attended, regarding an outside candidate for a tenured position: “I’m not voting for anyone who says he wants to interface with students.”
1981 De-plane – Gone. No one de-planes any more. Airlines make travelers stay on planes for hours before taking off and after landing.
1982 Sit on It – To discourage graffiti in the boys’ restroom, one of my principals hung a small chalkboard and some chalk there. During a subsequent potty patrol, he discovered the message, “Sit on it.”
“We say that our way of life was attacked on September 11. What we mean is that our words were attacked — our sauntering, freewheeling, raucous, stumbling, unbridled, unregulated, unorthodox words. All that we are in this country came out of words — 18th century words, 19th century words — which in turn wend their way back into a past that existed long before the first sentence of the Book of John. Every word is a new idea, and there is nothing like a new idea to counteract the stony madness of fanatics. If a man spends enough time in a library, he may actually change his mind. I have seen it happen.”
from “Ground Zero” by Roger Rosenblatt, Time, May 25, 2002
At HEB this afternoon, having verified that I had, indeed, spent my last sou on a cup of coffee at Waterloo Writers, I ran my credit card through the scanner. The resulting screen read, Select Tender Type.
Such a formal, old-fashioned word for this new-fangled device.
Polonius: What is between you? give me up the truth.
Ophelia: He hath, my lord, of late made many tenders
Of his affection to me.
Polonius: Affection! pooh! you speak like a green girl,
Unsifted in such perilous circumstance.
Do you believe his tenders, as you call them?
Ophelia: I do not know, my lord, what I should think.
Polonius: Marry, I’ll teach you: think yourself a baby;
That you have ta’en these tenders for true pay,
Which are not sterling. Tender yourself more dearly;
Or–not to crack the wind of the poor phrase,
Running it thus–you’ll tender me a fool.
Poor Ophelia. She was a sweet thing, and young, and the men in her life treated her so shabbily.
But even though Polonius belittles his daughter to her face, the way Shakespeare moves tender through the passage, varying its meaning from one line to the next, renders the speech remarkable. As Hamlet later implies, Polonius is a rat—and he pays for his treachery a couple of acts down the road—but he has a way with words.
Capulet: How! will she none? doth she not give us thanks?
Is she not proud? doth she not count her blest,
Unworthy as she is, that we have wrought
So worthy a gentleman to be her bridegroom?
Juliet: Not proud, you have; but thankful, that you have:
Proud can I never be of what I hate;
But thankful even for hate, that is meant love.
Capulet: How now, how now, chop-logic! What is this?
‘Proud,’ and ‘I thank you,’ and ‘I thank you not;’
And yet ‘not proud,’ mistress minion, you,
Thank me no thankings, nor, proud me no prouds,
But fettle your fine joints ‘gainst Thursday next,
To go with Paris to Saint Peter’s Church,
Or I will drag thee on a hurdle thither.
Out, you green-sickness carrion! out, you baggage!
“Thank me no thankings, nor, proud me no prouds, / But fettle your fine joints ‘gainst Thursday next,…” Beautiful. Just seeing it on the page gives me the shivers.
To some, Capulet sounds like a terrible father, but, as I pointed out to my freshmen, year after year, Juliet started it. She was rude and disrespectful. Her father didn’t know she was already married; he thought she would be thrilled to marry Paris. But she behaved like a brat. It’s no wonder Capulet threatened to drag her on a hurdle thither.
The two female characters present an interesting contrast: Ophelia refuses to speak for herself; Juliet shouts. But neither one lasts to the end of Act V.
A scholarly paper might lurk in there somewhere: “Shakespeare’s Women: A Study of the Consequences of Self-Actualization Within the Context of the Father-Daughter Relationship Complicated by Nascent Heterosexual Bonding, with a Focus on Hamlet’s Ophelia and Romeo and Juliet’s Juliet.”
Or perhaps not.
By the time I finished with the Capulets, the cashier had almost finished with the scanning. While she bagged the items, I had time to wonder whether the name of Jason FForde’s protagonist, Thursday Next, was inspired by the once-projected date for Juliet’s wedding.
I also remembered that The Idylls of the King contains a line echoing Thank me no thankings, nor, proud me no prouds; I believe it’s spoken by Guinevere–maybe–but I’ve not been able to locate it, and it looks as if I’ll have to re-read the entire Idylls to ease my mind.
But I did find the next lines that drifted by: Guinevere, jealous of Elaine, takes up Lancelot’s gift of diamonds
And thro’ the casement standing wide for heat
Flung them and down they flash’d, and smote the stream.
Then from the smitten surface flash’d, as it were
Diamonds to meet them, and they past away.
That image—diamonds falling into the sunlit stream, and water splashing up, like diamonds to meet them—remains with me when the rest of the book has passed from memory.
Well. By this time, the cashier and I had completed our transaction. I wheeled the groceries to the car. End of shopping.
End of post.
Except to point out that I stood for ten minutes in one of the most boring places imaginable and forgot to be bored.
I was busy elsewhere.
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.
The Eve of St. Agnes, by John Keats