Word Pictures

In colloquial English there are picturesque phrases that delight me. Their meanings are as clear as day, and brighten our speech considerably. My sources are the Midwest and the South. Other areas of the U.S., and probably other English-speaking nations, surely offer as much charm in their turns of phrase.

I decided to create sentences using some of the phrases I’ve heard or read.

Your tea is ready— it’s poured, “blowed and saucered”.

He goes at that digging just “like killin’ snakes”.

That picture is hanging all “catawompus”.

Catch that dog! He’s “fixin’” to bolt.

That lamp is “as ugly as homemade sin”.

The farm pond is ”too thick to drink and too thin to plow”.

She’s pretty busy with her “ lap baby, knee baby, and yard baby”.

If I had my “druthers”, we would use more of these and similar expressions
as we speak and write.
Watch this space for occasional comments on other language foibles.

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Call me…Ishmael?

Call me…Ishmael No, that won’t do. It doesn’t suit me at all. I’ve been called some interesting things, though, a couple of which I’ll describe here. However, the best name story is of the kind of name I didn’t get, according to a story my mother told. I was taken in the early weeks of my life, to Mother’s family home near Petersburg, Virginia. The old cook asked what name I had been given. Mother told her, “Susan”. “That ain’t no name,” exclaimed the cook. “That’s jus’ somethin’ to call her by.” Her feelings were understandable; her own name was Queen Victoria Cross. A generation or two later, Jacob and I, children grown and gone, acquired a house with a downstairs apartment for Mother. A cousin often visited her there, bringing her children. On one of these visits, before Jacob and I had gone downstairs to say hello, I heard a childish voice pipe up. “Where is Uncle Jacob –and that other lady?” At the last library where I worked, the branch manager had some occasion to describe me. What she chose to say was that I was an enigma. Just call me That Enigmatic Other Lady. I wonder if Queenie would approve.

Sights and Sounds of a Pre-War Childhood

This is not to be autobiographical as such, but the seeing and hearing were necessarily mine. The time was the 1930’s; the place, a Midwestern college town.
As I looked around me then, I saw tree-lined streets, houses each unique in style. Many of these houses were built of the native limestone.
I saw, and often made one of, a group of children playing in a dead-end street. Five blocks away, more native limestone formed the buildings of the university campus, behind which ran the Jordan River—a stream named not for the famed Biblical waters but for a former college president Jordan.
From the campus I could see the street leading to downtown. At street’s end lay the Five- and Ten-Cent store, where tempting items like new crayons and paper-doll books were on view.
At school the diversity partly due to the Depression was visible in the children. From little Benny, barefooted and wearing the same overalls every day, to Colleen, who had an enviable variety of clothes and who took piano and tap lessons, we personified a state of affairs we never questioned. It just was.
The sounds of home were many. The milkman’s horse, which soon morphed into a truck, betokened the chink of the bottles of milk on the front porch. The newspaper slapped onto the sidewalk. The grocery boy came heavy-footed through the back door with our order; the laundryman opened the front door to pick up the dry-cleaning. On the maid’s day, her voice: “Pick up your play-pretties now, so’s I can sweep.” The call of the radio:
Jack Armstrong! Jack Armstrong! The All-American Boy! Noisiest of all, the coal rattling down the chute into the cellar.

One day, as the 1930’s came to a close, a paperboy ran down our street shouting,
 “Extra! Extra! Germans bomb Warsaw!”
My stomach clenches even as I write these words. That call was the beginning of the end of an era, and in some ways the end of an innocent childhood, to which television had not yet brought the outside world.

Fun with Words

Portmanteau words are words created from two other words, or parts of words. We have Lewis Carroll to thank for the term, and for some classic examples. He has Humpty Dumpty say “Well, slithy means lithe and slimy.” They are short cuts, known linguistically as blends. Some are less aesthetically pleasing than others—I am about to post this on my ‘blog’, a displeasing sound formed from ‘web log’.

Snow has lately come in for several of these blends: ‘Snowmageddon’; ‘Snowzilla’; and ‘Snowpocalypse’ have become common on weather reports.

Not going anywhere on your week off? You’re taking a ‘staycation’. If you are traveling, maybe your overnight will be in a ‘motel’, where the TV will treat you to an ‘infomercial’ or the preachings of a ‘televangelist’. I hope there will be no ‘smog’ in that area.

These past days we have heard much on sports news about ‘deflategate’, one of many words coming into being after the Watergate scandal.

Google can supply several sources for lists of many such words.

I created one: what if you made a casserole that didn’t turn out well? Call it a ‘dishaster’.
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Weekend on the Train

Ever since the days of the trains that really said Choo-choo, I have loved seeing trains, hearing trains, riding trains. A quick turnaround trip this weekend found me riding 5 hours each way. Because we had to spend a period of time in the railroad yard at Washington, D.C., to switch from diesel power to electric, I tried to be In The Moment as we are urged to be. I gazed at all I saw, and pondered it.

Rusty tracks, lying parallel on gravel. Where do they lead? and how far do they go?

Erector-set bridges to nowhere.

Creosoted poles supporting wires that criss-cross, connect, intersect.

On harsh concrete, splashed or carefully delineated graffiti. Signs, signal boxes. What are their messages?

Torn plastic bags; shreds of newspaper.

No green grows.

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