In going through some bookcases the other night, tossing out and giving away things someone else might have a use for and clearing up space for the treasured books now in stacks across the carpet, I ran across a little wireless notebook from years ago containing several treasures I had jotted down. The local cajun culture would call this a “potpourri,” meaning a collection of odds and ends. See if you can use anything here.
The word “wallop” comes from a British general by that name who served Queen Elizabeth I in a reprisal raid on France. He and his men destroyed 29 French villages. On his return to England, he was hailed for “walloping” the French, and people have been walloping one another ever since.
Here’s a poem for the flu season–
“I sneezed a sneeze into the air;
It fell to earth I know not where.
But hard and froze were the looks of those
Into whose vicinity I snoze.”
(Quoted from but not written by Bennett Cerf)
The word “balderdash” actually refers to a silly mixture of liquids such as ale and milk.
Throughout the gospels, when we are told that Jesus was “moved with compassion,” the Greek word is the fascinating “splanknizomai.” It’s a verb derived from the noun “splangchna” meaning intestines, bowels, entrails. To the people of that culture, the strongest emotions came from–where else?–the gut.
In his book “Lion and Lamb: The Relentless Tenderness of Jesus,” Brennan Manning writes about Jesus’ compassion: “His heart was torn, His gut wrenched, the most vulnerable part of His being laid bare.” He quotes Henri Nouwen: “It (spangchnizomai) is related to the Hebrew word for compassion, ‘rachamin’, which refers to the womb of God. It…is a movement of the womb of God.” Manning adds, “When Jesus wept…the ground of all being shook, the source of all life trembled, the heart of all love burst open, and the unfathomable depth of God’s immense, inexhaustible caring revealed itself.”
Manning tells of a Detroit priest who spent two weeks in Ireland, vacationing with an elderly uncle. One morning they watched the sun rise over Lake Killarney. For twenty minutes, they stood there in silence. Finally, the priest said, “Uncle Seamus, you look very happy.” The old man said, “I am.” “How come?” The uncle said, “The Father of Jesus is very fond of me.”
The word “pagan” comes from the Latin “paganus,” meaning a simple countryman. Novelist Gary Jennings notes that this probably came about because the countryside was harder to purge of heresy, as the simple folk tended to keep to old superstitions. So a word meaning “rustic” came to refer to anyone still mired in ignorance and superstition. Being a country boy myself, I suspect this was a put-down, a slur by the city folk on the simple ways of the rural citizens.
France was the first country to begin flying, which is why most of the words having to do with aeronautics (like that one) are French. Words like aileron and fuselage.
In the year 1450, Reginald Pecock tried to rid the English language of “Gallicisms and Latinisms”. He wanted to change “impenetrable” to “un-go-throughable,” and “imponderable” to “not-to-be-thought-uponable.” Thankfully, it didn’t catch on.
Later, when the Puritans assumed control of England, they tried to abolish Catholicisms from the tongue by substituting “sir” for “saint” which would give them “Sir Peter” and “Sir Mary” (really) and promoting “Christ-tide” in place of “Christ-mass.” Another failure.
In a “New Yorker” article for November, 1993, I ran across some realtors in Ontario who hire actors in certain high-tone neighborhoods to sit on the verandas and sip tea, to play tennis and jog. Prospective buyers are quickly impressed by the beautiful young adults and decide to become one of them. For a few moments, I thought of how churches could hire actors to greet visitors and teach classes and sing with fervor in order to impress prospects. But, there’s enough sham and hypocrisy around church anyway without our having to put it on the payroll.
My late and wonderful friend, the Mississippi comedian Jerry Clower, told me about a friend phoning him one day. “I’m on my church’s pastor search committeee. Would you mind if we came to hear your pastor preach?” “Not at all,” Jerry said, “We want whatever God wants.”
“Jerry, that’s great,” the friend said. “And how are you?” Jerry answered, “I’m bad.” “Why are you bad?” “Because I’ve been out all day fund-raising.” “And what are you raising money for?”
Jerry Clower answered, “For my pastor’s sex change operation.”
A quick sketch I had jotted down for a possible cartoon shows a fellow praying, “Lord, as thou hast saved this generation from the nuclear physicists, we beseech thee to save the next from molecular geneticists.”
Abraham Lincoln went to see General McClellan who was out, according to an aide. Lincoln waited while they tried to find him. Soon, McClellan strides in, walks right past Lincoln, and goes upstairs while the president sits there waiting. A servant was dispatched to remind the general of his distinguished visitor. He returned and reported: “General McClellan said he was tired and has retired for the night.” An aide was infuriated, but Lincoln calmly said, “I would hold his horse if he would get us some victories.” He didn’t, and was soon out of a job.
As he should have been. They say you’re not really a boss until you have fired someone. Sometimes, terminating someone in the wrong job is the lovingest thing you can do.
Well, that’s the notebook. Hope you enjoyed it.