Tuesday, August 3, 2010
Wordsmiths: That's What We Are
Lately, I have been thinking of my grandmother (we called her “Bigmama”) and her quaint little words or sayings. As I have grown older, those words have been coming back to me and I realize that I should have listened a lot closer to things she had to say. Born in 1906, she lived through two World Wars, a Depression and living on a farm all her life – yet, she knew many things that common people didn’t know. She was well read and well mannered: a genteel Southern Lady till the end.
Funny thing about genteel Southern Ladies, they have a wicked sense of humor and sometimes a mouth. One of my favorites was when she saw a woman who had an inflated opinion of herself. Bigmama would say she wished she could buy the lady for what she was worth and sell her for what the lady thought she was worth. Then Bigmama would laugh and say, “I’d be a millionaire.” Nuff said about that lady. I use that one frequently when I run across similar “ladies.” Another one was to call the woman (same woman with an inflated opinion of herself) "Mrs. Astorbilt." I never got clued into that one until I got older and learned about the Astors and the Vanderbilts. Bigmama had made a new word up by combining two very wealthy families with high opinions of themselves to describe a conceited woman. She had quite a few sayings, some of them not printable.
The one I only recently learned the meaning of was “karn” (pronounced ke yarn – long e). If there was a bad smell in the room, she would say it smelled like karn. I always thought it was just one of those things she made up. Until…I was watching a documentary on Ireland and the “cairns” – burial places on hills (guess that didn’t smell very good). Bingo! The Irish say it the same way as Bigmama did. So, putting two and two together – Bigmama was using a word her Irish ancestors had taught her. Amazing!
I looked at some other sayings recently; always wanting to learn new things and avoid doing things I should. Here are a few:
Hussy – a corruption of housewife – guess all us married ladies are hussies!
Tawdry – Once a cheap lace was sold on the island of Ely at a fair in honor of St. Audry. It was called St. Audry’s lace. Over time the first two words were run together resulting in tawdry.
Toady – Originally a magician’s assistant who swallowed toads (to show the magician could cure anything – toads were thought to be poisonous). The toady did what it took to please the master.
Window – comes from the term “wind hole” in a castle. The wind hole was a hole in the wall which let in fresh air. Run together, it became window.
Boudoir – from the French bouder meaning to sulk or pout. Women went to their rooms to sulk and pout. Guess we don’t do that any more in our boudoir – we have fun, right?
Swashbuckler – (In honor of Kathy) – A buckler is a small shield. To “swash” means to swish. A swashbuckler “swishes” his sword and rattles it on his shield or “buckler.”
Naked Truth – Once Truth and Lies went bathing. Lies got out, dressed in Truth’s clothing and ran. Truth, unwilling to appear in Lies’s clothing, went “naked.”
(I got some of these from “Why Do We Say It?” Published by Castle Books. This is a fascinating little book I could look at all day long.)
One more Bigmamaism (Hey I made a new word) is about people who dream big dreams and do nothing about it. She would say, “Yeah and if a bullfrog had wings he wouldn’t bust his butt trying to fly.” I definitely do not want to be such a bullfrog! So maybe I shouldn’t be looking at all these sayings when I should be writing…
On that note, I leave it with you folks. I would love to hear some sayings or words your family uses. Or maybe give me some meanings of words that are unusual. Word origins fascinate me. I am waiting to learn more new things so tell me a few…