Sunday Afternoon Rocking

"The Green Worm and Other Oddities of Speech"

Afternoon All,

"Ok, so the green worm got me," I have often said in a somewhat sheepish tone with eyes lowered. And my father, when he was living, would roar with laughter. Of course a person in our family would smile knowingly...but a stranger might have a bit of a problem knowing exactly what was going on with this strange "green worm" business.

They would also have a bit of a problem understanding what was meant when a person announced he was "going to the Capitol" (outhouse), taking a trip to "China Knob" (going downhome...and no, this was not the name of the community at all and China Knob can be found on no map of the area), the definition of a "breezy owl" (chamber pot), or acting like "Mammy Lewis" when they made a land purchase. (Mammy Lewis was some vague person who lived so long ago, no one in the family can quite remember who she was...but they do remember quite clearly that she was fond of announcing she "didn't want any more land, she just wanted what 'jined' her"). A hearty meal was preceded by a simple prayer, "Thank the Lord for supper!" which might seem less than dignified, but for the family that understood its origins, it was truly a deeply felt prayer. And in later years, once a hearty meal was complete and dishes sitting on the table needing some attention, it was widely accepted that we would "just let Rosie do it." (Hint: Rosie is most definitely not human).

In short, a stranger listening in on our family's conversations might feel a bit like he had stepped into another world for which no translation dictionary had the answers. And we are no different from most. That is part of what makes us family, and part of what makes other families unique too.

A good deal of shared history and shared events have somehow translated themselves into our speech, and even our names for one another. "Booshie" bears absolutely no resemblance to Virginia Ruth's name. But a little girl over seventy years ago could not pronounce her sister's name, and so it is that folks may look askance when we refer to "Booshie" and not quite get the connection that only the family understands.

The little figures of speech entered the family over the years, with first one event and then another, sometimes genuine mistakes that simply became accepted to say, and sometimes sly humor being appreciated to the point of general acceptance as a legitimate family "saying" to be continued. Some of the terminology was born in my own lifetime and I well remember the event that brought it about. Some was born in the lifetimes of my elders and they have explained to me the stories behind the strange little figures of speech. And some....well no one quite remembers where they sprang from...only that this is something the family always "said"...and I expect that as surely as the color of my hair or the shape of my eyes, this or that little saying is a legacy from an ancestor...and a remnant of a long ago event that happened in a family.

And so, as surely as if a family were a unique "elite club" with secret signs, and passwords, those little bits and pieces of words, short little sayings identify them one to another, and give them a bit of something no one else quite shares unless one chooses to "let them in on it". As surely as memories, as surely as physical features, as surely as the sharing of names and ancestors, those little nuances of speech are part of the "glue" that says a group of people belong together and can be called "family". I expect it is so in all families...and I expect also that for the most part we take those quirks of speech "for granted." We document our names/dates/facts...we document events in memories and events written of on paper...but we forget that we have a language legacy as well...and so unless I tell my children how "the green worm" came to be ...the saying may well continue...but the story behind it lost in the blurred past of a family's history. Not that it is any earthshaking story, not that it is anything more than a family's good laugh one day...but kind of nice to know how a "green worm" managed to wind up in a family's vocabulary for generations to come perhaps.

Now lest you think this bit of musing is less than scholarly keep in mind that I truly do not have one of those "piled high and deeper's". And therein lies another story.

just a thought,


Copyright ©2000JanPhilpot



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