Thursday, October 4, 2007

Shared Culture


Number 246

October 4, 2007



Somehow I was led to read an old novel, Rosanna of the Amish, written by Joseph W. Yoder to correct what he saw as a negative view of the Amish in some other novels of the early 20th century. The book was really a fictionalized narrative of his parents’ life in Pennsylvania, interesting as history though not notable as literature. Yoder’s mother, Rosanna, wanted to become a teacher but was persuaded not to as the Amish are against much education. But Yoder’s brother Levi, and Joseph Yoder too, did become teachers. I believe they left their strict Amish church to do so, however. Yoder wrote,

When Levi had finished the eighth grade, studying algebra and physics in addition, he took the county examination for teachers, passed, and got a school.

The “education” degree did not exist in the late 19th century, and requirements for teachers seemingly weren’t very strict. Yet the education in those little country schools was pretty good. I’ve written before about the high level of literacy demanded by the McGuffey readers used in thousands of one-room schoolhouses all over the U.S. (PO 22 and PO 23).

Yoder also wrote about Amish powwowing, which I’d never heard of. Usually a powwow means a gathering of an Indian tribe, but the Amish use (or used) the word to mean a kind of healing practice.

Along the way, I found a fascinating web site (The Max Kade Institute (MKI), in partnership with the Center for the Study of Upper Midwestern Cultures (CSUMC), The Dictionary of American Regional English (DARE), and the University of Wisconsin Libraries, with from the Institute of Museum and Library Services) that has sound clips of Pennsylvania Dutch and Amish speakers, as well as Americans speaking other dialects.


Bill asked, How does this tie in to "Everything's jake" meaning "everything is okay?" I don’t know, but there’s more about “jake” in the Word Detective.

And regarding oppression, he wrote, Monty Python is clearly applicable. "Help! Help! I'm bein' repressed!" (Classic bit from Monty Python and the Holy Grail ~ check out the violence inherent in the system on YouTube.) (What about the violins inherent in the system?)

Bill and Mike both took issue with my saying that they make steel by burning it, or iron, or something. Hardly a technical explanation, I know. I was thinking about all those documentaries and film strips in school that showed huge vats of molten steel in the factories. I meant that heat will make a steel beam bend, at the very least. If a blacksmith can bend a horseshoe, fire can weaken the integrity of every part of a building. Mike gave me more technical info and sent a link about burning steel at The Rudiments of Wisdom Encyclopedia.

Regarding the chipmunk incident, Bill wrote,

One of the guys at church mentioned that he had had to call in the concrete leveling service because chipmunks had tunneled under his front stoop, causing it to droop. (No, he didn't say droop, but knowing you, a stoop droop would be more interesting than "settling.") He said they had pumped concrete under it to bring it back up to level. I asked how he had gotten the chipmunks out first. He replied, "I didn't."

Just like the workers buried in the Great Wall of China. My particular chipmunk will have a dumpster burial, in his little plastic casket. (Say that fast 3 times.) The health department here says chipmunks are almost never a rabies risk and I couldn’t get any satisfaction from my own doctor’s office. So far so good; I don’t appear to be rabid.

Mike pointed out that we can’t dispense with hyphens, as in pot-bellied. The hyphen is necessary in constructing a compound adjective like this ~ e.g. “pot-bellied stove”, and maybe even “He is pot-bellied.” Further,

...the Online OED still has plenty of hyphens following co, as in co-operative and co-ordinate, but these haven't been revised since about 1989. My 1997 NSOED on disk has cooperative and coordinate, but co-op as the abbreviation, presumably to distinguish from a (chicken-)coop. All a matter of clarity, I suppose.

Clarity is the point of punctuation.

Dave said that Overheard in New York had him in stitches for hours when he first read it, but since then, zilch. Not surprising. It’s not the same joke repeated, but it’s the same kind of thing over and over again, mostly rude, profane, and illiterate. Eventually the laughs turn into pain.

Also, Dave wrote, “That *quote* isn't entrepreneurial, is it?” (referring to an entrepreneur’s plaint, “We haven’t had time for a vacation, let alone a day off”). Strictly speaking (and that’s what we do here) a quote is not an entrepreneur. Loosely speaking, I think it makes sense.

More on Jake from Dave:

Michigan J. Frog is the name of the Warner Brothers dancing frog character. An excellent barbershop quartet took the name, confabulated that the J stood for Jake, and won the international barbershop championship in 2001. We went to see them in Darwin, MN a few years ago.

This is what it means to have a shared culture: I didn’t know the name of that frog but I knew immediately which frog Dave was talking about, and of course found him singing his signature song on YouTube. (There’s a Darwin, Minnesota?)

And he asked,

Is this the Twainage thou shalt never meet?

"An average sentence, in a German newspaper, is a sublime and impressive curiosity; it occupies a quarter of a column; it contains all the ten parts of speech -- not in regular order, but mixed; it is built mainly of compound words constructed by the writer on the spot, and not to be found in any dictionary -- six or seven words compacted into one, without joint or seam -- that is, without hyphens; it treats of fourteen or fifteen different subjects, each inclosed in a parenthesis of its own, with here and there extra parentheses which reinclose three or four of the minor parentheses, making pens within pens: finally, all the parentheses and reparentheses are massed together between a couple of king-parentheses, one of which is placed in the first line of the majestic sentence and the other in the middle of the last line of it -- after which comes the VERB, and you find out for the first time what the man has been talking about; and after the verb -- merely by way of ornament, as far as I can make out -- the writer shovels in "haben sind gewesen gehabt haben geworden sein," or words to that effect, and the monument is finished."

No, that’s not it. Twain wrote something specifically about hyphens being blots on an English sentence, but I include the passage on the German language because it’s so typically Twainishly good. Finally...

Which brings me to this closing item, from Reuters yesterday .....

During his first presidential campaign, Bush -- who promised to be the "education president" -- once asked: "Is our children learning?" On Wednesday, Bush seemed to answer his own question with the same kind of grammatical twist. "As yesterday's positive report card shows, childrens do learn when standards are high and results are measured," he said.

What can one say. I think Bush has a neurological impairment, or a stress-induced verbal tic; I can’t believe that when he’s writing, for instance, he doesn’t know basic grammar, and I’ve heard that in informal conversation, he doesn’t make these kinds of gaffes.


Pat G. wrote, “I have to give you a correction –‘ornry’ is spelled ‘ornery’. How do I know? All 3 of mine were (& are!) Ornery!!!”

I guess I have usually seen it spelled with an E; I’ve also seen it without, but don’t remember where. Since it’s a colloquial version of ordinary, the spelling has to depend on the pronunciation, which I’ve mostly heard in two syllables (though sometimes three). Maybe orn’ry should have an apostrophe. Pat and I were English composition instructors together long ago, but Pat had the good sense to move on and get a real job. We both had ornry kids, though.

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