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ANOTHER DAY IN THE COUNTRY: Words in the beginning

© Another Day in the Country

They had a whole shelf of books at the library labeled “free.” Who can resist looking?

“Seek and ye shall find,” says the ancient scripture, and “find” I did. It also says, “In the beginning was the word,” and this was a book about words.

All summer, while my grandson was with us here in Kansas, he was first reading and then laboring over a report on a book written by someone who compiles dictionaries.

Some people think dictionaries are boring, but this author reminded us that words are fascinating.

As my grandson completed this summer assignment, we talked a lot about words.

And then, here on the “free” shelf, was a little book about the beginning of words —“Anonyponymous, An Opinionated Dictionary,” written and illustrated by John Marciano.

I snatched it up.

On the way home, I started reading the book to my sister, who was driving.

“Listen to this,” I said, “Do you know where the name Zinnia (one of our favorite flowers) comes from?”

Of course, she didn’t. She does now.

Once upon a time, in the 18th century, Carolus Linnaeus chose as his mission in life the task of naming, describing, and categorizing every living thing.

As discoveries were daily rolling in, this brainy Swede and his fellow botanists began naming new plants after people.

To fit into Linnaeus’s system of nomenclature, an “ia” was added to the honorees’ surname.

The zinnia was named after the German botanist Johann Zinn. Other botanists included Alexander Garden (apt name), Michel Begon, Pierre Magnol, and Leonart Fuchs — you get the idea.

Jack Russell aspired to be a parson, but what he really liked to do was hunt.

One day, in his senior year at Oxford, he spied a little pup following the local milkman and bought the dog on the spot. She proved to be a fine hunting partner, rooting out foxes, etc., and he used her to mother the breed of dogs that carries his name.

Meanwhile, Louis Dobermann, a night watchman, wanted an extreme sort of dog that could be terrifying. This industrious German also was the town dogcatcher and had access to a variety of breeds, including the German shepherd, great Dane, and Rottweiler — which gives you an idea of what he was aiming for.

The result of Dobermann’s effort was Bismarck, the ultimate hund from hell, a black bitch whose offspring was a major hit with German people.

For all of us who have gone through the aquarium phase with our children and been awed by the ease of proliferation of the tiny fish called a guppy, you may be interested to know that the fish is native to the Caribbean and was named after an amateur Trinidadian zoologist named R. J. Lechmere Guppy.

In the 1930s, a couple of drunken Yale students munched down a pie and started playing catch with the leftover pie tin.

The game became a new sport on campus. Their pastry of choice came from Mrs. Frisbie’s Pies of Bridgeport.

Evidently, the rules of the game were to yell “Frisbie!” when aiming a pie tin in someone’s direction.

“Mrs. Frisbie sold a lot of pies — 80,000 a day in 1956,” to quote the book. (I take it she had a lot more shops in other towns by that time.)

Meanwhile, a guy by the name of Morrison created a disk especially for flying, but it wasn’t selling. Wham-O, which had just made a lot of money on hula hoops, bought his idea but needed a name.

Someone told them about the Frisbie craze at Yale, so they decided to call their flying saucer by the same name but changed the spelling to Frisbee. The rest is history.

I was fascinated to learn that those snug fitting, stretchable tights that are my uniform during the winter months in Kansas, are named after the guy who invented performing on a swinging trapeze.

You guessed it. His name was Jules Leotard. He made his first public appearance at the Cirque-Napoleon in Paris in 1859.

With his good looks and flamboyant performance he became a hit.

Leotard redesigned the usual maillot that acrobats wore into a flesh-hugging one-piece that showed off his muscles. It became known as the leotard.

I’ve had this charming, free book on my desk for a couple of weeks now. I wanted to write about some of those interesting words before I mailed it to Dagfinnr.

I hope you smiled. I hope you’ll offer at least one of these word tidbits to a friend. They make great conversation material — much better than Aunt Meg’s appendectomy.

So I stopped typing, put the book along with a gadget called a microwave omelet maker into one of those padded envelops, and headed down to our trusty post office.

It cost me $11.80 to mail this to California, and I didn’t even gasp at the price for a change. 

It’s another day in the country, and I’m wondering what word would you use to describe a grandma spending that much money to send a free book and a $5 gadget half way across the United States of America? I’d call it love.

Last modified Aug. 31, 2023

 

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