Monday, April 06, 2015

Knit, Pen, or Pepto?

The immortal Robbie Burns had a few words to say about "the best laid schemes o' mice an' men," and I was certainly reminded of them this past week!

If Denis hadn't brought home a very nasty gastro-intestinal virus from the airport, if I hadn't nursed him back to health, and if I hadn't subsequently caught it and gone down for the count, all my lovely plans would have purred quietly along like a vintage Rolls Royce. Instead for almost three complete days, I was either losing bodily fluids or asleep. I couldn't knit. I couldn't even pick up a book. And I certainly couldn't drive over to Scottsdale to The Poisoned Pen for an author event as I'd intended. 

My planned Monday post backfired like an old clunker. All I could do was play a waiting game. Would all my rods and pistons start functioning properly? Would all my spark plugs fire? (I'd better get out of Motor City before I trip over a tire iron and dent my manifold!)

Fortunately, enough of my energy and brain power returned for me to think of something to write about. It's something that I've been mulling over for a week or two, and you'll never guess where I did most of my thinking: sitting in my recliner in the evening watching television and knitting. 

You know, I've never cared much for Agatha Christie's books, but I'm beginning to realize that she had something with Miss Marple. There is something about sitting quietly, feeling the soft flow of yarn through my fingers and hearing the satiny click of my knitting needles, that seems to free my mind to other tasks. I'm becoming pretty darned good at figuring out the bad guys in the mysteries I've been watching-- and it has a lot to do with voices... their tone and choice of words. What's disquieting is that-- now that I'm white-haired and have taken up knitting again-- I'm beginning to resemble Miss Marple rather more than I'd like!

Before I go any further, I thought I'd say a few words about the photo above. That bottle of pink stuff is familiar to many people, and it was a close companion to me this past week. The knitting is my latest project: an afghan done using four strands of yarn simultaneously and on needles the size of broomsticks. I'm really loving the results, and I hope the recipient does, too. All I'm wondering is... I have large hands for a woman, and I had trouble getting used to such large needles. I'd love to see someone with tiny hands try to work with them!

Anyway, back to something I "mulled".... As the inches grew on the scarves I was knitting, it occurred to me how very versatile the English language is. It borrows words from everywhere, or takes an existing one and slaps an entirely new meaning on it. And I'd bet the farm that a lot of English-speaking families have a great deal to do with this. Why? Because I confused the whiskers off my husband by using knitting terms created by my own family. I'll also bet my second farm's south forty that your family has done the same thing-- used words in an entirely new way to say what you wanted to say. Some are used once and blow away like leaves in the wind. But others are classic and become part of your family vocabulary.

For the purposes of this post, I'm only going to use the example of one family member, my grandfather (hereafter referred to as "Grampa."). He was beloved by us all for such things as referring to a vicious town gossip as "Jaws" (yes, after the movie with the killer shark), and phrases like "doesn't have the sense of last year's bird's nest." When Mom taught herself how to knit, it seemed to throw the poor man for a loop.

Mom made me some beautiful afghans that I will always have. One evening Grampa came over for a visit and saw her sitting in her chair working on a panel for a new one. "What's that you're making?" he asked. "An afghan for Mary Ann," Mom replied. "An ash can?!?" he exclaimed. "What do you want to make one of those for?" To this day, I refer to afghans as ash cans... and have confused quite a few people along the way.

It didn't take Mom long to graduate from straight needles to circular ones. For the uninitiated, circular knitting needles are two needles joined at the blunt ends with a (usually) plastic cord. Many knitters-- including me-- prefer them. Anyway, this particular evening, Mom had just begun a new project on a pair of circular needles. She'd only had a chance to knit a couple of rows, so the weight of the knitting wasn't enough to keep that plastic cord from looping back on itself. In walked Grampa, who always kept an eagle eye on anything "his girls" were doing. He took one look at Mom's new project and asked, "What are you making? Handcuffs?" Thus, the first few rows of a knitting project on circular needles are "handcuffs" to me. (Perhaps I was always destined to read crime fiction.)

That man would probably never understand that one of the reasons why I miss him so very much is because of his way with words. To me, he lives on in a very real way through language. He might even be a bit pleased at that because he always considered himself to be rather unintelligent (when the reverse was true).

Now I've blathered on quite long enough, and you know me well enough by now to know what I'm going to do next: ask some questions!

What about you and your families? How have you and yours enriched the English language? Please share with us because I know I'm not the only inquiring mind who wants to know! (As always, if you have trouble using the comment form, feel free to email me--kittlingbooks(at)gmail(dot)com-- with your comment, and I'll add it for you!)

Who knows? We just might enrich each others' vocabularies!


  1. Oh, Cathy, I'm so sorry you got sick, too!! How awful! I'm glad you're starting to feel better, though. I remember feeling the same calming effect when I used to crochet that you mention about knitting. I like Christie's work better than you do, so I'm biased. Still, I have to agree with you about Miss Marple's using her knitting time to contemplate. That sort of handwork lends itself to that. And about language? I have a background in linguistics, so I completely understand what you mean...

    1. But you don't want to share. Can't win 'em all! :-)

  2. Cathy, glad you are feeling better. What a nasty illness! And, yes, my family has certain words we use for things - can I think of any of them right now? No. I will say that there have been phrases that we used around the house that were quotes from certain TV shows and movies. Our daughter grew up saying them and not knowing that they were from Saturday Night Live or Pink Panther movies or whatnot. Later, she told us that she had watched a SNL retrospective and said, "I didn't know you guys watched SNL! I never knew you stayed up late enough to watch it!". LOL

    Oh, and knitting and I. Not so much. I tried taking knitting lessons to learn for relaxation and found myself so stressed and anxious, I gave it up. ;-)

    1. When I first learned to knit as a teenager, that's exactly what it did to me, Kay. Tied me up in knots, and it just wouldn't go fast enough. Guess I had to let enough decades pass so I could slow down to its speed, eh? :-)

  3. Your "doesn't have the sense of last year's bird's nest." reminds me to my Grampa's "don't have sense to pound sand in a rat hole." One of our other family favorites is calling trash "derbis" from a long-ago mis-reading of "debris." Glad you're feeling better!

    1. Thanks, Marty! I think my family did a lot of vocabulary addition due to poor hearing and mispronunciation. Works for me because you can have a family conference and eavesdroppers won't have a clue what you're talking about. ;-)

      "Can't pour water out of a boot with the directions written on the heel."

      "Don't know whether to stomp a mudhole in 'im or kick it dry."

      I also like how my family carried on the old timey tradition of calling recipes "receipts."

  4. This comment is from Dar, who left it on Kittling: Books' Facebook page:

    "This comment goes with your blog for today -- My Mom knitted many "africans", one for each child, grandchild and started on the greats before her stroke put an end to her knitting. I've been working on the same "african" for almost 30 years! Maybe I'll finish it before I croak! ,.. or maybe not!! ;)"

    1. "Africans"? I love it! I'm not saying that this is what happened in your family's case, but I think many of my own family's vocabulary additions are due to poor hearing and mispronunciation! ;-)


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