It’s hot. So this month I’m offering up a smorgasbord of bite-sized chunks that can be consumed between sips from a sweating glass of iced tea or lemonade. Bon appétit!
Britain bound: As I write, I’m preparing for my first visit to England. A friend and I are going, and I calculate my friend has spent about as much time planning this trip as Allied strategists spent planning the Normandy Invasion. My friend has, among other things, emailed me links to a vast array of online resources, including travel insurance plans, London sights, and a YouTube video of packing tips courtesy of The Container Store. For my part, I have re-read “The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes.” It should be an interesting trip. One thing I’ve wondered about: is there a Fourth of July in England?
Whew: Speaking of the Fourth, many years ago I proofread a book chiefly set in the Revolutionary War era. The author mentioned several things I had never thought about — like how it must have smelled in the room in the Pennsylvania State House (later Independence Hall) as members of the Second Continental Congress hashed out the wording of the Declaration of Independence. Think about it: Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin and others worked on the document for days on end. Summertime. No air-conditioning. People didn’t take a lot of baths in those days.
Reunions abound: I went to one high school and two universities, and I worked for four newspapers before becoming a teacher. My wife, Julie, went to one high school, one college and one university, and has had five jobs since grad school. So, between us we’re invited to at least one reunion a year. Right now I have two reunions coming up: that of my own high school class and the one that graduated two years afterward. I was surprised when I received the invitation to that latter reunion. Frankly, I didn’t think I was that popular.
I have to admit I have dreaded a few reunions. Last summer, for instance, I was invited to a class reunion, and I knew I was likely to run into a big guy who wanted to fight the last time I saw him. Understand, I was not worried about any fisticuffs after all these years, but perhaps a lingering resentment expressed in the form of a lukewarm handshake and a half-hearted greeting. On the drive to the reunion I considered turning around and going home, but I told myself I was being silly; let the past be the past.
Of course the big guy was one of the first people I saw when I walked into the reunion hall. He immediately put his arm around my neck in a friendly embrace and said, “I remember that time …?” Then he fondly recalled a perilous ride we took one rainy Sunday afternoon in my falling-apart ’55 Chevy. I would need another page to tell that story, but let’s just say my guardian angel was working overtime that Sabbath.
As usual, I had far more fun at that reunion than I had anticipated. Everyone had mellowed and was happy to see each other. I had to leave much too soon.
Just kidding: OK, my question about whether there’s a Fourth of July in England was a feeble attempt at humor. Of course there’s a Fourth of July in England, just as there is in France, Spain, Austria and many other countries. But those nations don’t celebrate July 4 as a holiday the way we do here in the States.
Mother tongue: In preparing for my trip abroad, I’ve also started reading Bill Bryson’s Mother Tongue: English and How It Got That Way. The book is filled with fascinating tidbits. Bryson states that William Shakespeare used 17,677 words in his writings and made up at least a tenth of them. Shakespeare’s gifts to the English language include barefaced, critical, leapfrog, monumental, obscene, submerged, fretful, gust, lonely and summit, according to Bryson.
In discussing words whose meanings have changed, Bryson notes that neck was once used to describe a piece of land. That meaning has disappeared except in the expression “neck of the woods.” Tell used to mean to count. That’s how we got the name bank teller.
Bryson also notes that goodbye is a contraction of the phrase “God be with ye.” So, with that, this seems like a good place to wish folks a good time at the ball games, cookouts and fireworks displays. Be safe. Goodbye.