The crown joodles, the mysteries of Egg-pit, and other joys of being a mispronunciation expert
DAD'S hobby was mispronunciations. He had been fascinated with them since childhood. He was particularly partial to the mispronunciations of small children, and those that took his fancy were incorporated into his conversation forever. There was one garbled pronunciation to which he was especially devoted. This one did not come from a child, however, but from an adult of some standing in the community. This is how it came about.Skip to next paragraph
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Dad was raised on a small farm and attended a one-room schoolhouse. On one of his many school days - days packed with learning the three R's and gleaning nuggets of wisdom from ``McGuffey's Reader'' - a member of the school board visited the little schoolhouse. The teacher, perhaps wishing to impress her pupils with the honor this important man was paying them, invited him to read aloud to her class, handing him a geography book. His eye unfortunately fell on an article about Egypt, and he began to read.
The gentleman was somehow under the impression that this exotic name, Egypt, was pronounced ``Egg-pit,'' and thus he read it, with full confidence, not once, but again and again until the lengthy article was finished. The students - even the smallest of whom knew better - were both consternated and amused. In spite of their barely suppressed giggles, the school board member read doggedly on, ignorant as he was of the cause of this unseemly behavior.
Dad, who was only 8 at the time, was astounded that a grown-up could display such appalling ignorance, especially a member of the school board. He never forgot the incident, or the novel mispronunciation, which quite took his fancy. Perhaps he liked visualizing the nation in question as a huge pit filled with gleaming white eggs. At any rate, he carried this bizarre pronunciation into his adulthood, and of course, ``Egyptian'' became ``Egg-pit-ian.'' Occasionally he would forget himself before company and embarrass us by coming out quite naturally with ``Egg-pit.''
I believe it was this childhood encounter with the fascination of words mispronounced that started him down the road to his obsession. Other favorites with which he studded his conversation were ``joodles,'' for jewels, ``jouse,'' for juice, ``shursh,'' which he made do for both church and shirts, and ``windle-sill.'' All of these gems, and many others, he gleaned from his own children and grandchildren. And even his nickname, ``Bobo,'' came from a mispronunciation. Two of his grandchildren, when learning to speak, feigned inability to come closer to ``Grandpa'' than ``Bobo.'' He was pleased with the distortion and encouraged its continuance. Inevitably he became ``Bobo'' to all of us.
When night fell he would sometimes look out the window and mutter ``Duck out there!'' - a phrase he had borrowed from his small granddaughter and never returned. It was her wondering comment on the dark enveloping the house - although the first time she said it we did look out the window for the duck! And films were forever ``flims'' because of his grandson's verbal typo.
Two of the grandchildren and their mother came to live with us during World War II. I was in my late teens, and the children showed me scant respect, easily recognizing that I was not a figure of authority. They loved to tease me, because when aroused I would chase them through the house with threats like ``When I catch you, I'll knock your stupid heads together!'' IT came to pass that sometimes at the dinner table they would look at me from under their mischievous little eyebrows and say softly, ``Doris is a skunk.'' This infuriated their mother, though it didn't bother me; name-calling was not something that got to me. It was things like holding the piano pedals while I was trying to practice that caused the blood to rise. I'm sure my sister didn't care whether they called me a skunk or not. She was, however, in horror lest they call some real person a skunk. So she finally threatened them with most dreadful punishment if they ever again let this word pass their lips. Therefore a new word had to be invented - a mispronunciation, of course, of the original. Doris was now a ``skink''; but that soon palled, and I became ``dorsy-scorsy,'' and finally, ``scorsy-skink.''
Bobo was quite captivated by ``scorsy-skink.'' He felt it showed imagination and wit on the part of his talented grandchildren. From that time forward, anything he found disagreeable was ``scorsy-skink,'' which he eventually mercifully shortened to merely ``scorsy.'' He was hopeful for a while that this new and useful word would make it into the dictionary, and he and the children did their best to spread its use. But somehow it never caught on. People apparently just thought, ``Those peculiar Kernses!'' - not recognizing true creativity.
The grandchildren, now responsible and sober-suited adults, refuse to believe that they ever called their aunt a skunk or that they ever invented so absurd an expression as ``scorsy-skink.'' But Bobo carried on the tradition, calling things ``scorsy'' well into his 80s.
And he continued all his life to refer to that ever more important country as ``Egg-pit.''