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Speaking of mothers...

By Mary WiltenburgStaff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / May 8, 2002



From bowling to nursery rhymes, patron saints to iron ore, our language is peppered with references to motherhood. We all have a motherland, a mother tongue, and, we hope, some mother wit – but how many know what it means to spot a mother cloud, or serve in the Mother Green? This Mother's Day, the Monitor looks at some familiar "mothers" – and some you may not have heard of.

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Mother Ann

The founder and spiritual leader of the American Society of Shakers, Ann Lee was born in Manchester, England, in 1736 and worked as a child in the textile mills. When her own four children died young, she joined a religious group referred to as the "Shaking Quakers," whose members gave themselves over to being physically and spiritually "moved by the spirit of God."

Ann began having visions and attracting followers among the group; she felt Christ Jesus was speaking to her directly. While imprisoned for her beliefs, she had a vision of Jesus and told her followers that his appearance to her "showed that his second coming would be as a woman." Historians disagree about whether her followers believed her to be this second coming, or merely a prophet. Either way, in 1774 they traveled with her to America to escape further persecution.

Mother cloud

The cloud from which the funnel of a tornado descends.

Mother Green

A nickname for the United States Marine Corps, used by career soldiers during the Vietnam War.

Mother Goose

No one knows if this legendary author of popular children's rhymes – often pictured as an old woman riding on a gander – ever existed. Scholars who believe she did suggest as her namesake everyone from the biblical Queen of Sheba to Charlemagne's mother, Queen Bertha.

Others argue for a woman named Elizabeth Goose, Vergoose, or Vertigoose, who supposedly lived in colonial Boston. But no evidence supports these claims.

More likely, the title of the famous 1781 nursery rhyme collection "Mother Goose's Melody" was derived from an engraving in the front of a 1697 book of fairy tales by French author Charles Perrault. It features an old woman telling a tale; a sign behind her reads "Contes de Ma Mère L'Oye" (or "Tales of My Mother Goose,"), an expression meaning "old wives' tales."

In 1768, an English version of Perrault's book was published under the title "Mother Goose's Tales." The book was so popular that its publisher, John Newbery, decided to capitalize on its fame by releasing "Mother Goose's Melody."

Mother Hubbard

A term used alternately to refer to a long shapeless dress often worn for housework, or to the woman supposed to have worn it: a 16th-century character from the Mother Goose rhyme beginning "Old Mother Hubbard/ Went to the cupboard/ To fetch her poor dog a bone...."

Mother-in-law

This term for the mother of a person's husband or wife doubles as the name of the back seat on a two-seater airplane and the number 7 pin in bowling.

Mother Jones

Charismatic spitfire Mary Harris Jones was a legendary labor organizer of the early 1900s. After a childhood of abject poverty in Ireland, she lost her husband and four young children to yellow fever and vowed to do something for the working poor. She earned a reputation as a fierce eccentric with a sharp tongue and a gift for rallying people around her. Among the leaders of several union and political groups, she organized miners, bottle washers, child mill workers, steelworkers, and streetcar operators.

Mother lode

Literally the name for the main vein of ore in a mine, the expression "to hit the mother lode" has, since the 1880s, meant "to strike it rich."

Mother Teresa

Winner of the Nobel Prize for her work with the poor of Calcutta, India, Mother Teresa was born Agnes Bojaxhiu in Skopje, now the capital of Macedonia, in 1910. At 18 she left home to do missionary work, only to spend the next 20 years teaching in an aristocratic Calcutta convent school.

In 1950, she received permission from the Vatican to start her own order, the Missionaries of Charity, who vow "to put [themselves] entirely and wholeheartedly at the free service of the poor." Today the order numbers more than 3,000 sisters, 500 brothers, and 4 million lay workers worldwide; their projects include street outreach, clinics, children's homes, homes for the dying, and a leper colony.

Necessity is ...

Where would've Edison been without it?

Mother's Day

Julia Ward Howe, who wrote "The Battle Hymn of the Republic," suggested the idea of a "Mothers' Peace Day" in 1872, but the first public observance of Mother's Day in the US was in 1907, in Grafton, W.Va. That year Anna Jarvis of Philadelphia asked her mother's old church to host a celebration on the anniversary of the death of her mother, a Civil War-era activist. Many cities and states adopted the tradition before President Woodrow Wilson declared Mother's Day, celebrated on the second Sunday in May, a national holiday in 1914.

Unfortunately, Ms. Jarvis's achievement soon turned sour for her, and she spent her maternal inheritance campaigning – even filing lawsuits and getting arrested – to stop the commercialization of the holiday. Shortly before her death, she told a reporter that she was sorry she had ever started Mother's Day.

Sources: 'The Random House Historical Dictionary of American Slang,' 'The Oxford Dictionary of Phrase and Fable,' 'What Where When New England,' Mojo Wire, 'The Facts on File Encyclopedia of Word and Phrase Origins,' and the Nobel Museum.

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