It May Not Be a Word, But That's How I Spell It

Not long ago, the morning radio told me the Boston police had been called at 2 in the morning to a small family disturbance in the Roxbury district. Before peace was restored, they arrested 54 people. Something of the same kind of small disturbance was happily averted lately when our docile editor refused to become excited because I inadvertently misspelled the word "lulciticated" in an otherwise faultless dispatch. I thank him for his polite and erudite posture, and I also thank the gentle lady down South who called this grievous fault to our attention.

She said she couldn't find it in the Oxford English Dictionary, and for that she has my apology. I neglected to notify them that I was about to use the word. From the lady's good letter about this, I assume she does not know that it took the French Academy 26 years to let the word zut into the official dictionary of the French language.

For that many years and more, people went to the dictionary to look up zut, and as it could not be found they would rush home and write letters to the French Academy or Le Figaro. The entire scholarship of La Belle France was meantime all up in a heaval.

It is considerable of an indignity to be mistreated by the Oxford English Dictionary, and I wish I had the consoling gift of comfort to relieve this lady's embarrassment. Thus we are taught that a careless dalliance with a single letter can cause widespread concern and we should be ever extra careful about almost anything.

I found myself, in reminiscent fancy, back in school the day Miss Ashworth asked George Hunter how he spelled the word "unresponsive." I believe George got two "w's" and a "q" in there somehow, and Miss Ashworth said, "George, that's not right!"

George, already a confirmed logical positivist, merely replied, "Right or wrong, that's how I spell it."

The good lady's reprimand also made me think of a trial we had years ago in the United States court at Bangor, Justice Peters presiding. This was a case of almost no importance at all, so the Justice Department in Washington sent up only the minimum of 12 lawyers to prosecute. They were a handsome lot, with brocaded brief cases and large loose-leaf folders of replicated laud. Every time they came in, Judge Peters would stand.

The case involved, as I remember, whether "suitcase" should be pronounced with two shirts or one. And somewhere in the sequence of the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but, one down-Maine lobster-catcher had taken a large amount of umbrage and had belted another Maine lobster-catcher with it so his ears lit up like twin pinwheels and he went overboard into 15 fathoms of a coming tide. This was construed by the recipient as a hostile act. The defense (represented, for $12.50, by Henry Murch, attorney-at-law in East Machias) held to a different view. One of the Washington lawyers asked the gentleman of the first (and only) blow if he was mad at the gentleman he struck.

He assumed an expression of incredulity and said, "Daow!"

Judge Peters was dozing at the moment, and the lawyers knew better than to interrupt. But when, a few moments later, Judge Peters declared a recess, the bevy of Washington lawyers followed him into chambers. As soon as the door was closed, one of the distinguished attorneys said, "What does 'daow' mean?"

Judge Peters, who was Maine-born and -bred, smiled patronizingly and said, "The court is familiar with the word." That was that.

Back in the enlightened days of the FDR gobbledygook, we had a Democrat here in Maine who had failed his sawdust-sorting exams. Accordingly, he was appointed chief of the Emergency Agency for the Funding of Residual Activities (EAFRA), and he'd issue a bulletin on Future Planning every day. Every bulletin would use the word "finalize" over and over. One day, in a joshing but helpful mood, I said to him, "There is no such word as 'finalize.' "

He said, "Of course there is! I get it every morning in my briefing from Washington!"

'FINALIZE," for all I know, may be in the Oxford English Dictionary this very minute. But I expect you will find "daow!" only in the speech of Maine coastal people as an over-positive Down-East "no!" that emphasizes the negative beyond any possibility of doubt. It also tells you that you've asked a foolish question. If you are a Maine lobsterman and another Maine lobsterman asks you if they're crawlin', you say "daow!" Everywhere else, lobsters swim, and everywhere else, people say "yes" and "no."

"Yes" is "eyah."

Lobsters are caught only when they're crawlin', and if they don't crawl you might's well not bother to haul. I felt I should mention this before everybody runs to the dictionary.

To the good lady who wonders about "lulciticated": I have asked Pud Greegier, who uses the word all the time, to give us its meaning. He says it means "partially refined by the Cities Service Corporation in Decatur, Ala." I told Pud that Decatur is in Georgia, and he got uppity and said, "So what?"

Come to think about it, this whole thing is like the game we play. You meet somebody on the street and you say, "Think they'll have it?"

Answers are innumerable:

"The tents are up!"

"They just went by with a rope."

"I sold my 10 tickets."

"It was last week!"

But if you reply, "Have what?" you just missed whatever it was.

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