• Richard Scrimger

kitty wampus?


I'm not back. Not back home, that is. I am blogging from the depths of Vancouver Island, far far far from the road which leads to a small town. I'm staying at a friend's house for a few days while I drive around talking to schools and libraries. (Is that metonymy or synecdoche? You know -- the container for the thing contained. I will not, you understand, be talking to the buildings but to the kids inside.)


WHOA! Just spent five minutes on the web, and am intrigued as heck to find out that container for the thing contained is - depending on the site - both synecdoche and metonymy. The two terms seem to be used synonymously. (I know the web is not the revealed word of God, but it is an excellent guide to popular perception. Today's web wisdom is tomorrow's truth.) There is a difference, isn't there? I remember Mr Himmelfahrt (yes, that was his name, and you'd better believe we got maximum giggle-mileage out of it) teaching us to distinguish between the two terms in Grade 9. Speaking of the poor man, if I were an old fart I might get on my hind legs at this point, and start griping about lazy modern grammarians, and no rules, and what's the world coming to (and then drift off into a rant about kids today and no respect and rap music and baggy clothes and the good old days) which would all be more effective if I could remember Mr H's synecdoche lesson ... and if I cared very much about it.


See, I believe in our living language. I love listening to my kids make nouns into verbs and adjectives, treating the dictionary like play doh. Yes, there's a lot of laziness out there, and some core vocabulary words get stretched out of recognition. But there's lots of room for creativity. Yesterday I heard a kid say that Vancouver Island was set "kitty wampus" -- meaning that it was not aligned to the north-south axis. I asked where the term came from, and she shrugged, embarrassed at my interest. The guy beside her said, I thought you made it up. She shrugged again. I hope she did make it up.


Hmmm. Looking at the words, I can't help wondering if there is a First Nations connection. Am I guilty of some kind of ethnic slurring? If so, sorry. My approval of changing and growing language does not include more ways to say mean things. I should probably check, but I am lazy and running out of time. I'd rather speculate.


(Hmmm again. In fact, am I guilty of ethnic or linguistic stereotyping simply by considering the First Nations connection?)


Drat. An oversensitive social consciousness can produce an allergic reaction, the body rushing to defend itself from an attack that is not in fact dangerous. Now I am just confused. An approporiate place to leave off for today.

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Richard Scrimger | scrimgerr@gmail.com | Toronto, ON, Canada