Friday, September 19, 2008

A Hogeous Post

Tolstoy wrote " Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way". What he didn't mention is that every family, happy or unhappy, speaks its own language. A lexicon peculiar to that family and its members, trickling down through generations, enhanced by new additions to the family through marriage and passed on. An oral tradition, if you will.

My mother's family had a rich tradition of words. I don't think so many words have ever been spoken in all of New England as were uttered by her family. By volume alone they are staggering. I did not know, however, nor suspected as a child, that the language I was learning from my mother was not quite English but some strange concoction resembling English and complementing English, yet wholly their own invention.

My mother's version of family history includes a huge migratory period of her ancestors from the Ukraine, traveling ever westward across Europe, settling in England for a time and then ending up in the American colonies and Canada. I am not sure what they were running from, this was never made clear to me, but apparently it was greatly appreciated that England had provided asylum for them in their flight from whatever it was. It may have had something to do with their brief stint in France.

In any case they were so indebted to England for something, not sure what ( not throwing them out perhaps) that they refused to fight against the English in the Revolutionary War and became outcasts once more, being forced to flee to Canada due to their unpopularity. By this time, I should think they would have gotten used to being chased out of countries.

I mention this as it may hold the keys to some of the words and sayings that I heard as a child, and still use today despite the occasional odd stare. "Hogeous" is a perfect example. I am not sure of the spelling, this is how my mind's eye always saw it spelled. It may well be spelled "hojus" but I doubt it, that would be spelling it as it sounds. I am sure that is too sensible an idea to be true.

Hogeous has many uses, usually meaning something vile or distasteful, often related to pungent smells. However it can also be used to describe a rather unpleasant dish being served to you, as in "I dont know what they had to run down on the road to make that stew, but it was hogeous"!

Anything cunnin' was cute. A soulcase was a person, most often a child. If you were called a cunnin' soulcase, you could be sure that meant they liked you. You did not want to be called a poohcat, though I confess to not knowing what that was. It was just bad. Something hogeous.

My mother had a gift for delegation and if you were so insubordinate as to ask why you were elected to any unpleasant chore, she would simply shrug and say "Why keep dogs and bark myself"? We were advised to "scud to school or you'll rue it". Education was important, and we had to scud to get it.

And then there was the mysterious medical condition known as a "split straddle". A girl always had to be careful of certain types of physical activities such as riding a boy's bike with the bar across, as there was a possibility that she might "split her straddle". She usually followed this up with the story of a girl she had known personally who had this happen to her, and it was horrible and irreparable. That touch of realism usually did it for me. My mother was good at supplying horrifying graphic images to make sure you were sufficiently emotionally scarred.

And more than anyone I ever met, my mother knew how to use words to her advantage. I remember her telling my father "Jack, I am your wife. Your money is my money and no one is going to tell me how to spend my money". Her logic was impeccable.

Now I must go and do my daily readings. Reading the blogs of others is a great way to avoid writing your own. I mean, why keep blogs and write myself?

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