(The following column first appeared Monday, Oct. 26, 2009 edition of the Clarion.)
Not long ago —sixth grade, I think it was —a boy walked up to me on the school playground and asked whether I was Glynn Moore. It was a small school, and he would have figured it out eventually, so I admitted I was.
“I’ve got the teacher you had last year,’’ he said, “and she’s always telling us how, when you didn’t know a word, you’d go to the dictionary and look it up.”
“Shucks, twarn’t nothing,” I started to say, but he held up a hand to stop me:
“Whenever kids in our class don’t know a word, she makes us go look it up, too. You’ve ruined it for everyone,” he muttered before storming off.
We all have our addictions, even if it is to Webster’s . I haven’t been able to shake the habit. You’d think I would be smart by now, but anything I learn pushes some other tidbit of knowledge out of my brain, so at best I’m maintaining the status quo.
I still try, though. Just a week ago, for instance, I read a book review describing an author as “a veritable magpie” of the Great Depression’s various traits.
I knew what a magpie was. I had learned that as a child the way I gained all my cultural learning —from cartoons.
Heckle and Jeckle, you remember, were wisecracking magpies: black crowlike birds. One had a British accent and the other spoke Brooklynese, though I’m sure magpies in nature know very little English of any variety.
How could an author be a magpie? Thumbing through the dictionary, I found another meaning of magpie: a collector, because the bird likes to collect shiny objects.
The word combines a shortened form of Margaret —Mag —and pie. Margaret, because hundreds of years ago people associated the birds’ chattering behavior with women. (Sorry.)
Pie, or pye, is another way to say magpie, which is, naturally, “a jaylike corvid, passerine bird characterized by black and white coloring, a long tapering tail, and a habit of noisy chattering.”
Sometimes definitions need defining. A corvid is a member of a large family of birds that includes crows. Passerine means sparrow and is an order of perching songbirds.
Then there’s piebald, which means of two colors, especially black and white. (I remember Heckle and Jeckle as all black, but I’ve also found pictures of them with white breasts.)
On the Internet, I saw a comic book superheroine named Magpie, whose secret identity is —you guessed it —Margaret Pye. You’d think her friends would have figured that out.
MOORE ON WORDS: One word I relearned last week was “gracious,” which describes the members of the Suburban Woman’s Club of Augusta as I spoke at their monthly meeting.
I’m no public speaker, so I hedged my acceptance until I had filled in for the teacher of my adult Sunday school class.
Miraculously, I survived that assignment, so I called Dot Jacobson, who is in charge of public affairs for the club, and accepted. I offered to tell all I knew about Gideon, since that was still fresh in my memory.
The club members had other ideas, and after warmly welcoming me they asked many well-informed questions about newspapers in general and our newspaper in particular.
They also fed me, which was a bonus. Are you listening, Sunday school class?
Reach Glynn Moore at (706) 823-3419 or firstname.lastname@example.org.