Frank Maguire
Having mischievous fun with words
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By Frank Maguire
June 18, 2010

"The pubs of Dublin are loaded with drinkers who have writing problems." Tour bus driver in Dublin, Ireland

Some readers may have noticed that I start a number of my offerings with "years ago." I indicate to myself, this way, that many things I can't seem to remember, I really do remember. I just have a problem remembering them in the midst of a "Hey, do you remember...ummmmm...you know...that guy...I think he worked at...what was the name of that place???...you know...."

Later, I remember everything in detail, but by then it doesn't matter, for the moment has passed. No seemingly miraculous esprit d'escalier, as the French would say. So, friends, when now I write "years ago" I want you to know that I have prepared myself to accurately present my tale.

Years ago, about twelve, in a land called Oregon, I was involved in the birth of a monthly publication, in East Multnomah County, at the confluence of the beautiful and historic Columbia and Sandy Rivers: the "Gateway to the Gorge."

The publisher is an incredible young woman who is, also, a lady (a shame that we have to make the distinction these days). Her name is Jolinn Kampstra, and the monthly — the "best of its breed in the U.S." — is the Northwest Connection. We have done well, and reach a goodly number of folk in both Oregon and Washington. (But, shhhh! In larboard Portland we must function samizdat.)

When NWConnection made its debut, and some of my scribblings were dispersed among the populace, one gal, who had a loose connection with friends of mine, presented her opinion of my copious operārī.

The gal said, "Why do you use words that most people don't understand; you don't write for the New York Times, you know." I hesitated before responding because I wanted to be somewhat circumspect, circumlocutory, and ambagious. Naturally, I didn't explain this to her in such terms. No doubt she would have told me that I was being recondite. (Yeh, right!)

So, to gal I said, "Well, like, you know, I mean...what's so tough about having to look a word up?" (Or is it "having up to look a word?") Knowing the business she was in, which required that she read documents produced by bureaucrats, designed to thoroughly befuddle the public, I added, "You read all of that gibberish that the government imposes upon the unsuspecting, and you don't seem to have a problem with that. Most of the public can read that grueling jargon from now until some politician tells a truth and never understand it."

I went on to say that "Also, I'm not just a writer, I'm a teacher. I have the antiquated notion that most persons actually read to learn something. When I went to grade-school, and said 'Sister St. Rita, what does this word mean?' the good teacher would say 'Look it up.' It's amazing what good, useful habits one can acquire from a good teacher."

Well, folks, lemme tell ya, the gal glared at me, in her feminist-chauvinista way (now, that's scarier than even Helen Thomas or Nancy Grace!). She said, "You know, Frank, when I first met you, I thought 'what a pain in the neck,' but now I have a much lower opinion of you."

I, literally, laughed out loud. I had a flashback to the time, "years ago," when Bill Buckley and Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. were at some lecture that had to do with Redwood forests. Schlesinger, the gremlin, whispered into Bill's ear, "Bill, better Redwood than deadwood?"

Well now, Buckley loves anyone capable of such a witticism. Bill responded to Arthur, "You have just gained a plenary indulgence."

After my good laugh, I told gal, "Wonderful! I had no idea that you had a sense of humor. It doesn't show. I enjoyed your comment so much that I offer you a plenary indulgence." Mischievous leprechaun, I!

As I left her, I noticed that her sense of humor was even less evident. Maybe because she was working on "plenary indulgence?" But I was quaking with mirth. I continued to think about the exchange, and an anecdote about Dr. Samuel Johnson came to mind.

Seems that Dr. Johnson was walking down a London street, under the overhang of a half-timbered house, when some female antagonist, upset with Johnson for some reason, bellowed down some less than laudatory language upon the great lexicographer's sizable head.

Johnson, who was used to being chastised, especially by females, took it in stride. He looked upward and said to the rancorous harridan, "Madame! You obviously have a hypotenuse in your attic."

Samuel Johnson ranks, in my book, as the Chief of Mischief when it comes to language usage. Count me as an acolyte.

© Frank Maguire

 

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Frank Maguire

Frank Maguire was born in Dorchester, MA, 1938, attended schools in Massachusetts, California, and Arizona, where he completed degrees in music and English writing/Journalism. Frank has been married to Helen Isabel Maguire née Estevez of Culver City, California, since 1957. They have six children, 14 grandchildren, and 10 great grandchildren.

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