Flash Fiction #12

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Humor With Impact

I didn’t often receive packages here at my little accounting office.  I didn’t remember ordering any supplies, yet, here was Mr. FredEx, with a basketball-sized parcel.  What could it be?  There’s a note on top.

“Dear Brother;

I found this at a yard sale the other day and thought of you.  Find a place to display it.  Just a reminder that you’ll always be my favorite ButtHead.

Your loving sister

Nancy”

Ha, ha, very funny.  I’d been subjected to this type of humor for years.  The Amish, at the Pioneer Museum, sell hand-made brooms.  Perhaps turnabout is fair play – Witch.

 

Go to Rochelle’s Addicted To Purple Blog, and use her Wednesday photo as a prompt to write a complete 100 word story.

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Name That Occupation

Since I did a post about what’s in a name, I decided to do another about names, from a different perspective.  In my preoccupation with word meanings and etymology (history), I once made the unfounded claim that English surnames which ended in “er” were descriptions of what ancestors did for a living.  While mainly true, there are a few which aren’t.

Thayer (or Tayer) means descendant of an Anglo-Saxon lord named Theodoric.  He gave his name to the Thay (Tay) river in the south of Scotland, so a Thayer was anyone who lived within its catchment.  The name Newcomer, mostly shortened to Newcomb, is obvious.

Since few people are as fascinated with the language as I am, I am not surprised that folks often don’t know the history and meanings of words they (mis)use every day.  I am somewhat surprised that so few people know the origins of their family name.  When the census-takers for the Domesday Book came around in the late 11th century, what people did for a living often became their identification.

Language, spelling and technology drift have often concealed to modern folk, how their distant relatives made a buck….or a thruppence.  Baker and Fisher are still obvious.  A Bower bowed to his betters, because he was a general servant.  A Bowyer, on the other hand, was in the lord’s militia.  Bowman is the more modern equivalent, without the “er”.  While we’re playing with bows and arrows, Archer shot them, and (Jessica) Fletcher put the feathers on them.

A Walker walked/trod on soaking newly woven cloth, to felt (thicken) it.  A Turner ran a woodworking lathe.  A Parker maintained the lord’s park, and a Palmer had been a pilgrim to the Holy Land (palm trees).  Coopers originally fabricated small crates like pigeon coops, or chicken coops.  Later they specialized in cylinders with curved sides, and became barrel-makers.

Chandlers started by making/selling candles.  When sea-faring trade grew, ships required many candles, and those who provided them branched out to providing all things needed for ocean voyages, and the name Chandler came to mean “ship provisioner.”

People sometimes ask if a butler, buttles.  The king who ordered the Domesday census was French, and some English names came from French.  Originally, a butler was a “bouteillier”, the wine steward.  As the job expanded, he became a gentleman’s gentleman. Frankly, Rhett wouldn’t have given a damn.  That same linguistic drift has turned the likes of the Anglo-Saxon Farnsworth, into the frog Phaneuf.

At a meeting of the Kitchener council, some years ago, a suggestion was made that a particularly thorny problem be referred to Weaver, Tanner and Miller.  One of the dimmer lights on the council objected to letting “a bunch of tree-hugging artisans” have a look at private city business.  Someone had to explain that they were a well-known and respected consulting firm.  It’s just that their ancestors wove cloth, made leather, and ground grain, respectively.

Tanner’s cousin, Cordwainer, made specialty Cordovan leather, and like the Chandler expansion above, decided to make shoes from it.  A cordovaner became a shoe-maker named Cordwainer.  His partner, Cobbler, has almost as rare a name.

There are many occupation names which don’t end in “er.”  A Wright was someone who fabricated something; therefore the description is playwright, not playwrite.  Wrightson was his kid.  A wagon maker was a Wainwright, and Little Joe Cartwright made little carts.  Carter was the guy who was the medieval FedEx, making quick deliveries in his small, agile vehicle.

Like our neighbors, the Wrights, we Smiths produced things too.  I am happy that, as a minor writer and language-lover, I can describe myself as a wordsmith.  The family names Goldsmith and Silversmith came into being, but are reserved almost exclusively for Jews.  In direct opposition to the Chandlers, our job scale reduced until the only Smiths were the guys pounding on hot iron.

One reason the name Smith is so common is that every city, town and village, no matter how small, had a guy wielding Thor’s hammer.  Another reason is that semi-literate immigration officials, faced with a name with 27 consonants and no vowels, just put down SMITH.  An ethnic-Chinese co-worker, with the Thai name Phoumey Siamanotham, had an Immigrations official tell him, “Your name is long,” so he opened bank accounts and got a job under the name Long.

My name Smith came from the Anglicizing of Schmidt, but, before spelling rules became quite so rigid, Smidt, Smit, and Schmit also existed.  They all came from the Middle-German name Schmeid, which carried the connotation of heavy fabricator, a blacksmith rather than a shoemaker.  Not surprisingly, its partner, the German name Bender, means light fabricator.  The forebears of the actor Michael Fassbender were Master Fabricators.

What about you, my gentle readers?  Do you have, or do you know anyone with, an occupation name?  Have you ever thought about it?

 

Coals To Newcastle

I say that I didn’t know what a “Newfy” was until after I moved here to the Big City, but that’s not exactly true.  A Newfy (or Newfie) is a resident, or ex-resident of Newfoundland, the easternmost Province of Canada.  It’s a big rock that sits in the Atlantic Ocean.  I said in a previous post that a redneck might live a bit further off the paved road than most of us.  Just imagine a place that requires a boat to get to, not just the big Rock, but little fishing villages along its coast, outports, which have no roads, and must be reached by smaller boat.

It’s a delightful place.  Even in the few cities, life moves at a slower, more casual pace.  Because of the collapse of the fishing industry, large numbers of Newfies had to leave the Rock, to seek employment elsewhere.  Many of them moved to Alberta, to work in the oil industry.  It is said that, there are more Newfies in Fort McMurray, Alberta, than there are left on the island.  This is almost ironic, because they have now discovered oil under the ocean bed, just off Newfoundland, and many of these experienced workers can now return home to work in their own Province again.

They have been insular in the past, because they are, literally insular.  There had not been a great deal of cultural cross-pollination. The Province, and the people of it, continue to grow towards integration with the rest of Canada, and the rest of the world, because of improved communications abilities.  Still, they have their own ways of doing things.

One of the men of my home-town came back from the Second World War with a wife, a woman he met and married when he was posted in Newfoundland.  She was a bit eccentric, but really, not much different from some of the other characters in the comedy stage-play that was my little town, not until the strawberry jam.

We had had a beautiful spring, and early summer.  It had been perfect weather for strawberries, not just my area, but the entire eastern section of Canada.  Supply and demand, you could obtain as many as you wanted, at bargain-basement prices.  This lady bought flats and flats of them….and then had to figure out what to do with them.  “I know, I’ll make fajitas jam”, so jam she made.  Now, what to do with all this jam?

She decided that she would send some of it back to her sister, still in Newfoundland, despite the fact that the strawberry crop there, was even better than it was in Ontario.  Now, “normal” people (myself not included) might have called up FedEx, or maybe taken it down to the nearest Canada Post office, for shipping.  Dat’s not de way we Newfs does t’ings.

She knew a Newfie guy in a town about a hundred miles away, so she called him up to ask if he was “goin’ home” that summer.  He admitted that he was, so she asked him if he would take this case of jam back with him.  He was happy to oblige.  To get the jam to him necessitated picking a mutually empty Sunday, and driving the hundred miles, two hours, to get it to him.  And then it was, sit down and chew the fat, have some rum, and maybe a few beers, and you’ll be staying for supper, and then some more gabfest and rum and beers, and another hundred-mile drive home.  Nothing to it.

He eventually drove it down east, and over to The Rock on the ferry.  When he got where he was going, he phoned the sister and her husband, long-distance.  Like the Ontario end, they lived a hundred miles away too.  Then the game started all over again, this time in reverse.  Pick a day, drive the hundred miles, almost three hours, the roads in Newfoundland aren’t quite up to mainland standards.  Shoot the shit, drink the rum, stay for supper, yak till the flying fish come home, and then drive three hours back.  Because of the isolation, almost any excuse is accepted for socializing and a wee party.

When the ride finally came to a stop, the sister in the wilds of Newfoundland phoned the sister in the wilds of Southern Ontario to ask why she had sent this jam down….without asking, or warning.  “I’ve got a pantry full of the stuff.  I’m trying to give some of mine away too.”

A small vignette about Newfoundland hospitality.  Another female co-worker came to Ontario with her parents when she was eight years old.  She didn’t have a chance to “Go Home”, as they say, until she was 23.  She’d graduated, got her first job and saved for vacation.  It had been fifteen long, very formative years.  The thing she missed the most, and the first thing she wanted to see again, was her beloved grandmother.

She went over and knocked on Granny’s door.  Grandma greeted her with a big smile and an invitation to come in.  Sit down, girl.  Would you like some tea and scones, and jam?  And how are you this fine day?  Small talk for ten or fifteen minutes, finally Granny looked at her and said, “So, you must tell me.  Who are you darlin’?”  As far as she knew, she’d been entertaining a perfect stranger, and was amazed to meet her own granddaughter.  You or I might find that strange but, down there, if somebody knocks on your door, there must be a good reason.  They’re home, and they’re welcome.