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All contents herein (except the illustrations, which are in the public domain) are Copyright © 1995-2020 Evan Morris & Kathy Wollard. Reproduction without written permission is prohibited, with the exception that teachers in public schools may duplicate and distribute the material here for classroom use.

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November 2012 Issue

Semper Ubi Sub Ubi

readme: 

OK, it’s not November. November was not a good month. October wasn’t so hot, either. There will be a December issue as soon as I can muster one.

We went to a doctor’s appt. in Columbus, 40 miles away, in late October and somebody kicked in our back door and robbed us. We don’t have much of anything anyone would want, but these creeps went straight upstairs to the bedroom and took some heirloom jewelry (grandparents’ rings, etc.) that they found in a drawer. Unfortunately, what they took was not only emotionally important to Kathy, the only direct, physical mementos of her parents and grandparents, but also our last-resort, end-of-the-world nest egg. Now we’ve really got nuttin’.

It was a weirdly fastidious robbery; they closed the drawers and some boxes on the dresser, and closed the back door on their way out. If they hadn’t cracked the door frame and part of the wall next to it, we might not have noticed the robbery for days. The Sheriff’s Deputy who came to investigate suggested that, based on the method, it might be the work of either a family member or a neighbor, but we lack an eligible relative and it has since become apparent that our robbery was just one of about a dozen identical crimes that have swept our general are in recent weeks. What we need now is an alarm system that plays the sound of somebody racking a 12-gauge pump shotgun.

Brownie & Fifi the Cat

What happened next is hard to write about, so I’m going to keep this short. Our beloved dog Brownie died the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, apparently of a seizure of some kind as she slept on the living room floor. Brownie was 14-1/2 years old. She was our best friend, the most wonderful, loving, smart, sweet dog I have ever known. We got her as a foundling puppy soon after we moved to Ohio from NYC, and we were lucky to have spent all day every day with her ever since. Apart from some arthritis, she had no known health problems; I had taken her for a walk earlier in the day around the yard, and she seemed fine. I’m glad she wasn’t sick, I’m glad she could still play ball with me in the living room the night before she died, I’m glad she knew how much we loved her, but we miss her terribly. She was the third person in the house, and it seems impossible that she isn’t sleeping downstairs right now.

Onward. Because this seems to be how the universe works, I greeted Thanksgiving Day by coming down with either the worst case of food poisoning possible or, more likely, a killer case of some Norovirus. Whatever it was meant a solid week of Exorcist-level projectile vomiting and inability to eat that left me too weak to walk and severely dehydrated. Multiple Sclerosis acts as a force multiplier in such things, so everything hurt like hell and my eyes went completely blurry, making it impossible to read. I seem to be on the mend now, but I lost about ten pounds and I still feel yucky and my eyes are still iffy. Thanksgiving, of course, simply did not happen.

Have I mentioned that today is my birthday? Oh, yay.

But the Holidays are here, and Subscriptions make lovely holiday gifts! So please consider giving a few. And random acts of contribution are, of course, always appreciated.

And now, on with the show….

 

Hoon

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Hay mow

Hey Now

Dear Word Detective: I grew up on a farm in central Illinois. We always referred to the upper part of the barn as the “hay mow.” A great place to play! My friend who grew up on a Missouri farm didn’t know what I was talking about. She said they simply called it the “hay loft.” So what does “mow” mean? It’s not pronounced like “moe,” but like “cow.” — Susan.

Interesting question. It took me a while after moving from New York City to rural Ohio to learn the difference between hay (various kinds of grass, etc., used primarily as food for livestock) and straw (dried stalks of threshed grain, used primarily for livestock bedding). A few years ago, our neighbor, who has about three acres of front lawn (as do we), got sick of having to mow it every week (as do I). Now he just mows around the edges and grows hay in the middle, which he sells to a local farmer. I’d love to do the same, but we have too many trees. Perhaps we should sell both hay and firewood.

The key to the mystery of “hay-mow” (and the reason that the “mow” in “hay-mow” rhymes with “cow”) is that there are actually two separate “mows” in English. (Truth be told, there are eleven “mows,” six nouns and five verbs, but we’re only going to examine the two most common forms.)

When we “mow” (rhymes with “moe”) the lawn, we’re using the verb “to mow,” meaning “to cut down grass or grain with a scythe or machine.” This “mow” is very old word, going back to Indo-European roots with the sense of “to cut.” The transferred sense of “mow” meaning “to cut down in battle; to destroy or kill indiscriminately or in great numbers” appeared in the 16th century. The use of “mow down” to mean “strike with an automobile” is first attested in print in  the 1960s, but it’s probably much older.

The “mow” in “hay-mow” (rhymes with “cow”) is a completely unrelated noun meaning “a heap or stack of hay, grain, corn, etc.” or “a place, especially a part of a barn, where hay or corn is heaped up and stored.” This “mow” is also a very old word (“muga” in Old English) that comes from Germanic roots meaning “heap.” While we’re at it, “hay” meaning “grass cut for fodder” is a similarly ancient word, in this case going back to roots meaning “that which can be mowed,” presumably with a scythe or similar tool.

So a “hay-mow” is simply a heap (“mow,” the “rhymes with cow” one) of hay, which may or may not be stored in a barn. Strictly speaking, a pile of hay (aka “haystack”) in a field is also a “hay-mow,” though the term is so associated with a pile of hay stored in a barn that “mow” has also come to mean that part of the barn itself. As you’ve noticed, such a part of the barn, if elevated, is also known as a “hay loft” (“loft” being an Old Norse word meaning “air or sky” as well as “upper room”).

So there’s that, but here’s this: there’s also the curious term “mowhay” to consider, although you’re very unlikely to encounter it in the American Midwest. A “mowhay” is an enclosure (often a little shed or enclosed yard) used to store a “mow” or “mows,” heaps of hay, corn, etc. Interestingly, the “hay” in “mowhay” is not the fodder sort of “hay,” though that is often its contents. This “hay” is a very old English dialect word meaning “fence” or “hedge,” and comes, in fact, from the same roots that gave us “hedge” (which used to mean any sort of boundary or fence, not necessarily one composed of shrubbery). So a “mowhay” could as well be called a “hay-hay,” assuming you’re not afraid of being mistaken for Krusty the Clown.