Archive for September, 2018

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My appointment book says Sunday, Sept. 23, will be the “first day of fall.” My Humane Society calendar says it will be the day “autumn begins.” Which is it? Or both? And if so, why does the season have two names. Both originate in the British Isles, but “autumn” is the more-common term there while fall is preferred here in the US.

From what I read, “fall” came into use around the 1500s in such terms as “fall of the year” or “fall of the leaf.” Within a century it was contracted to simply “fall.” Autumn, which comes from the Latin autumnus by way of the French automne, means the same thing but didn’t become popular in the British Isles until the 1600s.

Every year in West Marin, leaves with fall colors — poison oak’s red leaves in particular — decorate the countryside. Which reminds me of my itchy youth in Berkeley. When I was learning to read and write at Hillside Elementary School, one teacher at the start of a school year told our class to write poems about autumn. Expressing my chagrin at the end of vacation, I wrote:

“Autumn, it comes in the fall./ Autumn should not come at all./ For when it’s fall, it is a rule/ All of us go back to school.” I can’t remember the teacher’s reaction to my rhyme, but I know she didn’t always understand what I wrote. When I once used “mise” in a paper, she drew a circle around it. “What’s that word?” she asked. I was astounded that she didn’t know. My parents were always saying, “We mise well do this” or, “We mise well do that.”

The summer was so dry that the horses grazing on the hill next to Mitchell cabin ate down all the grass and are now living off bales of hay distributed by their owners.

A hillside in the Murray Buttes region of Mars. (NASA photo)

Mars or mythology? Recently while looking into the origins of words, I became curious as to the origin of “Hesperian.” There’s a city called Hesperia in San Bernardino County and an Elementary School called Hesperian in San Lorenzo. Hesperian is also the name of a major boulevard which parallels the Nimitz freeway in Hayward.

But when I looked up Hesperian in Wikipedia, the first definition listed said, “The Hesperian is a geologic system and time period on the planet Mars characterized by widespread volcanic activity and catastrophic flooding that carved immense outflow channels across the surface.” The Hesperian probably began about 3700 million years ago. Why would anyone name a city, or a school, or a boulevard after that?

Apparently as it’s being used, however, Hesperian suggests “western” or “occidental.” In ancient Greek and Roman mythology, Hesperides referred to both a garden producing golden apples at the western edge of the world and to nymphs who guarded the garden with the aid of a dragon. Again I ask: why would anyone name a city, or a school, or a boulevard — even in the West — after nymphs with a dragon or their garden?

 

 

 

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A line of wild turkeys advances on Mitchell cabin.

This week’s posting mostly concerns the unrecognized origins of everyday words. But it will be pun-tuated by lines of animals. My authority is the Morris Dictionary of Word and Phrase Origins. Computer techie Keith Mathews gave me his copy when he moved from Point Reyes Station to Augusta 11 years ago.

Let’s start with “hobnob.” Although it sounds like slang, it’s actually “a word of impeccable ancestry,” according to the dictionary. It first showed up at the time of Chaucer as habnab, meaning “to have and have not.” The word originated in the 14th Century as a term for “the social practice of alternating in the buying of drinks.” Eventually it came to mean having social exchanges with someone.

Or how about “boondocks?” After all, don’t we West Mariners live in them? “Boondocks” comes from the Tagalog word bandok, meaning “mountains.” During their occupation of the Philippines in World War II, US servicemen picked up the word and used it as a general term for “rough back country.” In time, “the boondocks” came to mean “the sticks.”

Deer tend to approximate a line when crossing fields while grazing. If one of them is alarmed by something, it inevitably alerts the rest.

Most Americans who use the word “ramshackle” know nothing of its origin. As the dictionary notes, it comes to us straight from Iceland, where the word is ramskakkr, meaning “badly twisted.” In English that term came to mean “about to fall to pieces.”

Horses in the field seem to line up only when walking on a trail in rough terrain.

Canada. My mother was a Canadian immigrant, but I never knew the origin of the name Canada until I read the Morris Dictionary: “According to the best authority, canada was originally a word in the Huron-Iroquois language meaning ‘a collection of lodges.'” The French explorer Jacques Cartier coined Canada when he wrote in 1535 that he had talked with an Indian chief who waved his arms about when he said kanata, apparently referring to all the land in the region. In fact, the chief was merely referring to a nearby village. But mistakes happen.

Corduroy is an especially sturdy fabric, which is one reason I usually wear cords. But despite its workhorse connotation in English, the word originated in French as corde du roi, meaning “cord fit for the king.” In fact, corde du roi was once used exclusively by kings as part of their hunting regalia. Quant à moi, je suis ce que je suis, as Popeye says when in Paris.

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Tomales celebrated its annual Founders’ Day Sunday with its traditional parade down the main street and festival in the town park. Tomales artist and cartoonist Kathryn LeMieux incorporated her California Mermaids characters into this scene, which she painted for the festival poster.

The parade was more spread out than in years past. Fewer floats took part. Tomales High did not send cheerleaders as it often does. Nor was there the usual contingent of antique cars, farm tractors, etc. but the crowd was still enthusuastic.

As is common at parades in West Marin, more than a few participants threw wrapped candies to kids along their route. Meanwhile the festival, which included a variety of food booths, art offerings, and music, was packed and convivial.

The Boy Scouts provided their own color guard. Tomales’ main street is Highway 1, which had to be closed through town during the parade.

The parade marshals turned out to be sisters, Mary Zimmerman and Kathleen Sartori.

Tomales rancher Al Poncia and his wife Cathie rode a three-wheeled motorcycle that was pulling a trailer with a keg labeled “Papa’s Grappa.”

The Hubbub Club from the Graton-Sebastopol area of Sonoma County.

Tomales sheepman Dan Erickson drove a truck marked “ZOOMALES,” which was loaded with plants and scary-looking creatures.

A “Tomales Baby Boom” entry celebrated the “future” Future Farmers of America.

E Clampus Vitus is annually a colorful participant in the parade. The Clampers are a boisterous club which pulls pranks but also puts up memorials for events in local history considered too small for the State Historical Society to commemorate. The Los Angeles Times once mused whether the group should be considered an “historical drinking society or a drinking historical society.”

The 1877 William Tell House bar and restaurant, the oldest saloon in the county (the building on the left), reopened last month under new ownership.

Mexican dancers, who pull their own drums with them, add excitement to many parades around here.

Not so excited was this participant who appeared to doze off while riding in a parade entry.

Far more excited was this canine passenger, Rylo, riding with Karen Lawson in Curtis McBurney’s parade entry.

Providing music for the festival in Tomales Town Park was a group called Foxes in the Henhouse.

Along with all the food, music, and crafts  in the park, townspeople could sign up to become volunteer firefighters or to take Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) training. Kids could climb, swing, and take slides in the park’s small playground. In short, there was something for everyone.