July 5, 2007

Family Argot

I'm now starting to think of this blog more and more as a kind of family diary - something to look back on in the future to get a sense of what we were like at a given moment in time. Maybe one of the things to get down on paper... er, pixels... is our family idiom of the moment. We are nicknamers around here, and word players, and baby-talkers, and nonse word singers (slingers?). These words mean much at the time, yet are so fleeting and soon forgotten... I am nostalgic for the nonse words that we have let go already and the intimacy-inflected diction that has been replaced.

This isn't so much a favorite word, I guess, as a favorite usage. There's a way to say "Listen" (with an exasperated accent on the first syllable and a sigh on the second) to cut off all conversation. I love it because it's a study in opposites. It usually gets used by the person at the losing end of the argument - but to work, it has to be said with authority and the quiet calm of logic. It's become a staple of disquisitory amusement in our house, because it actually is demanding that you do the opposite of what it's ostensibly asking you to do. The denotation is interactive - listen to me and then react to what I'm saying - but the connotation is totally the opposite - I'm going to say something that will end any interaction between us because I hereby dismiss you.

There is a great use of this "listen" in the Johnny Cash song "I've Been Everywhere," a semi-autobiographical account of a travel-weary hitchhiker. He gets picked up by yet another in a long line of trucks, and the driver asks "if I'd seen a road with so much dust and sand" and Cash's persona answers, "Listen, I've traveled every road in this here land..." Cash takes a long, tired pause after that "listen," making it both scornful and condescending. I'm not an authority on hitching etiquette, but I think this usage is probably grounds for a premature drop-off. I mean, if you're the one with the car, doing the picking up, you pretty much deserve to be the one to point out awe-inspiring phenomena. The proper response is "wow, that IS a lot of dust and sand!" not "oh, please." In any case, Cash goes on to list every single place he's ever been in North America, riding that "listen" for all it's worth.

Misha loves this song. We have it on a mix CD in the car and he will actually press the rewind button to hear it over and over again. I think he's trying to indoctrinate Lara, but so far she doesn't seem to be listening.

1 comment:

mwg said...

Great piece! It somehow reminded me of David Sedaris in his better moments - and this is a compliment!