Sunday, April 25, 2010

Meandering My Way Towards Ferninsters

In this post I speculated about what an Oz vs. Wonderland grudge match would be like.

Diversions of this sort are fun mental breaks. They can also be illuminative -- as Tolkien pointed out in his essay about
faerie stories, "fables can depart from the physical world and the universe created, but not from the moral order: we can imagine a universe illuminated by a green sun..." His neologism "eucatastrophe" never made it into the OED (a publication Tolkien worked on), but I would like to have seen the term make it.

Just over two years past I asked some of my friends if they cared to extend the grudge match scenario.

Dear Patti started to pen a reply, but managed to hit the send key after pecking out only the letter "H."

I responded, "H is a fine, respectable letter Patti -- thank you for bringing it to our attention. It became a splendid friend of Eliza Doolittle's, and it was the harbinger letter of the book that introduced our weary world to Middle Earth. Well done."

She fired back, "Hahahaha! Sean, you fink! When I posted that message it said: 'Hilarious, Sean!' I can't explain what happened to the other letters between the time I hit the send button and the post hit the list. Well, this is one time Eliza Doolittle didn't drop her 'H'!"

But I knew what had happened to the other letters: "Clearly, they were swallowed by the Cheshire Cat -- who was in league with the Knave of Hearts. Naturally."

At which point Missy contributed, and brought my attention to the word ferninst.

"The word ferninst is a favorite of the Darby O’Gill series I am reading my 12 year old daughter. :-)

"The word is a survivor from dialects of Scotland, Ireland, and northern England, evidently brought over by immigrants from one or more of those places. According to the Dictionary of American Regional English, it is now heard chiefly in the Midland U.S. and is considered old-fashioned.

"And here is an election year application: A derived noun, ferninster, meaning 'someone who is deliberately contrary,' has also been used: 'The trouble with the Republican leaders in that they are just ferninsters' (William Allen White, 1943).
Courtesy The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language: Fourth Edition. 2000"

I'm still not clear on what a ferninster looks like, but the word itself has a Carollian sound to it (c.f. jub-jub, frumious, brillig), and I would not be surprised if it made an unexpected appearance in times of duress from the Queen of Hearts.

1 comment:

Patti Petersen said...

You have a most convenient memory, Sean. Eliza Doolittle remembers that time she didn't drop her "H" and you pounced on it. Ah, what a scholar I felt after that brilliant post!