02 January 2012

The Kings English

This afternoon I finished the first book of 2012, Good King Harry by Denise Giardina. Reading a work such as this - one written in modern English but with the flow of 15th century sentence structure my - I was rent to use a phrase or two on the kids (for my wife was sorely exhausted from my questions and phrases over the past couple of nights). Upon finishing the book my middle child snuck upon me and smacked me on the bum. I turned and said, "You dare to spank the king on the arse?" At first he looked at me like I had horns, then I explained to him the meaning of arse and yes, I quickly explained that he could not use this phrase this week when he returns to school. He and his brother spent the next 15 minutes repeating the phrase over and over in whatever bizarre accents they could muster.

The episode brought to mind one of my proudest moments as a father, in a nerdy English minor kind of way. A few years ago my daughter's class took a field trip to Plimoth Plantation in Plymouth, MA. The teacher told the class that all of the people the children at Plimoth workers would use phrases and mannerisms from the 15th century, so they would need a parent to translate and help out. As soon as I learned of this I volunteered to chaperon and quickly went to work and dove into all the texts I had at the house from the time period with one solitary goal: to stump one of the historical actors.

One morning the class and I entered a school bus (not an adult friendly school bus by the way) and trundled up to Plymouth. Upon arrival the kids were divided into teams of two and assigned one adult chaperon. With my daughter and her classmate in tow we explored the plantation. I staked out a spot near the center of things so I could spy my target. After a few minutes I found him.

I gave the kids specific instructions, what question to ask, and how to ask it. Two giggly girls walked up to him and asked their question (they were brilliant, calm, and very assertive). It worked, they stumped him. He looked quizzical at them for a few moments then finally had to ask them (and by this time me too, I couldn't resist) in modern English what they were asking. Being a fine and proper gentleman I explained that the two fair maidens were inquiring how a resident at Plimoth would cleanse oneself after a midnight trip to the chamber pot. He thought for a moment, smiled, and replied, "leaves or a cotton cloth."

The girls giggled and parted. I expected them to brag to their friends on the trip back how they outsmarted the actor but no they simply shared how terrible it would have been to use leaves.

Off subject but useful, nonetheless, and get this, this next part is free folks: If you, like me, wish the school would open back up early from break and are in need of entertainment tomorrow may I recommend the Elizabethean insult generator. It is great to listen to kids try and formulate an interesting smash-up of words.

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