Words

It is 6:40 in the morning, and I am sitting in my car outside the high school. The drizzly not-quite-rain, not-quite-ice precipitation that has been falling for days has rendered the darkness a sooty mess that severely limits visibility. As on every way-too-early weekday, I am waiting for my son to wake up enough to exit the car, cross the street, and board the bus.

Our morning drive and wait time are sometimes quiet and sometimes filled with talk of this or that. Today, the sound of the wipers, intermittently slopping a mix of water and ice from my windshield, punctuates my thoughts, which center on an early meeting and the morning tasks that stand between now and that commitment.

The radio drones on, barely noticed until a clip of The View is played in which Whoopi Goldberg purportedly broke wind on air. Next to me in the front seat, I detect some movement from my son. The laughter of the DJs on the radio catches our attention, and their discussion moves to the etymology of the word “fart.” My son snickers.

The word, from Old English, has been kicking around much longer than I would have guessed. When the DJs start in with the Middle English, farten, and they speak in funny accents, both my son and I begin to laugh. We mimic their accents, and I sense this will not be the last time I hear this particular phrase spoken in this particular manner. We are still laughing as he says good-bye and gets out of the car; the DJs move on to another topic.

It was a perfectly timed radio segment. It grabbed the attention of the teen in the car, and shook him awake more effectively than I could have. And as an English teacher, I wonder what could be better to wake a kid than a rousing discussion of etymology? Sometimes, discussions of emotionally (socially…?) charged words have practical use as well as philosophical merit.

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