Changing fashions, kitchen sinks and words
May I take the opportunity to thank everyone who emailed me about my last two columns. It is rewarding for a writer when someone says that they were moved by your words. Thank you so much.
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When I was young, I believed every style I favored would stay in vogue for my entire life. Certainly, styles had changed in the past. No longer were we wearing spats and corsets, but now that the world had discovered hot pants, bellbottoms, leisure suits and puka shells, fashion designers could take an early retirement and we would wear our sheik paisley miniskirts until we collected social security.
OK, once again I was wrong, but what I realize is that what went out of style is sure to return at some point. My young relatives are all a gush over farmhouse sinks for their kitchens. Now they are lovely, but I still like a double sink with one side deep enough for a large spaghetti pot and the other side to hold drying dishes.
Anyway, in 1917 my grandparents, James Adair Wilson and his wife Mildred Agnes moved to 643 Bellevue Avenue with their 3-year-old son Joseph Gould Wilson, and soon daughter Martha. The house was partially complete and didn’t have a tree on the property. It was the sample home for a failed development and my family ended up buying acreage behind the house that went across the stream flowing under Liberty Street. Pleasant Street wasn’t there yet, but their asparagus field soon was. They had a gentleman farm with chickens, turkeys and a pig from time to time. In their kitchen they placed a huge lilac farm sink with built in drain boards. That sink embarrassed me for years as a teen and it is still there today, back in style once again.
My grandfather was an artist and illustrator for newspaper and magazine advertisements long before photos were used. We have my favorite illustration hanging in our living room. It is of a farmer with a perplexed expression standing by his horse and plow. On the other side of the fence is a neighbor on a new-fangled tractor. One thing for certain, things keep changing.
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If you pick up a book written 100 years ago, the vocabulary is so much more thoughtful and varied than what is used today. Read Kipling, Hawthorne, Dickens or even Twain, who is described as an author for the common man, and you will need a dictionary nearby if you want more than a mere essence of the text. Today, adjectives become redundant and often dialogue shallow.
I believe laziness is at the core of this phenomenon. Even if we learn a new word, we usually do not make it our own. Often while reading the morning Wall Street Journal, I come upon a word that I am unfamiliar with. Of course, by using context clues a reader can often surmise the definition, but I usually pick up my phone and search Webster’s Dictionary. Now truth be told, my husband, Al, still prides himself with opening the huge red tome and fingering through the pages.
Al believes that we are a fortunate country because of the wealth of words we have to describe any situation and that even an educated person can read or hear a word they don’t know and adopt it quickly. English is rich with a multitude of adjectives to describe any noun and the synonyms for verbs that can describe any emotion we feel. So, if this is true, why are some many books, magazines and newspapers watered down to a 6th grade reading level? And why do we constantly hear, “great, wonderful or the F-word,” to describe everything from tacos to dogs to COVID-19?
My son had a girlfriend in high school who no matter what you asked her she’d say, “What-everrrr.” Stay for dinner? Need a ride home? What-everrrr! It drove me crazy. I finally told my son that if he married her their kids might be attractive, but they were sure to be very dumb. Thank goodness he married a woman with an extensive vocabulary.
I am weary of words that are used with frenzied frequency. Today, the word insurrection is so overused that if we took a shot every time the Rachel Maddow, Anderson Cooper or the average citizen used the word insurrection while describing the invasion of the Capitol, we’d all be stumbling around. So, the next time you want to sound lofty while describing the heinous crimes committed in Washington, D.C. on January 6, try some synonyms suggested by Merriam-Webster. They are rebellion, revolt, uprising, mutiny, insurgence, insurgency, rising, rioting, riot, sedition, civil disobedience, civil disorder, unrest, anarchy, fighting in the streets, coup, coup d’etat, jacquerie and putsch. Enjoy!
Donna Brown is a former Hammonton Middle School librarian and a columnist for The Gazette. To reach Donna Brown, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.