Lest Ye Become Arrogant In Your Knowledge

In my continuing efforts to make sure that world becomes a More Awesome place, always remain aware that you don’t know everything. When someone says, “Pffft, no…[sotto voce] dumbass” to one of your proclamations, remain humble and take a moment to consider if everything you’ve ever known is wrong.

My favorite exemplar of this is the Tale of the Pickle Bush.

Once upon a time, friends from a previous tale went down to Safeway to go grocery shopping. There was a general declaration that there was a need for condiments, so the intrepid band went to that aisle. Now, it is important to note I wasn’t actually there, so this is the best recreation of the conversation I’ve been able to piece together from the parties that were present. Liberties have most definitely been taken.

Stef: I’ve always wandered how they grow pickles.

(the rest of the assembled party chuckles a bit)

Stef: What?

Joe: Seriously? You don’t know how they’re made?

Stef: What do you mean *made*?

Joe: They’re cucumbers that have been soaked in brine water for a while.

Matt: Pickling is a process. You can pickle anything, even Joe.

Stef: Nuh-uh.

Joe: Shut up, Matt. How did you think pickles were made, Stef?

Stef: I, you know, kinda thought they (voice becomes hesitant as certainty in the world fades) grew on…a…pickle bush.

(Matt & Joe explode in laughter)

Stef: You *CANNOT* tell Phil about this.


I think I got a phone call before they even left the parking lot.

Now this is not just a amusing story of what happens when children grow up with a sheltered upbringing in Utah, well separated from any agriculture or food production, but rather of someone getting a chance to spin on a dime and understand the world like they never had before. Cherish those moments.

The example from my life is the word “torward” (NOTE: not “toward”). I couldn’t tell you when I learned the word or who taught it to me but I can tell you when I learned important lessons about linguistics due to being wrong, wrong, WRONG. You see, up until this moment in my life in my freshman year of college no one had ever corrected me on my spelling and I’d been in advanced placement composition, grammar, and rhetoric classes all my life. What amazing professor showed me the error of my ways? What helpful friend took me aside to say “Pssst, Dumbass! There’s no “R” in toward.”

No one did. I learned my lesson from Microsoft Word 5 and their first iteration of grammar checker.

Word didn’t tell me that I was spelling “toward” wrong using  “torward”, rather the error it was giving me said that I was archaic. At first I was sort of pleased by this as one of the highest compliments I’d been paid as a writer at age 18 was, “You write like a 18th century essayist. I love it, but you’re going to utterly fail in college with people who like The Format.” The idea that I was unconsciously using words that hadn’t been in common parlance since before Samuel Johnson really appealed to me. Then the panic caught up with me and, oh god, what else am saying/writing that makes me look like a throwback from the 1700s.

In the end, it helped kindle a deep appreciation of the evolution of language itself and the beauty of the our many, many Englishes. “Torward” may have disappeared from the King’s English with Johnson, but it happily lived on in the English of the West Country. It also lived on in Appalachia and the American South where so many people from the West Country immigrated, along with their fun and perfectly valid constructions such as “ain’t”, “y’all”, and “at the *NOUN*” indirect verbs, which is how I presume I picked it up.

Image Courtesy of Archie McPhee http://www.mcphee.com/shop/products/Yodelling-Pickle.html
Yodeling Pickle, courtesy of Archie McPhee. I still can’t believe I lost out on two of these in the departmental White Elephant gift exchange

Learning you are fundamentally wrong can cause some truly awesome learning. Don’t just try to learn something new everyday, see if you can prove something you were certain of wrong. For all I know, Stef may be a mad pickling machine now with her new found knowledge.