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OPINION | BRENDA LOOPER: Well, I swan!

by Brenda Looper | November 17, 2021 at 3:25 a.m.
Brenda Looper


If there's anything my brother Corey and I loved more than our family, I don't know what it would be.

Well, maybe words would come close, but still, family comes out on top.

Corey was a storyteller, and a masterful one at that. I try my best, but I sort of get hung up on my admiration for words. I can't help it; when words like "persnickety" and "discombobulated" and phrases like "plumb tuckered out" exist, it's hard not to get a little bit ecstatic over the joy they bring just in saying them.

Then there are the words that instantly make you think of home, especially when you're from around these parts. I've often written of my love for words like "tump," especially as it related to my brothers tumping over the wheelbarrow with me in it (isn't that what you're supposed to do to the baby in the family if you live out in the country?).

There were others, of course, such as Grandpa Grover referring to any food, even that out of his own garden, as "groceries." But we didn't eat just out of the garden, or always make things homemade. When time was short, there would not be a plate of yeasty rolls, cornbread or homemade biscuits on the table. No, that's when we'd have "thwock biscuits."

Most people around here know exactly what I'm talking about: canned biscuits that you "thwocked" against the edge of the counter to open. I don't buy canned biscuits often, but I was disappointed upon unpeeling the outer label of one not too awfully long ago to see "Press spoon at seam to open" written on it.

That's no fun. If I buy canned biscuits, I want to thwock them! Spoilsports.

Another phrase I and a lot of other people heard a lot growing up was "I swan." Sally Goss wrote on one of my Facebook posts: "My mother-in-law always said 'Well, I swan.' What does that even mean??" Friend Sandra Withers replied, "I always thought it mean 'I swear' for people who didn't."

That pretty much sums it up, but you know the Word Nerd. She must dive deeper. She'd lose her nerd cred if she didn't.

Gene Owens wrote in The Oklahoman in 2007: "In present-day England, according to the Cambridge Dictionary, the verb 'swan' means 'to travel, move or behave in a relaxed way for pleasure, and without caring that others may feel annoyed.' In Oklahoma and the American South, 'I swan' is a rough equivalent of 'I swear.'

"The American Heritage Dictionary consulted the Oxford English Dictionary and came up with this plausible explanation: In the north of England in days of yore, people were wont to say, 'I shall warrant ye,' which, translated into contemporary Oklahoman, means 'I'll flat-out guarantee you.' If you say 'I shall warrant ye' fast enough and with a heavy English accent, you come out with something like 'I swanny.' The expression came to America on the lips of English immigrants and found a congenial home in the South."

Well, naturally. We may swear a lot at times, but if we can do it without sounding like we are, all the better.

The Word Detective concurs, writing in a 2013 blog post: "'I swan' is used as a rough equivalent to 'I do declare,' what linguists call an 'exclamatory asseveration' of surprise, and it seems to have originated in northern England as a dialectical pronunciation." The phrase is considered American because it became so common after its first appearance here in the 19th century.

It's often joked that English likes to pilfer in the pockets of other languages for words to steal. I wouldn't be surprised if Americans probably pilfer more words than other English-speakers, and often from other English-speakers.

Another phrase comes from Texas, courtesy of my friend and birthday buddy Sarah Ricard. "I have also heard, 'Well, roll my socks up and down!' This comes from my former choir director in Belton, Texas. He has quite a few 'Garyisms.'"

The phrase is meant to convey excitement, and I was surprised in a Google search to see it used in multiple music and other reviews. Maybe that's because I'm typically barefoot anymore, though, sure, when I wrote reviews I did wear shoes and socks.

And then there's this one from friend and former co-worker Benjamin Waldrum: "There are so many my father uses that we're thinking about starting a book. But this one that he said his father (my grandfather) used: 'Darker than two midnights under a tub.' Heck of a visual."

It is, and I'll be first in line for that book, my friend. I'm always looking to expand my vocabulary, especially with phrases as descriptive as that.

I want to thank all of you for the love and respect you've given our family over the past several weeks. I might eventually get around to writing some proper thank-you notes, but that's hard to do when you have tears in your eyes.

It's been tough on all of us, perhaps Corey's girlfriend Carletta and her son Tristan most of all. We and many other people who loved Corey will be saying goodbye to him this weekend.

The kindness shown has been heartening, and I'm glad to know of all the lives that Corey touched just by being himself.

We should all be so lucky to have a Corey in our lives, in all his kind, stubborn, hilarious glory.


Assistant Editor Brenda Looper is editor of the Voices page. Read her blog at blooper0223.wordpress.com. Email her at blooper@adgnewsroom.com.


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