2010-06-23 / Musings


“And I hear something scr atching through the wall...”

— Ambrosia Parsley

An isogloss is a geographical boundary of a certain linguistic feature. Perhaps this might sound irrelevant or merely academic compared to the political power of national boundaries. And, arguably, an isogloss may seem even less important compared to the ostensibly more real geography of mountains and oceans and the oil under ground or sea.

But, still, many of us fancy ourselves to be able to discern birthplaces by the way vowels are idiosyncratically pronounced. Or we may be attuned to the use of specific expressions in order to identify the user’s origin. It does amuse us, and it is a field of serious academic discourse. And within this discourse itself, isogloss is revealed in the banter of practicing academics gathered from myriad geographies.

A single word might create an entire dialect boundary. An example of this kind of boundary creation can be seen in the word shivaree. Shivaree means a chaotic, noisy, mock serenade of a

newly married couple. Pots and pans

............................................................................ and screams and whistles and whatever noise making apparatus available are used to create celebratory cacophony.

If this joyful noise is made along or west of the Mississippi, then we say shivaree. So this word creates an unusual dialect boundary, one running north/ south. In the U.S.A., most dialect boundaries run east/west, defining the difference between linguistic northern and southern varieties. Shivaree does something different: it separates the west from the east.

Ambrosia Parsley is the lead singer of the band Shivaree. She brings to her lyrics and life the wild magic of a shivaree experience. Her song “Good Night Moon” is very different from Margaret Wise Brown’s beloved childhood bed time story. This song, which is on the album “I Oughtta Give You a Shot in the Head for Making Me Live in This Dump,” tells the story of a woman/child afraid of many things that are going bump in her night. And she is calling out for someone to rescue her.

Some might say Ambrosia is battling her demons.

When the mice met in council to discuss their demon, the killer cat, one young mouse proposed a solution. What about belling the cat? (Belling is the word used in the dialect-free Midwest for shivaree.) All the mice thought this a great idea until the discussion came

around to the question of who would

implement the solution. The elders were .............................. then quick to retort: It is easy to propose impossible remedies.

In the Northeast, shivaree is referred to as horning. The word horning also refers to the appearance of the moon increasing from its dark new phase to become a crescent. Which moon will we see? The child bedtime story moon or the crazy, demonic luna? Into which phase will we project the moon? Will the cat be black and menacing or full and silky, supremely pettable?

Will the wedding party shivaree be joy or more like its Latin root meaning headache?

What is scratching through the wall?

Machig Labdron, Tibetan Buddhist yogini, writes: “That which is called a demon is not some great black thing that petrifies whoever sees it. A demon is anything that obstructs the achievement of freedom.”

So, what is freedom anyway?

What holds in place the deafening boundaries of defining walls that defy liberation?

The pirate wants to sing painless shivaree, sit shiva mourning, chant Shiva creative destruction, shiva-reify the unknown, and then send it back to scratching down more walls. How else can we get close enough to marry, to couple? Tell me. How else can we experience the exquisite shiver of finding other closer than breathed air, no longer other. Touch me. Free from the duality of dueling demons every song is sweet. Heal me.

Come on in. 

— Rx is the FloridaW eekly muse who hopes to inspire profound mutiny in all those who care to read. Our Rx ma y be wearing a pir ate cloak of in visibility, but emanating fr om within this shado w is hope that readers will feel free to respond. Who kno ws: You may e ven inspir e the muse. Make contact if you dare.

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