Sunday 04 Dec 2016

Word Play
Sjef Frenken

“Here’s a riddle for you,” said Jack, “what two pop music groups, both with animal names, can you combine to get a third musical group with an animal name?”

I said “I have no idea. All that pops into my mind is ‘the cranberries’, and that’s a plant, not an animal.”

“You’re just not trying,” said Jack.

“I am, I am,” I said, thinking hard. “How about‘Steppenwolf?’”

“And …?” said Jack,

“Nothing,” I said, “Nothing else comes to mind. Just tell me, I’m dying of suspense.”

“OK,” said Jack, “The Beatles and The Eagles. Put them together and you get The Beagles!’”

“And you thought that up all by yourself?”

“Actually,” said Jack, “I think there is a band called The Beagles, but they got the name simply by substituting the ‘t’ in Beatles for the ‘g’ in Beagles. I don’t think they thought of the Eagles connection.”

I said “How can we be sure, though? This is of great importance! The world is waiting for this revelation. Any others?”

“Yes,” said Jack, “The Turtles and the Monkees – the Turkeys.”

I said “Is there really a group called ‘The Turkeys? I’ve never heard of them”

“They’re an American trio. Legit.”

“I have to belabour the point, Jack, but who gives a damn?”

“I do,” said Jack, “someone has to think of these things.”

Jack does have a different way of looking at the world, always ready to inspect the trivia of life for some unusual aspect.

I said “so what else have you thought of?”

“By switching one letter,” Jack pointed out, “you can get the opposite of ‘united’ – untied.

“Any more?” I asked.

“That’s the only one I’ve come up with so far,” said Jack. “But I’ve thought of another wordplay.”

Like what?

Jack said “take a word like ‘antelopes’, then you switch the ‘ante’ to ‘pro’ and you have a new animal, a prolope.

I said “Jack, ante is spelled with an ‘e’, not the ‘i’ of anti’.

“So,” said Jack, “it’s how it sounds, not how it’s spelled.”

“Alright what others do you have?”

Jack said “how about ‘camels’; switch and you have gonels.

I said “how does that work?”

Jack: you take the ‘came’ from camel and make it the ’gone’ from gonels.

But you just said your system was based on sound. And ‘cam’ of camels doesn’t sound like ‘came’.

“Picky, picky,” was Jack’s retort. I think he realized we’d hit a dead, or at least an unproductive end. Jack changed tack.

“What’s the difference between a trumpet and a strumpet?” asked Jack.

I said “just for a start, I’d say the one has an extra letter – the s.”

“No,” said Jack, “you blow a trumpet, the strumpet…”

“I get it,” I tried to interrupt.

“…blows you,” finished Jack, not to be headed off at the pass.

I said “here’s one for you. Think of a one-syllable word where you can substitute the one vowel with any of the other four vowels, and still have words that have a meaning in the English language.”

“Why would I do that?” asked Jack.

“Because that’s the kind of thing you would do,” I said.

“But why would you do it?” asked Jack.

I said “because at one time I needed to make up some new words in English, for a story. To keep matters simple, I began with words of only one syllable. It’s not easy to make up a new word. But if you start with a common word, switch a vowel or consonant here or there, you may stumble across a good one. Go ahead.”

Jack thought for a moment.

“Dick, deck, dock, duck.”

“Good start,” I said, “but you forgot about ‘dack’? That’s not a word.”

“Oh yes, it is,” said Jack, “I came across that word in Australia. It means to take off someone’s pants.”

I said “I guess you’d know about that sort of things. Any others?”

“Click, clack, clock, cluck, cleck,” said Jack.

“Don’t tell me that ‘cleck’ is an Australian word for something or other?!

‘You’re right,” said Jack. I’ve never heard of ‘cleck’. But what about Sack, Seck, Sick, Sock, Suck?”

I said “I’ve heard of ‘sec’ from the French, but ‘seck’? But maybe that’s the old English spelling of the words. I’ll look it up when I get home.”

“How about you? Did you ever find any?”

I said yes, three: pack, peck, pick, pock, puck; and back, beck, bick, bock, buck.”

“What’s a ‘bick’?” Jack asked.

“It’s a sort of anvil, something a blacksmith would use to work with hot iron,” I said.

“Good to know,” said Jack, “but I don’t think it’ll ever come up in any conversation I may have. But then again, you never know.”

“Check,” I said

Jack said “you mentioned you’d found three, what was the third one?”

I said ‘check,’ adding “chack, chick, chock and chuck.

Jack said “’chack’ is not a word.”

“Yes it is,” I said, “look it up.”

By the speed with which Jack packed up the detritus of his lunch, I could tell that he was anxious to get home and do so. At least I think that was the reason.

PS: Jack was right: ‘seck’ is a word in the English language. And to save you the bother of having to look up ‘chack’, as a verb it means for a horse to move its head to get rid of the bridle; as a noun it means a bit of food.

Sjef Frenken is a renaissance man: thinker, writer, translator and composer of much music. A main interest, he has many, is setting to music the poetry, written for children, during the Victorian and Edwardian eras. Nimble of mind, Sjef is a youthful retiree and a great-grandfather. Mostly he's a content man, which facilitates his relentless multi-media creativity.

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