Dry Trout Mouth

Janacek's Jenufa is in the cd player. NASA's photos of Mars are on my monitor. Kris Kringle Krunch aka Chex Mix is in the oven. All the digital clocks and timers are blinking their LED numerals because of Friday night's gullywashing storm. I have a bad case of Dry Trout Mouth.

Does "drought" rhyme with trout or mouth? When we used to visit our grandparents and great-aunts, the conversation would always get around to The Drought. I got the impression The Drought was the antithesis of The Flood of Noah. A little Sunday School can confuse a kid, so I imagined my ancestors dressing like the people in the Children's Bible illustrations, particularly, but not rationally, Jacob wearing Esau's clothes and fur.

Some of the old folks said "drout", and others said "drouth", and it was a long time before I discovered the silent g. Half my ancestors lived near Norfolk, Nebraska, and the other half lived near the Republican River. I believed that all the Southern slaves had to get across the Republican River to get to freedom in The North. That would be because Abe Lincoln was a Republican, and Nebraska was a Yankee state, and the Yankees won the baseball game on tv every weekend.

Norfolk, Nebraska, was pronounced nor-fork or nor-foke. It wasn't ever said like Norfolk, Virginia [(nawr-fuhk, nawr-fawk)]. Folks explained to me that "Norfork" was named for the north fork of the river. The North Fork of the Elkhorn River is actually many miles northwest of Norfolk. At least an elk's horns resemble a fork.

When I found out about the silent l, I realized why big Norfolk had to let little Pierce be the county seat. Somebody found out about the Norfork spelling and pronunciation conspiracy, and Norfolk had to be punished. Either that, or all the rocking chairs, hassocks, and porch swings in Pierce made it a natural seat. From Grandma's porch swing you could almost see the courthouse.

The Online Etymology Dictionary indicates that Norfolk is named for North Folk:
Nordfolc (1066) "(Territory of the) Northern People (of the East Angles)." The Norfolk pine (1778), used as an ornamental tree, is from Norfolk Island in the South Pacific, northwest of New Zealand.

As for drought, it's O.E. drugaĆ°, from P.Gmc. *drugothaz; related to drugian "dry up, whither" + -ith Gmc. suffix for forming abstract n. from adj. Drouth was a M.E. variant continued in Scot. and northern Eng. dialect.

A linguist at the University of Cincinnati Department of Anthropology explains the trout/mouth problem this way:

Some of those "th"s may be spelling pronunciations. Some people, particularly in the generation born in the early 1900s who attained some measure of education were difficult to persuade that words need not be and many were not pronounced exactly as spelled. They believe if there was a letter in the spelling, there had to be a sound for it in the pronunciation. That's why some people pronounced the "t" in often and the [k] for the "c" in 'arctic'.

1538, possibly a variant of M.E. golet "water channel" (see gullet).

Some sources suggest that "gullywasher" is a Southern expression, but we always used it in Nebraska. That would mean it swam across the Republican River. I can't really explain how these gullies got to Mars, but neither can NASA at the moment:

Bright new deposits seen in NASA images of two gullies on Mars suggest liquid water carried sediment in the past seven years. Liquid water is considered necessary for life, so these new findings heighten intrigue about possible microbial life on Mars. These findings were provided by NASA's Mars Global Surveyor.

The atmosphere on Mars is so thin that liquid water cannot persist at the surface. However, researchers propose that water could remain liquid long enough, after breaking out from an underground source, to carry debris before totally evaporating and freezing.

If you need current drought information, I suggest the USGS Drought Watch site:
http://water.usgs.gov/waterwatch/?m=dryw&w=map&r=us It's good to have your facts straight if you run into any north folks.


Anonymous said...

I grew up in the Osmond, Nebraska area which is in Pierce, County. Pierce is the county seat. Madison county includes the towns of Madison, Norfolk, Battle Creek and Tilden. Norfolk wanted to have the county seat at one time but lost out to Madison, not Pierce. Just thought you would like to know.

Collagemama said...

Oh, my gosh! I'm so embarrassed! You are absolutely right. I've been carrying this contorted tale in my memory for over forty years. This is almost as bad as believing I had visited North Dakota for thirty years because I once ate a bismarck pastry in Marysville, Kansas.


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