Friday, May 26, 2006

Petula, The Catahoula Hound from Jalalabad

From Jacqueline

Eeeek, it’s Friday! I just sat down to work and thought I’d check in with first, then it struck me – it’s my day and I should have posted by now!

I’ve been thinking about words this week. Yes, I know, that’s what I should be thinking about, being a writer. But I’ve been thinking about the way words sound, the manner in which they have a lyricism that makes you say a given word to yourself all day, a word you come across that you want to use in a sentence. And it’s likely that same word doesn’t hold any interest for another person – they’ve got their own words.

It started when I was walking my dog along a well-used trail, and a woman came towards me in the opposite direction, her dog close at heel. As we bid each other good morning, I asked her about her dog – he had really interesting blue eyes and a dappled coat. “He’s a Catahoula Hound,” she replied. A Catahoula Hound? We chatted for a while and both went on our way, but I couldn’t get those words out of my head. Catahoula Hound. As soon as I arrived home, I told my husband about the encounter, and added, “I think I’d like one of those, just to be able to say, ‘Here’s Dooley, my Catahoula Hound’ or “Meet Petula, the Catahoula Hound.” So we began a conversation about the words that captivate us, with John admitting to his fascination with the word “Jalalabad” though he admitted, “I don’t want to go there, but I’d like to slip it into a sentence every now and again.” I wondered out loud whether there was a children’s book in this, “Petula, the Catahoula Hound from Jalalabad.” John also confessed to liking the word “Passchendaele.” I was horrified. “Do you know what happened there?” I asked, launching into one of my tirades on military incompetence in the First World War. “Yes, but think of it,” he added, “that if you didn’t know anything about history, or even the spelling of the word, you’d think it was Passion Dale.” When he put it like that, I thought of a small village neighboring Tolkein’s shire, a place where hobbit relatives live in an idyllic peace.

Of course, there are words and phrases that have come and gone and with some I am just glad to see the back of them. Did anyone not have a “paradigm shift” about five years ago? And how about “drilling down”? I was in a meeting a couple of years ago, during which someone said, “Are there new learnings here for us?” New learnings? New learnings? I couldn’t help it, I just chimed in and asked, “Do we mean lessons?” Guess I’m not trendy enough. When I worked in London, I had a boss who made regular trips to the US, to the corporate offices of our company. Every time he came back, it was with a clutch of new hip corporatespeak that he would throw into meetings, letters, memos (remember memos?), etc. We would have such sport, repeating those words back to him at every opportunity. “So, Chris, it looks like we need throughput on this one.” Reckon throughput is dead and gone now.

In the 1950’s there was a comedienne in Britain called Hylda Baker, who had audiences in stitches with her malapropisms. She would take all sorts of words and phrases and use them out of context, and I’ve always thought there was humor there, if it’s done well – and she could do it very well. She said things like, “I went to the doctor, who was stood standing there, his horoscope around his neck.” or “I was so surprised, I fell prostitute on the ground.” She was one of those old music hall (vaudeville) stars who just knew how to deliver the patter. Along those lines, whenever I hear some of the “in” words and phrases, there’s a demon in me that will take them and put them in a completely different context. I can see a car dealer, kicking a tire, opening the hood of a new sports car, and informing the prospective owner that, “What makes all the difference with the V8 is the paradigm shift. One flick with the stick and you are zero to sixty in three seconds.” Myself, I couldn’t do without the throughput in the carburetor.

The sad thing about words is that, in America, we are losing so many of them. A study completed a few years ago (and you know the thing about studies, you can never remember the who, where or why, so you’re going to have to trust me on this one), that over a ten year period, American kids were losing words at a rate of 1000 per year. A couple of years ago they (you know, the people who do the research) found that over six hundred languages - whole languages, note - had been lost since the beginning of the 1900’s. When Simon Winchester was on tour with his book The Philosopher and the Madman, which was essentially about the relationship between the man in charge of compiling the Oxford English Dictionary and his most prolific contributor (a convicted murderer), I went to hear him speak at Black Oak Books in Berkeley. He happened to talk about words being lost in American English, and someone asked if that were also true across the pond. According to Winchester, the opposite was happening, because not only are new words entering the lexicon, but there’s an interest in old words, the resurrection of language, if you will. I thought about the phenomenon of word loss for some time. If words are at the root of understanding between people, whether in a familial relationships, in the classroom, a neighborhood, or a country, then there is much to be worried about, with or without a paradigm shift.

Now, about Petula, the Catahoula Hound from Jalalabad.


  1. Now you've got me trying to fit the words "Catahoula hound" into Petula Clark's "Downtown." And it's NOT WORKING!!! Maybe if I went to Jalalabad (and what a FLASHMAN kind of word *that*is, may I say?)

  2. I love language and words, and was therefore entranced by the Simon Winchester book. Winchester made a history of the Oxford dictionary read like a thriller, I thought.

    Does anyone remember Norm Crosby? He was an American version of Hylda Baker. Very funny guy.

    And, loved your comments about the dreaded corporatespeak. It's alive and well at my company, and often makes me want to throw things ;-)

  3. from Jacqueline:

    Oh, "Downtown" - those were the days! Now I've got to try it ... "When you're alone and life is getting you down, get a Cata-hoola hound, Downtown."

    Shall we try to get Jalalabad in there as well?

  4. "When you're alone and life is Jalala-BAD, walk Catahoula hounds, Downtown..."

    I LOVE that song. Remember listening to it the first time on a VERY old radio in my grandparent's guest-room, late on a muggy summer night when I was about four. The radio dial glowed in the dark. Still think of that every time I've heard it since.

  5. Hi Jacqueline,

    I discovered your books via Mystery Scene, when I saw "the Great War" on their cover. I had to pick it up, read and then go buy Maisie Dobbs. You write so very well and your books are very hard to put down. I am an Australian living in America (eight years) and the Americanisms just make me want to scream somedays. I miss British films and TV over here - but my husband (American) and my mother in law (British) thankfully follow some English TV. Sigh. I was brought up on reggae, not, ugh, rap.

    I also write and have a love affair with WWI. I'm ex-armed forces (Australian) and share my fellow Aussie's deep-seated regard for the beginnings of our Anzac heritage.

    Thanks for the whimsey in your blog, it made me smile. And thank you so much for your stories - they bring tears sometimes, but also gratification and satisfaction.

    Be Well,

  6. from Jacqueline

    Thanks so much for your post, Marianne. I'm so glad you've enjoyed my books. In my last novel, PARDONABLE LIES, an Australian has a "cameo" role (as they say), which is a small nod to the ANZAC's who gave their lives in WWW1. If you read my post last week, you'll know that I have a "code-free" DVD player, which means that I can watch DVD's produced in any country in the world - so my friends in Britain can send me all manner of TV shows and films not available over here. And surprisingly, this wonderful piece of electronic advancement was cheaper than a regular DVD player!

  7. from Jacqueline

    Of course, I meant WW1 - there's always an error when I sit at my computer without my glasses on my nose!

  8. Interesting piece, Jackie. But, c'mon, we might be losing words in the U.S. (how do they know that it's 1,000?) but 'da kids' are adding new ones at an amazing rate. Check out to see what's down with that.

  9. Ha! A Catahoula in that would be a pathetic sight indeed! Of course Catahoulas are not known for their grace and docile nature and I suspect that a busy little marketplace would meet it's demise within minutes. The dog would certainly NOT go hungry! LOL