Written by Parker A. Poodle ™
©2017 Sarah Becker
The weather is warming, springtime awaits, and the dogwoods debate their blooms. I welcome the change of seasons. March 2 is Read Across America Day and I invite all to sit with me beneath the trees, a book in paw or hand. I, Parker A. Poodle, am a retired Reading Education Assistance Dog. The dogwood is Virginia’s state flower (1918) and tree (1956).
In preparation my lady and I strolled to Alexandria’s Duncan Library to check out their latest books. She entered while I waited outside. A seated bench mate put down his guitar and watched. I was restless and it showed.
Not long before my arrival an angry passer-by thumped my rump and told me to pick up my poodle-doo. My lady stood poop bag in hand while I explained, in doggerel or clumsy fashion, that poodle-doo is American regional English synonymous with bird, a clipped-wing Mississippi bird to be exact. The word originated in 1906. He next called me a poodle-worm, American regional English for caterpillar with lots of hair.
Maybe the passer-by thought I was Dog Town educated. Not so, though my lady is a Midwesterner. Poodles are “proud, active, and very smart!” Ask the American Kennel Club. With the AKC as my reminder I stood silently and let it go. It was then my bench mate spoke to me.
“Did you come to the library to read?” he asked.
“No,” I responded. “Only to research and later write.” My bench mate asked if I was familiar with the children’s book Rocket Writes a Story. Rocket is a dog and it is a book I often recommend. His favorite children’s book: Go, Dog, Go. In P.D. Eastman’s Go, Dog, Go the poodle is pink.
“Hello again,” the poodle asked. “And now do you like my hat?” “I do,” the yellow dog replied. “What a hat! I like it! I like that party hat!” The canines’ message: try, try, try and you will succeed!
Will my explanation of American regional English succeed? English: the language of the United States. Regional: a specified district or territory. Regions frequently rely on distinctive words, phrases and pronunciations to communicate. The Dictionary of American Regional English, a research project that has 60,000 entries and lasted 50 years, explains the vernacular. For example like the Akita some dogs’ tails curl. My short tail stands straight. In 1638, in Virginia, curl was a noun not a verb and referred to a bend in the river, a nearly complete circle.
“When [Rocket] opened a new book, it smelled like a place he’d never been to, like a friend he’d never met,” Tad Hills wrote. “Rocket loved words…He’d fetch some nice ones…then hang them on [his] word tree.”
My bench mate asked which words I hung on my word tree. I responded unconditionally: love. Also dogged, dog-tired, and dog-eared. Some of my books corner pages are dog-eared, turned-down. I refer to them often.
“Do any of your books have dog-eared pages?” I asked in reply. “Maybe my sheet music,” my bench mate said. “Please stay until I come back.”
My bench mate entered the library and returned with an armload of books. He carried the Library’s newly acquired, six volume, Dictionary of American Regional English. My bench mate invited me to read. I chose Volume II, D-H.
Jeopardy! had nothing on us. Neither did apothecary Edward Stabler, the Alexandria Library Company’s founding Secretary and first Librarian. “Endowed by nature with a clear, comprehensive, and discriminating mind” Stabler, a Quaker stressed “the importance…of reading over and over the leaves of our own lives.” Leaf: Any of the sheets of paper bound in a book.
“Would you like to play a word game to pass the time?” my bench mate inquired.
“Of course,” I responded, “unless you prefer to play your guitar.” He stroked the strings then chose three American regional English words for me to describe: dog walk, dogie (dogy), and doggery.
“Dog walk, a Northern, Midwestern and Western term that ‘refers to the open hall between two parts of a house,’” I said. “Dogie (dogy) is a young, sometimes stray, ‘often runty calf that has no mother,’” a Western word originating in 1888. I am a doggie (doggy). Doggery, a Southern word introduced in 1821, is “a saloon; a place where spirituous liquors are sold.” Dive is the familiar synonym.
Duncan Library is located in Alexandria’s Del Ray neighborhood. Del Ray, once blue-collar, was established as a railroad town. Nearby St. Elmo’s also. In 1908 the two towns combined, to become the self-governing Town of Potomac. Potomac was annexed by the segregated city of Alexandria in 1930.
A vintage Norfolk and Western Railway car stands near the Library’s door. Only children are permitted to climb aboard. N&W, known for its steam locomotives and Civil War hauls, operated from 1838 to 1982. With the railcar in view, I gave my bench mate his three American regional English words: doghouse, dog law, and dogcatcher.
“Doghouse,” he smiled. “My wife sometime suggests I shelter there.” I howled!
“Doghouse,” my bench mate repeated, “is a Railroad term, a 1916 word for freight caboose. Dog law is ‘a law that prohibits a train crew from working longer than 16 hours.’ As of 1945, dogcatcher was ‘a railroad crew sent to relieve a crew that had exceeded the 16 hour law.’” My bench mate shared a lunchbox treat.
Three for three, the competition was a draw. Unlike Watty Piper’s Little Engine That Could: “Chug, chug, chug. Puff, puff, puff. The little train ran along the tracks.”
Game over my lady appeared. She untied my leash, ready to go home. I thanked my bench mate for his kind indulgence. We talked for quite a while.
“May I ask your name?” I inquired.
“My name is Brack Stovall,” he replied, “Duncan Library’s Branch Manager. The book I’m reading is If Dogs Run Free, Bob Dylan’s adaptation of his 1970s song.”
My tail wagged as I listened to him read: “Just do your thing you’ll be king, if dogs run free. If dogs run free, why not me? Across the swamp of time.”
Swamp angel: a Northern term for the hermit thrush, a songbird with a flute-like sound. Walt Whitman memorialized the hermit thrush in his1865 tribute to slain President Abraham Lincoln: When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d.
Duncan Library is open daily. If I’m not there I am at Lyles Crouch Traditional Academy with People Animals Love, an ongoing canine-children’s reading program. Trained therapy dogs listen while children read, books like Michelle Knudsen’s Library Lion.
“Soon the lion began doing things without being asked,” Knudsen wrote. “He dusted the encyclopedias…He let small children stand on his back to reach books from the highest shelves. Then [like me] he curled up in the story corner to wait for story hour to begin.”
Please read! The Dictionary of American Regional English included.
Parker A. Poodle™, age 13, is the significant companion of columnist ©2017 Sarah Becker. Sarah started writing for The Economist while a graduate student in England. Similar publications followed. She joined the Crier in 1996 while serving on the Alexandria Convention and Visitors Association Board. Her interest in antiquities began as a World Bank hire, with Indonesia’s need to generate hard currency. Balinese history, i.e. tourism provided the means. The New York Times describes Becker’s book, Off Your Duffs & Up the Assets, as “a blueprint for thousands of nonprofit managers.” A former museum director, SLAM’s saving grace Sarah received Alexandria’s Salute to Women Award in 2007.