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Thursday, 6 August 2015

Reasons why an extensive vocabulary isn't always a helpful thing

When I first met my husband, Paul, I was eighteen and he was twenty-three. I was introduced to him while he was sitting on a chair in a friend's house. I sat beside him, we got talking and I asked what he did for a job. 'I'm a peripatetic music teacher,' he said.

Not knowing the meaning of the word, I was very surprised, half an hour later, when he stood up.

This was before I found out that peripatetic means 'travelling from place to place', not 'unable to use legs'.

I hasten to add that I found this out for myself later, not by asking him how dared he get up without help.

It took some readjustment in my thinking, to find he could move. I'd spent that half an hour admiring him for his courage in keeping a music teacher job going. In fact, I'd fallen a little in love with him already in an 'I can care for this tragic, creative man' kind of way. Once I realised he wasn't paralysed at all, I had to find other reasons to love him. His brown eyes helped, as did his guitar-playing, but it was a close thing.

I was pleased to find out I wasn't the only one who'd misunderstood. A few weeks later, I heard two of our friends talking. One was commenting on the fact that my (now) boyfriend had a tendency to fidget (nothing's changed and he's 60 next year).

'His legs never stop moving, do they?' she said.

'Ah well,' the other girl said, whispering. 'You do know he's peripatetic, don't you?'

I don't know what she thought 'peripatetic' meant, because she'd often seen him walking. Whatever she thought, she made it sound terminal.



I've never read this, but the title makes me want to ....



Once we were married, and the misunderstandings continued, I told Paul he'd have to add an explanation. 'You can't just assume everyone knows,' I said.

It worked, to an extent, because one or two, as ignorant of the meaning as I'd been, were helped by the explanation. Unfortunately, the rest felt patronised by his adding, 'That means I travel around schools.'

'I knew that,' they'd say, huffily.

In the end, he dropped the 'peripatetic' and just said, 'I travel around schools teaching music.'

Some said, wanting to sound informed, 'Oh, you mean peripatetic.'

You're wondering, aren't you, how we ever had time to have three children and run a family home, taken up as we were with managing this lexical dilemma day after day?



Now, he works as a gardener. Sometimes, he tells people 'When I was younger, I was a peripatetic music teacher,' and I wonder whether they look at his legs, and the way he can garden for hours at a time, then go home and Google 'Are miracle healings still possible?'


27 comments:

  1. Ah, so that's why we in the US call such teachers "itinerant," although I will say I've always thought that makes them sound like day laborers.
    (Happy to hear your voice again. At the risk of sounding like someone who waits breathlessly outside your window at odd hours, yours was the very first blog I ever read - which should have been enough right there to discourage me from attempting such a thing myself.)

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  2. Whoops - just realized you posted only a few days ago. I'm not keeping up with my reading as I should.

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    1. Please do wait breathlessly outside my window. The last time someone did that was in 1976 and it was rather romantic, being a boyfriend who stood there, dramatically ripping up my letters to him because I'd dumped him.

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    1. Actually, no - he does about six, so I guess that means he's still peripatetic!

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  4. I'm worried I have early onset Alzheimer's Disease because I can't think of words (I should not have watched Still Alice). To offset my worry, I tell myself I can't think of words because my vocabulary is ginormous. Last week I couldn't think of "permeate." Such a simple word. I even looked through the entire "P" section in Webster's Third New International Dictionary. There's no denying it: It's nothing but downhill for me from now on. (I wonder if I've made this comment on any of your other posts because it's the one thing I can remember.)

    Love,
    what's her name

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    1. I am exactly the same, Janie. Sometimes I can't even claim it's on the tip of my tongue, because it's nowhere near. And I did all the Alzheimer's tests on the Internet after reading 'Still Alice' (and another book about dementia called 'Elizabeth is Missing')

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  5. It always makes me giggle when someone tells me they are a dyslexic teacher. I assume they mean they teach dyslexic children. It makes it even more funny for me as both my children battled with dyslexia at school.
    Of course, they could be a dyslexic teacher... in which case, they've done very well.

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    1. Yes ... teacher of dyslexics or teacher with dyslexia - language is so ambiguous!

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  6. See now, I would have thought peripatetic was a style of music that he taught.

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    1. Yes, a lively, sort of jig-type music, I can imagine that being.

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    1. Thanks! Glad you enjoyed it!

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  8. Just made me laugh all the way through....including the comments. A great blog that also inspires great comments....Thank you every single one of you, you brightened my day.

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    1. Thanks, Patricia! And, yes, I love my followers' comments too, except when they're funnier than the original blog, which is very inconsiderate!!

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  9. Would a peripatetic jogger be a tautology?

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    1. Maybe, but it sounds impressive.

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  10. What a delightful tale! And, thank you for expanding my own vocabulary.

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    1. You're welcome! Especially as I'm in the middle of my English teacher holidays and out of practice.

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  11. Interesting. It's frequently used for music teachers here so I think everyone knows what it means. But it's a very aaah story, bringing out your latent Florence Nightingale qualities.

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  12. This made me laugh, but it's so true, language can be so misunderstood, although I can't think of any particular examples just now...
    See my blog at:
    gramswisewords.blogspot.com

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  13. A very pathetic music teacher? Or have you already heard that joke a million times?

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  14. I was on holiday, when you published this one, Fran. I number music teachers among my friends and family - peripatetic or itinerant. The latter makes me think of, "of no fixed address," whereas an itinerary is perfectly respectable.
    Now I am going to see whether Blogger allows me to post this as I have already had on contretemps with it today!

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    1. Thanks for your comment, Sue. Hope you had a good holiday. Blogger did indeed let you post your comment, although bear in mind they're all moderated so they won't appear straight away.

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