Friday, October 13, 2006

Shifting Vowels and Star-filled Morning Sky

I woke because my nose had grown so cold as it peeked outside the bed clothes that it demanded attention. I pulled the rest of me out from under the cover and went to pull the window closer--not altogether shut because the air is delicious even now with the tingle of autumn. I noticed a constellation framed in one of the window panes as I looked out over the grass below. Big Dipper? Orion's belt with the sword actually visible?

"What like a day?" Morris asks in his sleepy still voice from under the covers.

"It's not morning. The stars are bright, the wind is mostly quiet, and the moon is bright."

Because we are both awake, we start talking. I tell him about the dream I had been experiencing just before I woke in which he was calling me for breakfast. I put my arm out to see if he were there, in which case the dream was a dream. Very logical. The logic unit was working better than the coordination. My arm landed with a soft thunk followed by an "Oooh," or something like that. So that's why he was awake. I guess you could say my dream woke us both.

Somehow in that early morning mind fog I realized that I was actually starting to think in British vowel sounds. I used to go into howls of laughter when Morris did his mock American accent and pronounced "laughing" as "laffing". To get the right effect, he had to stretch his mouth wide almost as if in a grimace. Of course I countered with an intercontintental ballistic mock pronunciation of the plumby tones that make Americans chuckle: "loffing." I had to open my mouth nearly as wide as a hyena in a National Geographic photo to get the desired effect. But today in my head I actually heard my voice saying more "loffing" than "laffing." I wasn't sure then or now for that matter quite how I feel about losing my native vowels.

We met a woman last night at Forss House Hotel, our posh local pub. More like we startled her. She was from Wyoming and hadn't expected to see any other Americans this far north this time of year. She said that she had listened for years to Harry Lauder records (kind of uber-Scottish, I think) and she was determined to get a Scottish accent before she went back to Wyoming. Without thinking about it at all, I said "Och aye," which she didn't even recognize as a word. Hmm. In case you find yourself over here, I'll tell you what to listen for so you'll recognize "och aye" for what it is. You don't really say it. More like you breathe it in like the indrawn note on a harmonica which is just barely there while doing half a nod.

Now although I am equivocal about shifting vowel sounds, I wholeheartedly endorse the use of "och aye." It is an all purpose phrase. For example, when someone says something rather daffy, "och aye" can be an understated "you don't say" or it can mean "Oh, you don't know what you're talking about and as soon as you are out of earshot I am going to have a proper laugh about it."

I think it has a role as well in domestic harmony. It can be a less deferential equivalent of "yes dear" or an appointment for a private discussion later all carried out with perfect decorum. You have to admit that is a lot to pack into two syllables.


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