September 9, 2012
Here we are, still in the single digits of September and there’s already the distinctive snap of autumn in the Michigan air. I woke up this morning singing “Give ‘Em Cornbread” in the shower, and by the time my oatmeal was ready, I had learned a new word: catachresis. In deference to the readers who protest a little too loudly that they can’t understand all the big words in the Thornapple Blog, I move immediately to the two definitions offered for this massive ideogram. If you’re having trouble with ‘deference’ or ‘ideogram’, I provide the link to Dictionary.com
Catachresis is, on the one hand, using a word incorrectly or inappropriately. On the other hand, catachresis is using a word to indicate some thing, point or idea that has no precise or literal name in ordinary language. Kind of like that frim-fram sauce we was talkin’ bout last week, I think. Lest you think that I throw around words simply to impress, I insist that I did not know this word (catachresis) while singing “La-la-lah; lala-la-lah” (this to the meter that similarly placed aging boomers will associate with the Banana Splits show) whilst merrily daubing my soap-on-a-rope this morning. I probably should have known about catachresis given it’s prominance in certain schools of philosophy, but if I knew it once, I had lost it so completely that I was unaware that I had lost it by this morning’s shower. I am also keenly aware that many Americans have no intrinsic interest in vocabulary; indeed, they are quite likely to react as if the strangeness or novelty of a given word is intended as a rebuke to the lassitude they exhibited as pupils in grammar school. If you’re having trouble with ‘lassitude’, here’s that link to Dictionary.com again. If you’re having trouble with ‘grammar school’ or the Banana Splits Adventure Show, your problem has nothing at all to do with your intellect or your education. It owes entirely to your being either too young or too old to probe reference points that will be dead obvious to anyone whose experience is even roughly like my own. Wikipedia will probably be more helpful.
There’s probably a word for the distinctive meter that is exemplified by the theme song for the Banana Splits , but I don’t happen to know it. In the high-tech, multiple-linked world of the 21st century, you can just go directly to You Tube and watch a performance clip from Beau Jocque and the Zydeco Hi-Rollers. (You can do the same thing for the Banana Splits, but it’s beside the point). I need not resort to catachresis, here. I can go straight to the corn bread. “Corn bread” is, in fact, almost the entire lyric of this marvelous musical composition from the 1980s, repeated first in a questioning tone by the Hi-Rollers (e.g. Corn bread?) during the interstices of the zydeco rhythm that follows the Banana-rama intro. Then Beau Jocque breaks into the more substantive lyric, which consists in repetition of the phrase “Give ‘em corn bread” for most of the four minutes and fifty-seven seconds that my particular recording of this musical masterpiece takes. There are also live versions of the song that run considerably longer. And by the way, if you’re having trouble with ‘interstices’ (and who wouldn’t?), here’s a handy link to Dictionary.com
Now in the spirit of completeness, I should note that there is a bridge to this song where Beau Jocque is alleged to say “What you gonna give, em? A piece of corn bread”, though I must say that it sounds much more like “What you gonna give me for my piece of corn bread?” to me. This phrase, I note, is also repeated several times in call and response fashion, with the Hi-Rollers answering Beau Jocque’s timeless question with the equally timeless answer: “Corn bread!” If I were an English professor, I’d probably feel compelled to point out that the natural rhythm of the sentence “What you gonna give me for a piece of corn bread?” tracks the Zydeco beat perfectly. Although you probably wouldn’t normally have trouble with ‘bridge’ in any ordinary usage, you might miss the meaning here, which is the same as when James Brown shouts famously to his band “Take me to the bridge!” I’m too lazy to find a link for you, but you’re probably sitting at your computer as you read this, so you can Google it as easily as the next person.
I was singing “Corn bread!” in the shower because I was listening to it just the other day. I Googled “Beau Jocque, and discovered that he died from a heart attack while taking a shower in 1999. Fortunately, I survived this hazard on a chilly single-digit September morning in Michigan and I am here to write the Thornapple blog. In Googling “Beau Jocque” I turned up a website that purported to explain the meaning of the song (if you’re having trouble with ‘purported’, here’s that link to Dictionary.com again). There is apparently quite a traffic in robotic websites dedicated to explaining the meaning of obscure pop songs. But when I clicked on the link, there was no satisfactory result: Although some accommodating robot had built this website and boosted its Google rating, no similarly accommodating web surfer had taken the time to post his or her distinctive theory about the true meaning of this infectious canticle (If you’re having trouble with ‘infectious’ or ‘canticle’ …). So I’m here with the Thornapple blog to offer the hermeneutically certified and definitive food ethics theory of what was on Beau Jocque’s mind when he coined this immortal verse:
Paul B. Thompson is the W.K. Kellogg Professor of Agricultural, Food and Community Ethics at Michigan State University