Thursday, July 9, 2009

Mosey v. Saunter


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(photo: trolley on Main Street, Memphis)
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There's an "orange" alert for smog and ozone in Memphis today, so it's a good day for moseying and sauntering, at best. Officials reduced the price of a trolley-ride on Main Street from one dollar to 25 cents; they're worried about older folks, as well as children with asthma, especially.

I sauntered up to a venerable lunch-room that was bustling with downtown business-folk, and I ate some turnip greens, tomatoes, and "corn sticks" (corn bread). Great basic food, eccentric servers: superb.

Two businessmen at the table next to mine had a long serious conversation about staffing. Then one of them said, "You ready to saunter back?" "Yes," the other one said, "let's mosey."

So of course I had to check the OED online with regard to these words. "Saunter" once meant "incantation" as a noun and, as a verb, "to muse," but that was long ago. By the 1780s, it referred to a "careless" walk or walking carelessly, so it appears as if sauntering may be a slower activity than moseying; that is, to saunter is to walk aimlessly, almost.

As a verb, "mosey" was (and remains?) an Americanism going back at least as far as 1829 in print. As a noun--for example, one may "take a saunter"--it goes back only to 1960, at least in the OED. I think I'm more accustomed to seeing nouns turned into verbs--as was famously done with "impact" in the 1980s, when it began to be used in place of "affect." "The report impacted city government," e.g. Before that, the only things I remember being "impacted" were wisdom-teeth.

On campus, I almost always leave for class very early and saunter there. At least one colleague I know is a bustler, and one day, as she bustled past, she asked, "Why do you walk so slowly?" I deflected the question by saying, "It's called sauntering."

I'm not sure what the real answer to her question is. I don't like to bustle because it usually symptomizes being late (speaking of turning a noun into a verb), and I like to look at creatures like bugs and birds when I walk. I also like to have time to nod to people I know and say hello. I always arrive in plenty of time.

I wish you good moseying and sauntering today.
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