Words of the Week 3/19/2014 — In which Julie discovers the dark side of an old nursery rhyme

This week’s words:

imputation n. an attribution, as of fault or crime; an accusation

perfunctory adj. performed out of routine; lacking enthusiasm; apathetic

litany n. a recital or repetitive series; a tedious, prolonged account

apéritif n. (French) a pre-dinner drink

placid n. tranquil; not easily upset or excited; peaceful

Now the composition. See if you can identify the well-known poem it alludes to:

For the old woman, a five o’clock apéritif was as perfunctory as the rhyming litany with which the neighbor kids teased her children. The gin and tonic made her placid, and at least numbed, if not impervious, to the chant’s subtle imputations about her chastity (or lack thereof) and rumors that her husband’s departure had made her an abusive matron.

Got it?

That’s right! I of course am referencing the old woman who lived in a shoe, a nursery rhyme of Mother Goose origins. Think I made it too dark? Well. It might interest you to know that at first I myself could only remember the initial two lines of this poem, “There was an old woman who lived in a shoe; / She had so many children, she didn’t know what to do.” I wrote my vocab sentences with those in mind and then, out of curiosity, looked up the rest of the poem. As it turns out, it’s just two lines more:

She gave them some broth without any bread;

And whipped them all soundly and put them to bed.

Uhhh…yeah. I’m pretty sure my copy of left those last ones out. The illustration in my childhood Mother Goose book was not unlike the one above: bright, colorful, featuring playing children, a gentle matron, and most importantly only the first two lines of the poem. But an illustration that portrays the complete nursery rhyme looks more like this:

I guess I see why the editor took a liberty or two (Can’t you just hear the lawsuits?).

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