Saturday, July 27, 2019

Swell Foop

I went to a Relief Society dessert night a couple of weeks ago—and it was great because the unintended theme (it was potluck, and, boy, did we get lucky?!) of the desserts was lemon and blueberry and it was divine. There was a sister there, who was telling about her baptism sixty years ago. Her family lived out in the country and didn't make it to the church building very often, so her mother had her wait until her little brother turned eight (and she, herself, was twelve) and had them baptized together in "one swell swoop!"

She said "swell swoop" a couple more times that evening and every time I did a mental jaw drop.

Swell swoop!

Why hadn't I ever thought of saying that? Do you say that?

A quick Google search reveals that it's...not really a thing. But how incredible that she says that.

The saying, of course, is "fell swoop," first appearing in MacBeth, where fell means fierce, sinister or deadly and swoop means "a single concentrated and quickly effective effort." But, honestly, people rarely use that aspect of fell these days. In fact, a friend of mine repeatedly used the adjective "fell" in a book he's getting published and his editor repeatedly removed it because "fell creature" is...a little...archaic. This friend put it back in, though, because he was going for an archaic feel.

Fell comes from the Latin root fello, meaning "villain," which is related to the word "felon" in English (from fel (or "poison" or "bitter" or, aptly, "one full of bitterness") in Latin).

It's understandable that this woman, who grew up in rural Georgia some 60 years ago, might have figured the saying was "swell swoop" since fell...fell...out of use quite some time ago (as in, like, Shakespeare may have used it knowing what it meant back in the 16th/17th century, but the average English speaker today, in the 21st century, probably wouldn't pick up on that meaning).


I, for one, have a hard time saying "fell swoop" correctly. Instead I end up with the spoonerism "swell foop" about 90% of the time I try to say this phrase, so when I heard her say "swell sweep" I was a little jealous that I hadn't thought to say it first. It would have saved me years of embarrassment over saying "foop," which isn't a word at all.

And, honestly, when we're talking about "fell swoops" these days, I think the meaning is often positive. If you manage to do something in "one fell swoop" that's usually a positive thing—or at the very least, it's usually an act devoid of malevolence (these days). So why not have it be a "swell swoop" rather than a "fell swoop"? I mean, it kind of makes sense.

In other news, Alexander has trouble with his initial /s/ sound (and /z/ for that matter). He can't say Zoë (or Zo-zo, as I imagine he thinks he calls her). Instead he says, "Bwo-bwo!"

And he can't say "side." Instead he says, "way." I've written about that oddity before, but this morning I realized that he isn't saying "away" as in "put that side away and bring out the other one." He's actually trying to say "side." He's failing—abominably—but he's trying nonetheless (and he'll keep trying until he finally gets it right, which is a great lesson to language learners everywhere).

While nursing this morning, instead of simply saying, "Way!" to me when he wanted to switch sides he mimicked the phrased that I usually say—"other side." Only he said, "Ubby way!" (which I suppose could also be "other way," but I'm pretty sure he's trying to say "side" and can't because he can't say any words with an initial /s/ or /z/ yet, for whatever reason). He also this morning said, "Nursing!" clear as a bell (including that /s/ sound because...reasons?).

He's going to start speaking full sentences in one swell swoop, I'm sure!

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