Several years ago—during my pre-Kindle days—I was rummaging through the bargain bookshelves at Barnes and Noble. A particular book title smacked me right between my eyes. It was a thin, paperback volume titled: 100 Words Every High School Graduate Should Know.
I knew only about fifty of them. And, throughout my professional life, I’ve actually used less than twenty-five of them. I’m a retired researcher. And, while I often used words like usurp, oligarchy, and feckless, I never had much call for bowdlerize and quotidian.
However, the list contained one OTHER word that I could define. And, even though I can still define it, in my 70-years on this Earth, I’ve heard it used only twice.
The first time was by my 5th-grade teacher (a nun) who, at the beginning of each week, assigned us five vocabulary words. At the end of each week, she gave us a test wherein we had to write their definitions, using the Palmer Method (called cursive nowadays) AND use each one in a sentence.
Then, this past Thursday, at a local convenience store, a customer in her—I’m guessing—mid-50s actually said the WORD (out loud, no less) when the deli clerk told her that they were out of bagels. “Oh, PSHAW,” she cried out and stomped off.
In case you’re not familiar with the word, it indicates disapproval, irritation, impatience, and disbelief. Now, it’s not that I have anything against the word. It’s just one of those words that shirtsleeve Americans never say.
I’ve had MANY excellent opportunities to use it. But, for whatever reason, it’s never occurred to me to do so. Like many others, I’ve always opted for simpler, more “descriptive” words to express my disapproval, irritation, impatience, and disbelief… like, you know, “shucks” and “gosh darn.”
For example, I’ve had a noticeably crooked right big toe since I was 42-years old. It was about 3:30 AM in mid-August. I awoke needing a cool drink of ice water. I climbed out of bed to go downstairs to the kitchen to get it.
And, since it was 3:30 in the MORNING, I did not feel a necessity for formal attire. Clad only in my “Jockeys,” I just tramped down there in my bare feet.
It was on my way back through the living room (in the dark) that it happened. I stubbed my toe on the leg of an end table. It wasn’t just a stub, though. The leg of that table bent my big toe to the right as it barged between the big toe and the second toe. My ears immediately heard breaking bone and tearing cartilage. It took less than 2-seconds for my toe and brain to communicate the details.
The PAIN! Trust me on this; PSHAW wasn’t one of the words I yelled to express my disapproval, irritation, impatience, and disbelief. Even though ages earlier, Sister Leticia had made me memorize its meaning, I just plain out blew a golden chance to use it. And, unfortunately, it wasn’t my only missed opportunity.
I’ve skydived since 1958. Shut-up; I already know what you’re thinking: “WHY?” I realize it’s not for everyone, especially sane people. But, I love it. Talk about opportunities to shout PSHAW! I’ve had several of them; and I’ve missed every one of them.
Over fifty-three years of skydiving, I’ve experienced total malfunctions FIVE times—meaning that I had to use my reserve chute to land in one piece. And, it SURELY frazzles the nerves EACH time it happens.
Jumpers are doing about 120 miles per hour (around 176-feet per second) when they deploy their main chutes at about 2,200 feet above the ground. It takes about 3-seconds for full inflation of the main chute, during which time a jumper has fallen an additional 528-feet.
If the main chute fails to deploy, the skydiver has become a small crater in search of grid coordinates with about 9-seconds until SPLATDOWN… unless the reserve chute deploys successfully. Obviously, mine has ALWAYS deployed.
Almost instinctively, all the endless solid training kicks in at the right time. But, the FIRST time it happens, one’s bladder/bowel control diminishes considerably. God’s name tends to pop up a lot, too.
However, as a verbal expression of irritation, disbelief, disapproval, or impatience, I’ve never met a skydiver who bellowed “PSHAW.” And, neither have I… EVER!
As well, I’ve had MANY other opportunities, over many years, to showcase my command of this critically important vocabulary word. But, sadly, I blew all of them.
For example, when I received the first automobile insurance premium that included my teenage children, I could have expressed my disapproval, irritation, and disbelief with PSHAW. But, I didn’t! Go ahead! Try to guess what I said.
And, I remember WELL the middle-of-the-night phone call from the hospital emergency room for me to come hither because my son had been in an automobile accident. “There are no life-threatening injuries but he had been drinking,” his girlfriend informed me—they had just left his 21st birthday party.
When I put the phone back on the nightstand, his mother, half-crying, asked me if he was still alive. I assured her that he was OK and that God had spared him because He knew that I’D want to kill the boy.
It took me about 20-minutes to get to the hospital. And, throughout the trip, I repeatedly used the same choice words to express my disapproval, irritation, impatience, and disbelief. Rest assured, PSHAW was NOT one of them!
And, since 9/11, I’ve literally lost count of the plethora of opportunities I’ve had to upgrade my vocabulary to include PSHAW. But, no matter how I cut it, PSHAW has always paled in comparison to so many other time-proven, much more direct expressions of disbelief, irritability, impatience, and disapproval. Oh, PSHAW, woe is me! Stay safe.
Joe Walther is a freelance writer and publisher of The True Facts. You may comment on his column by clicking here.