by Ruth Minshull
There are so many people protesting so many things these days that it’s hard to keep track of them all. If it isn’t the war, it’s save this, down with that, support this, banish that.
Now, I’m all for saving the whales and the chinchillas and the ozone layer and peace on earth, but what bothers me is that nowhere in this whole nation is anyone fighting for my cause. I guess I’ll have to hoist the banner and march myself.
I think it’s grossly unfair for the state of Pennsylvania to hog my favorite word: Monongahela.
I love that word. There’s something richly gratifying about its five syllables as they dance out of the mouth. There’s that catchy hesitation step–right in the middle, after the musical hum of the ONG sound (ma-nong’ga-he’la).
It’s a verbal tango.
Although there is a Monongahela National Forest in West Virginia, the word is almost exclusively used in one state–Pennsylvania.
It’s the name of a city in Pennsylvania and the name of a river in the same state. (In fact, if you are ever on Jeopardy and the question comes up, it is one of the few rivers in the United States that flows north instead of south.) It’s also a rye whiskey made in–you guessed it–Pennsylvania. The name is also used for a valley, a grotto, a festival, a house, a basin, a newspaper, an association, a ship, a bridge and various other projects, all in Pennsylvania. So, if you don’t happen to live there, you would have few chances to relish this delectable word.
Do you see what I mean about the selfish monopoly taking place within the state of Pennsylvania? In fact, they’re so indifferent to its magnificence that sometimes they irreverently refer to the Monongahela River as simply “The Mon.” (Imagine wasting an opportunity to roll that word off your tongue!)
If this monopoly isn’t unconstitutional, it should be. Such wealth needs to be shared. Everyone should be able to use it—and often. The word is an instant tranquilizer. People would be calmer, more satisfied with life, if they regularly exercised their civil rights to employ it. A minimum of three times a week would certainly improve the quality of life on this planet. It could reduce stress, prevent ulcers, assuage melancholy and cut the sale of valium in half. Doctors should prescribe it.
Of course, I realize that I could gratify my own needs in several ways. I could move to the town or to a spot on the river–a pretty drastic remedy of my scarcity. Or I could change my name: “Hello, this is Ruth Monongahela.” Of course, spelling it for everyone could get tiresome. (And imagine the permutations of misspellings that would arrive in my junk mail.) Furthermore, that would be too selfish. I feel obligated to find a solution that will benefit everyone.
For a long time I thought the word had no meaning, no roots—that it was just an arbitrary name like Smith or Jones or Belvedere–although I was ready to bet my Webster’s that it was an Indian word. I speculated that it might have meant, “Would you scratch my back?” (Monongahela? Right there in the middle. Ah! Thank you.)
Recently, however, a Web search revealed that the name is derived from a Native American word meaning “high banks.” I suppose this referred to the river. I have to admit that I was disappointed. It seemed such a pedestrian meaning for this splendid name.
Anyway, words, as we all know, can have many meanings. In fact, most words do. Why not simply appropriate it to name any object or function we choose? My main purpose is to wrest Monongahela from the Pennsylvania monopoly. They’ve been in control of it far too long.
Perhaps I’ll create a new food dish. We do need another form of potato to replace French fries which, of course, are not only politically déclassé, but fattening.
I suggest this: Cut up some potatoes in a baking pan, add a few pinches of basil, dot with butter, cover with a generous amount of parmesan, sprinkle lightly with paprika. Bake until tender, crisp and brown.
Voila! Potatoes Monongahela!
I feel better already.
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© 2009 by Ruth Minshull