Friday, May 28, 2004

In Praise Of Little Words

I like the idea of baseball more than I do the game itself. I admire how it differs from the sports that are modeled on war and messy battlefield face-offs. It's more like a board game -- Parcheesi or Sorry, to cite two favorite childhood examples -- where the players propel counters around a track in a race to arrive home. Home. The cozy, safe, family-invested hearth. I loved those board games. The bright little game counters seemed like little people, and the home squares their dwellings. It was more like playing house than playing war. The competition seemed almost incidental.

When I opened DeLillo's Underworld some years ago and noticed the first chapter was about baseball, my heart sunk. "Baseball is so BORING," I thought. Within a paragraph, I was hooked, and rushed about for days raving about how I'd just read the best thing I'd ever read, maybe the best thing ever written. Maybe baseball wasn't so boring after all.

No, it is. But maybe that's one of its virtues. It has its own clock. One must adopt its clock, go with its clock, inning by inning. All nine or maybe more of them. Or, further subdividing, half inning by half inning, as in the top of the fifth or the bottom of the ninth. Eighteen, then. As in holes of golf. Baseball's more like golf than like football, except golf's geometry is linear and golf is really boring. The avatar of boredom.

But what I mostly admire about baseball are the words. The curt, punchy little anglo-saxonisms. This, I'll admit, is odd coming from someone who, just yesterday thought, listening to Arvo Part's Summa, Maybe I should memorize the Nicene Creed in Latin ! Or the woman who once wrote a long series of poems based on a list of the most exotic words she could fine in the OED Etymology Dictionary.

Baseball says:

The bag. The mound. Bat, ball, bunt, strike, fly.

But I especially like "The Bag" and "The Mound."

And, of those two, "The Bag" is my favorite. DK think's it's the hard "G." That could be. We won't explore the Freudian angle.

Last Easter my dear mother, looking up from dessert, said:

This is nice pie.

I have spent the past few months trying to figure out what about that phrase is so delicious, so sweetly funny, so pleasantly absurd, so ridiculously endearing.

The word "pie," like the word "spleen," has always seemed to me intrinsically humorous. I've always liked the bit of invective "Shut your pie hole," combining as it does two nifty monosyllables -- pie and hole -- into a totally satisfying and descriptive bit of slang. Cakehole's a little more genteel. Pie, ever so slightly vulgar. Cake, refined. Hole -- well, res ipse loquitur. As one might expect, I also love "pound down" for "eat."

Pound that down your piehole !

"This is," replies my mother, sweetly, "nice pie."

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