The Marvels of Elision
One of the phenomena—even privileges—of aging is remembering things from our distant past. With me it often comes in the form of a song or even a commercial jingle from long ago, generally for a product that no longer exists like Ipana Toothpaste with its “Ipana Smile.” A recent example: I’ll hear in my head a refrain that doubtless goes back to World War II when we were living in a red-brick house, 48 Essex Road, in the Old Village of Great Neck, Long Island, New York. I was maybe five. The radio situation is something like this. An excited baritone voice begins, “From WGN in Chicago, it’s Don McNeill and his Breakfast Club!” Then Don himself comes on with the daily strains of his theme song: “Good morning, Breakfast Clubbers, it’s time to greet you….” I don’t remember the rest, but the melody is etched in my memory. So, I join in with the Don in my head, and we intone the first line together, he from the shadows of my distant past and me from right here, right now, so to speak. The cliché is we’ll remember, say, the lines of a poem we memorized 70 years ago but then will go upstairs to get something and on arrival totally forget what it was we’d wanted. Ah, sweet mysteries of aging!
But this blog is not about that exactly but rather the phenomenon of elision. So what, pray, is that? Well, ask an English major like me, one clever enough to ask Google for what the kids are now calling “the true facts.” Here’s what I found: The literal definition is “the omission of a sound or syllable when speaking.” Several examples in English are “I’m” and “let’s.” Romance languages, most notably Italian, are masters in this regard, thanks to the near omnipresence of vowels. A lost Florentine visiting Rome, for instance, might ask, “Dov’`e l’albergo mio?” (Where’s my hotel?) in lieu of Dove `e il albergo mio?” Come to think of it, we wouldn’t ask “Where IS my hotel?” when adrift in New York City but rather “Where’s….”
o, consider a recent memory from perhaps age three. I had mastered kiddie English very early. As my Brooklyn-born dad put it in his full-out New Yawkese, “The kid started speaking in full sentences when he was one—and hasn’t shut up since!” Anyway, I have vivid memories of a World War II song I sang all the time, with the radio or solo. Here’s a phonetic rendition of what I was singing: “Mersey dotes and dozy dotes, and little lamzee divey. A kiddle-dee divvy too. Wouldn’t you?” Besides the “a,” the “ands,” “too,” and “little,” the only thing I got right were the last two words. Years later, already an adult, I discovered what the lyrics really said, to wit: “Lambs eat oats and does eat oats, and little lambs eat ivy. A kid’ll eat ivy too, wouldn’t you?” Actually, I wouldn’t, although I did attend an Ivy League college. To conclude, perhaps our newest elision as elders is the hopeless conflation of childhood memories with the present as we live into our 80s and beyond. So, my message to myself and fellow seniors is, “Keep on singing!”
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