Quoth RuPaul: “I have one thing to say: sashay, shante; shante, shante, shante.”

I have a new plan: to finally learn the bass drum like I’ve always wanted (always? oh I don’t know…certainly since marching for peace and justice in parades when I was little; much, much more since seeing Gogol Bordello on New Year’s Eve with Erin and Jason in 2007, like this but clothed), and dust off my mermaid tail and accompany myself–BOOM! BOOM!–singing sea shanties. Maybe for birthday parties, or just in the backyard. I’m dead serious and I can’t wait.

So anyway: what’s a shanty, right? I assumed it had to be from French chanter (to sing) but figured I better check on that and it’s so good I did! It IS from chanter, but I found out like 20 other amazing things. Ready?

photo 1 (2)

So I was on the way to shanty, and…Bah! Shandy has a definition! So it seems it is time for me to read Lawrence Sterne. Everyone read “Tristram Shandy” in college and I didn’t and now it’s just time. Also, what a wonderful word. I believe I will sing shandy shanties.

photo 2 (2)

Ok, so here’s “shanty”…totally not telling me about chanter (or more likely, chantez, because that would be the imperative, like Sing, boat-men! Sing as you hoist the boat-things!) but I looked elsewhere and that does seem agreed upon. But in all my nautical fervor* I’d forgotten that of course “shanty” has that whole other meaning, that meager dwelling meaning, and here it is. What I love about 1934 is that if you were just looking up “shantyman” you’d really have no idea why Canadian lumbermen were coming into the picture–just as an example, for a visual? Or it only applies to Canadian lumbermen? Love it. (If you need this solved, see top definition). Also, I think “sly grog shop” is up there with “cellar door” as a beautiful (if more plosive) thing for the mouth to experience through speaking. Finally: look at the 4th one, the adj! Jaunty and showy. This gives no etymology, and it’s now dialectical (where? take me!), and the internet doesn’t know about this. Who cares: I will be singing shandy shanty shanties, and I will sashay, chanter chanter chanter. When’s your birthday??

Ok, now just bonus encounters:

photo 4

J.K. Rowling is so, so clever, let me never say otherwise, but Kingsley Shacklebolt, this was in particular a name I was so impressed that she had made up, because somehow linking “shackle” with “bolt” was like onomatopoeic for lightning and thunder and all that this man brings (do you need a GIF? you do). But it’s a WORD! I’m still impressed, just…not as. So let’s Φιλερώτηση, let’s love some questions: what is a clevis?!

photo 5

Oh, it’s this. Wait, what is a whiffletree??

Pink Feather Tree B&Q

This, right?

Oh: IMG_2625**

It’s a whippletree. What’s a whippletree?


Well, it seems it’s one thing that gets shacklebolted, but it’s also this, if we’re to listen to Chaucer, and if you want to argue with Chaucer, be my guest:


And it makes these:


So I think we’re all going to be just fine.***

*ok: nautical fervor. It’s obviously super fun to add -naut to anything, and then you get to be a voyager about that thing. And here is a free treat I invented for you: an alternate word for a nihilist, sailing the seas of meaninglessness: alfernaut. ALFERNAUT! Jeez louise.

**Right, about those words above “whiffleetree.” Did you notice that a whiffler is, like, some armed military march order-keeper, and then “whifflery” is actions characteristic of such a person…like frivolity and trifling? Maybe the military was in an interesting period between world wars in 1934, experimenting with a different kind of order. Order like in a jam band, or a parade of dogs in costumes.

***Except of course for what Wendell Berry says, and dear Dina Strasser (read her blog, you’ll love it) reminds us of: But however much I may change my mind, I will never agree with those saleswomen and salesmen who suggest that if I will only do as they say, all will be fine. All, dear reader, is not going to be fine. Even if we all agreed with all the saints and prophets, all would not be fine. For we would still be mortal, partial, suffering poor creatures, not very intelligent and never the authors of our best hope. So that too.

Also, if the RuPaul thing isn’t familiar: go and encounter this!

2 thoughts on “Quoth RuPaul: “I have one thing to say: sashay, shante; shante, shante, shante.”

  1. You are really good at this! I used to listen to John Ciardi on PBS radio present his take on word origins. Loved it! I wanted to grow up to BE him! Enjoying your world, KB


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