The Creation Myth of English

The youngest child swung his feet as he sat at the end of the large battered kitchen table. Perched upon two telephone books his chin almost rested on the tabletop. He surveyed his family with disbelief. How could he have been born from such a rabble? Though he didn’t speak yet, he was making it very clear to his mother that he was not about to eat the boiled vegetables in front of him. In fact, he had plans to be perfectly ungrateful and stubborn for all eternity. He envied his oldest siblings, Celtic and Greek who had moved out of the house and could eat whatever they wanted. He was convinced they ate chocolate cake and orange soda for breakfast, lunch and dinner.  After all, who wouldn’t if you had the choice?

Three of his sisters, French, Italian, and Spanish sat to his right perched on an old church pew like finches on a wire. They were beautiful and poised and ate with a manner that befit a performance. They didn’t have much use for their sulky youngest brother whom, they were convinced, never smelled completely clean.

On his left were two of his brothers, Germanic and Latin. Germanic was the biggest of all the children and his bulk was due mostly to his mother’s fear of starvation when Germanic had been baby. He had broad shoulders, wolf blue eyes and fair skin. If you didn’t do what he said he’d pin you down and fart in your face. Their mother never believed that her darling “Germanny” could be capable of such atrocities and so he was never punished and the youngest had been suffering this injustice for as long as he could remember.

Latin was mumbling to himself and picking his nose. Mother swatted his hand away, trying to get him to eat his food instead of his bogies. He glared at her, pressed his oily hair flat across his head and muttered, “actus non facit reum nisi mens sit rea” which the youngest understood to mean the act isn’t guilty if the mind isn’t. He thought it was a weak argument.

The mother of this gaggle of children was sitting at the head of the table resting her chin on her hand and trying very hard not to fall asleep in her plate. She was tired with the kind of exhaustion that only comes from having too many children and not enough sleep.  She didn’t have to worry too much about her daughters, they were pretty self-sufficient but her boys were a concern. Especially the youngest, she had never encountered such stubbornness in a child before, and she was going to have to break him of it. It was going to be a hard lesson. At the moment, she was pretending not to notice the untouched vegetables on his plate, the resolute repulsion on his face or the way he was white knuckling the chair preparing for the inevitable battle of, “you eat your vegetables or there is no TV tomorrow and no milk before bed.” Her eyes glanced at the picture of her own mother on the vestibule and she wondered how many meals like this she had endured.

French, Spanish and Italian all finished their food simultaneously. Inclining their heads to the right they delicately placed their silverware across their plates as an indication of completion. Wiping the corners of their mouths with their folded napkins they glanced at their mother for permission to leave the table. Their mother nodded and they pushed the pew back enough to get out and pranced out of the room in single file.

The mother glanced at Germanic who was taking bites to the rhythm of song he was singing through mouthfuls of food, “Hänschen klein / Ging allein / In die weite Welt hinein / Stock und Hut / Stehn ihm gut, / Ist gar wohlgemut. / Aber Mutter weinet sehr / Hat ja nun kein Hänschen mehr…”[1] She swatted Latin’s finger out of his nose again took a deep breath and looked down the long table to her youngest who met her stare with set eyes.

“Eat your vegetables now, otherwise you won’t be strong like your brother Germanny here.” Germanic paused in mid song to glare down the table. The youngest tightened his grip on his chair and shook his head vehemently. The mother considered this.

“I don’t have the energy to fight you tonight, if you don’t eat those vegetables you can sit at the table all night long until you fall asleep and your open snoring mouth lands in your plate and sucks up the food.”

The youngest shook his head again and then stuck out his tongue at his mother.

“Don’t be rude to me. I worked very hard to make this meal for you and this is the thanks I get. May you have many ungrateful children so you will know what you’ve put me through.”

The youngest pushed the plate away from himself and slid it halfway up the table. The mother got up in a huff and returned the plate in front of him and sat down beside him taking up a fork like a soldier choosing her weapon for the battle.

“You are going to eat this young man and that’s all there is to it.”

She scooped up a bite of the now cold sloppy vegetables and tried to get it in his mouth, which he would not open, forcing the food to smudge on his chin and fall on the floor. The mother breathed deeply pushing down her rising temper.

“Oh that was good, now you get to eat your vegetables from the plate and the floor. Do you think that was a good decision?”

The youngest didn’t move. The mother contemplated her options and then allowing the exhaustion and the anger to get the best of her she quickly reached up and plugged the nose of her youngest. His eyes widened, betraying a surprise at this new tactic and he realized he was going to have to open his mouth to breathe. He could see the fork of soggy boiled spinach and cabbage waiting in the wings. He held out as long as he could hoping to pass out before his mouth opened but in the end he lost and as he gasped for air the quick hands of his mother defeated him. She smiled at her victory and said,

“Now, do you want to do that all night? Wouldn’t it be easier and faster if you just ate it yourself and then you can go play?”

The youngest was furious with defeat and the stubbornness in him rose up like monster in his chest and he spat the vegetables into his mother’s face. She gasped and stood up quickly.

“How dare you, you horrid little..”

The youngest decided this was it. This was his moment. He couldn’t take it anymore. Not another minute. He jumped down from his telephone books and bolted for the door that led outside, his shirt grazing through his mother’s clutches as she tried to grab him. He reached for the doorknob and turned it then leaping from the kitchen into the bright light of the wide world. When his feet touched the grass of the yard which led to the street, which led to the highway, which led to wherever his imagination could take him, he belted out his first words as loudly as he could,

“I am Free!!!”

His exhausted mother stood in the doorway and yelled after him, “You are no child of mine English, You are a monster! An ungrateful little beast!”

That is the story of how English came to be in this world. Make no mistake, English is a beast and these are its children…

[1] Little Johnny / Went alone / In the wide world / Stick and hat / Suit him well / He’s cheerful! / But Mother weeps much / Now she has her little Johnny no more…


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