Molly Fisk: Not Precisely the Right Word

Last week, I went out to lunch with some friends in my fairly groovy rural California town. Many restaurants around here believe in using local produce, and I’ve noticed this can lead to more specific menu descriptions. It might be the name of the farm: Riverhill, Mountain Bounty, or First Rain. But this time, it was the name of a vegetable: instead of “winter squash ravioli,” it was called “Kabocha squash ravioli.”

My friends and I are of a certain age, which means that a) we forget things, and b) we don’t jump to our phones to look up what we’ve forgotten. We’re of the generation that still likes the meandering conversational process of trying to figure out what the word was. It’s part of the fun — perhaps the only fun — of having sieves for brains now. “What was that squash, again? I know it’s not Kombucha, that’s the vinegary drink,” said one. “And it’s not Kubota, that’s the Japanese tractor,” said another.

This restaurant uses table cloths and then lays brown kraft paper over them, which is very convenient. I’ve written six or seven poems on that brown paper over the years. I spelled out Kombucha and Kubota in maroon ink next to my plate. The waitress came back and we asked her the name of the squash. K-a-b-o-c-h-a. Which is, it turns out, Japanese, like the tractor. Then the owner came by and through some mishearing, also a feature of our ages, Kabuki and Kimono were added to the list, even though they don’t end in “a.” A certain amount of hilarity ensued, possibly amplified by the Sauvignon Blanc my friends were drinking.

Later in the day I had to run an errand at the nursery, where a different friend works, and while I was buying a saffron-yellow, one-gallon chrysanthemum we passed their big display of pumpkins and squashes, so I told her the story.

“Oh, that’s nothing,” she said. “You should hear what happens with plant names. One time a very dignified, well-dressed older woman came in here and asked me if I had chlamydia!”

All you gardeners will realize that what the woman meant was clematis: a popular variety of climbing vine with gorgeous big flowers, also, coincidentally, of Japanese and Chinese origin. Chlamydia, in case you are reaching for your phone to ask Dr. Google, is a fairly unpleasant venereal disease that affects both women and men. The dignified customer was mortified when she figured out what she’d said, of course.

I have no moral for this story: you get to choose your own. Maybe you’re thinking it should be “Live fast, die young, and leave a good-looking corpse.” Maybe it’s a groan of anticipation, like “Get ready for your mind to start embarrassing you in public and make sure you have friends who’ll help you laugh about it.”

Either way, tip your hat to the eldest around you, who used to be as quick-witted and fleet as the rest of us, unbelievable as that may seem.

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  • Mickey M. December 2, 2017 at 12:26 pm

    Oh, dear, my friend couldn’t add $20 and $15 to get $35; plus there were other items to add. I got $53; she kept saying, adding the list up to $37. God bless her and her ailing husband. I hope I will be here, there, wherever she needs me to be for her. I can’t remember how to pronounce the inner ear tube things name. Etruscan? No! Oh, well, I can google it. Hugs, Molly. I love your stories.

    • Molly Fisk December 2, 2017 at 2:37 pm

      Hugs back, and we’ll all need help spelling Eustachian tube one of these days… 😉

  • Jo Shafer December 2, 2017 at 12:26 pm

    Molly Fisk, I LOVE your blog! Mind a sieve these days? Yup. This particular post about words with similar sounds/spellings/but different meanings, based on your squash luncheon, is my first chuckle of the day.

    • Molly Fisk December 2, 2017 at 2:35 pm

      hooray! chuckle on, Jo… it’s the only way we’re going to make it. 😉

  • hillsmom December 2, 2017 at 10:43 am

    Greetings from the “Wrinkle Farm” Molly. Thanks for the laugh, and I sure can relate. Gussie, on the other hand, doesn’t have that problem. She’s very self centered…can you spell “MEow”? =^..^=

    • Molly Fisk December 2, 2017 at 2:36 pm

      Well, cats… their aptitude for synonyms has not yet been discovered. What I envy is their constant steady aplomb.

      • hillsmom December 3, 2017 at 10:10 am

        Gussie sez she doesn’t fancy plums…thank you very much. =^..^= But, she is always glad to be mentioned anyway. 😎