Last week, an acquaintance told me she had met a couple of my friends a few days earlier, and she said they told her to ask me about my "collection." Thinking they were probably referring to stamps, hat pins or socks, she asked for clarity. One friend quipped, "She collects sh*t," and she and the other friend looked at each other and snickered.
"Sh*t," in that context, could mean anything. My Grandpa Poindexter collected what could loosely be described as "sh*t," although neither he nor my grandmother would have ever used such crude verbiage. That was "junk," according to my grandmother; to my grandfather, it was "treasure." To me, it looked mostly like lawn mowers and their sundry parts.
Grandpa Poindexter was a loyal and enthusiastic swap meet aficionado, and sometimes when I visited over the summer, he'd take me along. I remember my grandmother saying plaintively, "Lyle, why do you want to drag her to that swap meet? She doesn't want to go there!" In fact, I did enjoy going, because I usually came away with a cool toy. And as anyone who has ever driven past our house - or had the misfortune to venture up our driveway - can attest, my husband is afflicted with the same disease. Except Chris prefers to drag up old toilets, sinks, and air conditioning units instead of lawnmowers. None are fit for installation in a decent house. There's a canoe, too, and I seriously doubt it would float.
But my friends weren't referring to junk, though; my collection is far more abstract, but their description was spot on. I literally do collect "sh*t" - the word, that is - in as many languages as I can. I believe I now have 28 in my cache, and it all started with the Japanese variant. Without a syllabary or access to the characters in that language, the best I can do is this: "Kuso!" Depending on the dialect, the "u" is sometimes silent. I picked it up from a former TDP staffer, whose father headed the College of Education at NSU, and whose mom was a native of Japan. Midori said her mother generally refused to teach her off-color words, but she did know that one.
When one collects sh*t in other languages, it's important to note that, as with English, the word can be literal or figurative, but other languages are more exacting. There may be a word for fecal matter, another for junk, and another for the expletive - and the nouns and verbs may be different as well. In English, this four-letter word serves many purposes - noun, verb, useless trash, effective cursing, and what a disgusted dad might find when forced to change a baby's diaper. (There's another four-letter word that covers a variety of meanings in English and at least four parts of speech, but we won't go there, nor do we need to. You get it.)
For the purpose of memorization, it's helpful if words are similar in several languages. The closest I can think of to the English word in this case is the German "scheisse." That's the English spelling, of course, but I'm not sure how to get an "Eszett" on my keyboard, other than copying and pasting, which gives me this: Scheiße. But when the word is spoken, it sounds quite a bit like the same word in English, and according to a German-speaking friend, is often used when discussing Adolph Hitler. Go figure.
The foul word in Spanish, French and Italian are very similar. The latter was confirmed by my Italian father-in-law, who once said in response to my query about its meaning: "That's the brown stuff." I started my collection way before Google simplified things, so at the time, I had no way of coming up with those words in Russian or Greek, which to the untrained eye look almost the same. I could now show inquisitors the word in Japanese as I intended it, as well as pronounce it, but ironically, not in a newspaper. It won't copy and paste.
What my friends did not tell the acquaintance was that my word collection isn't limited to variants of that brown stuff. I collect words in general and have a number of favorites. Readers can usually tell I wrote something because I try to slip at least a few of these words into anything I produce: miscreant, draconian, ubiquitous, erstwhile, brouhaha, proclivity, kerfuffle, cantankerous, heinous, hoosegow, skedaddle, bumbershoot, bloviate, idyllic, shamble and coulrophobe. That last one I like because I know several of those, including my son. And I have many more words, but not much more space.
Yes, I get it. Stamps, coins and even unusual underpants are more "normal" for collections. My peculiarity - another favorite word of mine - is for weirdos, or if you will, "wordos." But I have several former co-workers who share this odd hobby. Stacy (Patrick) Pratt, a former TDP copy editor/writer, even has a punctuation preference: the ellipsis. And Sarah Hart, now at ESPN, informed us the other day of a pet word of hers: "hemoglobin."
That kind of reminds me of "goblin," which leads to "boogeyman," which is the thing that shambles out of the closet, or perhaps the rough beast that slouches toward Bethlehem to be born. There can be no better phrase written in the English language than that one. Yeats was my kind of genius.