Hoisted by My Own Petard

I am a reader. Always have been. I devour the written word. I can’t remember a time when reading wasn’t a thing for me. This flame has been fanned by several key family members and a love of reading is a common trait I often find amongst my friends. I love magazines (current subscriptions: Entertainment Weekly, Vanity Fair, and L.A. Magazine [update: also The Week, Martha Stewart Living, and Real Simple]). I love calligraphy, font, and word art. There is just something about language and the written word that captures me.

As much as I staunchly fought the e-book craze– insisting that I preferred physical iterations– I finally gave in the summer of 2012. 2012 found me traveling/flying quite frequently. After every trip, I would always notice major back soreness (which also, I’m sure, had nothing to do with being a chronic over-packer). I was in a Midwestern airport, having finished the first of a two-leg trip, when I had the realization that maybe carrying the 940-page behemoth hardback copy of Stephen Kings 11/22/1963 wasn’t worth the back pain. That Christmas, Josh was sweet enough to give me a Kindle Fire, despite my protests. Honestly, I haven’t looked back. I still read physical, paper books… but rarely at night (which is when a majority of my reading gets done). The Kindle (with its schmancy backlight) allows me to read in bed while still having the lamp off. And although keeping the lamp on has never bothered Josh, I find that having the room dark helps me fall asleep easier. And isn’t that what its all about? I tell you all of this to finally get to the point of my post today. One of the awesome advantages of e-books is that a majority of the literary classics are free. Since money isn’t growing on trees around here, I am using this time as an opportunity to catch up on some “classics” that I had missed in school. There have been some duds, no doubt, but all-in-all a worthy experiment. You can follow me on the goodreads app or at goodreads.com, if you are so inclined.

The last time I cast my net in the public-domain, classic-literature pond I reeled in Humorous Masterpieces from American Literature. My logic at the time was, “I like humor! Sounds like fun!” It was… but not in the way intended. The book wound up being, as promised, a collection of essays from various authors of the 19th-Century. There were no false promises made. The title only suggested that these essays would be “humorous” not “uproariously funny.” Just as Laffy Taffy isn’t called, “Hilarious Taffy…” only a moderate amount of humor is implied. Although not surprised, I was amazed at the stark contrast between todays sense of humor and that of previous centuries. I assumed that there would be items of commonality, universal themes that are always funny, and there were. But before the age of the internet, television, heck, even radio the landscape of “funny” was a curious thing to behold. It was kind of like being on an anthropological expedition if the expedition featured a lot of xenophobia. Many a joke was made at a foreigners expense. Again, not terribly surprising.

In the course of my reading this book, I came across the phrase, “hoisted by his own petard.” An amazing feature of the Kindle is that if you come across a word with which you are unfamiliar, one simple holds ones finger over the word and the definition will pop up.  Being an ardent reader, I’d come across “hoisted by your own petard” before. As so often happens, when you are a young reader, you assign meaning to a word through context without understanding its origin or its true meaning. I knew the connotation of the phrase but was off-base as to its actual definition. To be ‘hoisted by your own petard’ is to hurt yourself with a weapon with which you originally intended to hurt someone else. For whatever reason, my child-brain associated the phrase with jousting, and it stuck. The child-brain-association is also why, when reading Lloyd Alexander’s awesome Prydain series as child, I didn’t know that the Welsh language existed and read the character name of “Ffleuder Fflam” as “Fuh-Fleuder Fuh-Flam.” Anyways, back to the petard business. I thought it originated after a jouster was lifted out of his chair by his own lance hitting an opponent. And although that technically fits the definition, the phrase has been with us since the 1500’s and refers to explosive devices- literally blowing/lifting yourself up on gunpowder squibs that you made for the enemy. All of this is word nerdery… which, again, I love.

I was recounting a particularly cringe-worthy essay from Humorous Masterpieces from American Literature to Josh when it occurred to me to ask him what HE thought the phrase meant; to see if there was mutual confusion. To which he replied, “hoisted by your own petard? That’s a nautical term.” I shared my revelation as to its true origin and asked him from whence his definition came. He replied, “since hoisting is something you do to a sail, I just assumed that it had something to do with sailing.” He also had the correct connotation of the phrase, but we laughed about how both wrong and right we were as to its origin. Isn’t language amazing? It is a wonder that anyone can speak English.

Oh yeah, and I also love puns as exampled in this pertinent cartoon:


So, what are you reading right now? Any suggestions? Do you have any wild, child-formed word associations? Are you a word nerd? As always, let us know! Until then, keep reading!

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