Dawn Reader

Dawn Reader
from Open Door Coffee Co.; Hudson, OH; Oct. 26, 2016

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

You ANIMAL, You!

A recent word-of-the-day on dictionary.com (hircine = like a goat) brought back some memories ...  Here's the word:

And here's the story ...

Back in the fall of 1980, I was basically unemployed.  I'd resigned from Western Reserve Academy in a salary snit, figuring I'd easily get another job.  I didn't.

Fortunately, the local bookshop, the Learned Owl, took me on as a clerk (where I learned the true meaning of Minimum Wage), and Kent State let me teach freshman English to a couple of sections.  Money was a real problem that year.

I thought I could greatly supplement our income with writing (that didn't work out so well, either), and one of the projects I'd thought of was a children's book.  I had in mind a little story about a little boy (named Stevie--what a coincidence! my own son's name--he was eight at the time) who becomes fascinated with the words we have for animal qualities.

Most people know words like asinine and canine and feline.  But I found dozens of other words--like sciurine (squirrel), cuculine (cuckoo), cricetine (hamster), and otarine (sea lion).  I can't remember now how I came up with this idea.  But it's my custom to look up words I don't know when I come across them in my reading, so I'd probably read one, then wondered if there were others, and like that ...

One problem with a children's book: I can't draw for squat.  I've known it since kindergarten when other kids' crayon-on-manila-paper drawings actually looked like things I'd seen.  Mine looked like things no one had seen--no one sane.  And one time--bitter with envy--I marred a classmate's drawing while he was at the pencil-sharpener.  He had drawn a very nice-looking little boy; I added some feces falling from his rear.  (Hey, I was five!)

When the little boy came back to his seat, he was, well, chagrined.  And for the first time in my life, someone told the teacher on me.  (It was not--by far--the last time.)  And this wonderful woman, Mrs. Dugan, came over, saw what I had done, and instead of sending me to solitary in the cloakroom--or drawing and quartering me--she took a brown crayon and converted the nasty string of lumps into a very nice brown fence for the boy to sit on.  I was dazzled.

So .... I couldn't draw then; I can't draw now.  But I had a friend and former colleague who was an artist, and she agreed to talk with me about this children's book project.

So I wrote up a little story about Stevie and the animal words.  A few sample stanzas below:

Young Stevie wished for many things,
As young boys often do.
He wished for friends who never moved,
For toys that stayed brand-new.

He often wished that he could grow
Much faster than he did.
It seemed that he would always be
So short, so slow--a kid.

Well, little Stevie likes the library, and one day while he's there, he finds a "strange old book."  It was full of the animal words.

So little Stevie goes home and imagines himself being various animals--and using the weird words to help him think about it.  A couple of stanzas ...

If I were phocine [like a seal], Stevie thought,
I'd strike a funny pose:
I'd sit with Dad's big basketball
Internet image of a Dolphin Boy
A-spinning on my nose.


But being delphine would be nice--
Go swimming every day!--
And I could translate for the world
What dolphins really say!


You get the idea.  Well, my artist friend had some reservations (can't say I blame her), and lives changed, and people move on,and I put the list of words and the rough draft in a folder, labeled it, dated it (September 1980), and mostly forgot all about it ... until hircine came along from dictionary.com.

Any of you artists types out there interested in maybe resurrecting this thirty-year-old idea?


A correction from yesterday: I woke up in the middle of the night and realized that Curveball Laughs and Straw-Berras and Cream were not two separate books; the latter was a chapter in the former.  Oops.

And from an even earlier post--about the state of Ohio refusing to re-certify me to teach English in public schools when I carelessly let my certificate lapse in 1997--here are a couple of  actual quotations from that letter, all errors remaining (I've italicized a couple of things, lest your roaming eyes miss them):

"The fact that you hold advance degree's has no bearing on the implementation of the standards ....  I am enclosing a brochure [there was no brochure] with the information you will need to renew you certificate."


  1. Dr. Dyer,

    You probably don't remember me, Jenny Renshaw, from my days in Aurora but I remember you fondly. My family moved early in my freshman year to Indiana. I now live in Newbury with my little family. I found your blog via Lisa Adams Brogan's Facebook page. Loved the post about "fear in the schoolroom."

    Intrigued, I read on or, rather, back and found this post. My 11 year old daughter is an artist and a huge animal lover. If you ever decide to work on Stevie and the animal words idea, she might be able to help. She loves to create characters with animal and human features.

    Well, Dr. Dyer, I must bring this "blast from the past" to an end. Need to attend to my brood and their education here in our home. Thanks again for the "fear" post. It was excellent.


    Jennifer Renshaw Holbert

  2. I know all too well about minimum wage at The Learned Owl--I worked there for six years!