Amende Honorable is a poem typed on thin vellum. It’s been folded into uneven quarters for so long that the creases refuse to lay quiet and tug at the page, like unfolded origami trying to snap back into shape.
It’s an apology to ‘all the old maids’, who the author apparently decided needed to be recognized. It’s interesting that the author decided that old maids were prehistoric promiscuous young women.
There are songs to the brides and the bridegrooms;
There are poems to mothers and dads;
There are cute little sonnets to lassies,
And wonderful odes to the lads;
But when I salute human nature
In lyrics of multiple shades,
My pen and my voice shall wax merry
In giving a hand to old maids,
For they are the popular ladies
About whom the gossips remark;
Whose habits and manners and customs
And motives and ways are laid stark;
The dames who’ve had Tom, Dick and Harry
In some prehistoric decade
A-courting their steps, but who’ve chosen
The life of the blissful old maid.
I’ve journeyed around quite a little,
And many’s the home that I’ve seen
Where Cupid’s lain long in the casket–
Where maybe he’s not even been!
There’s misery plenty in marriage,
Wherever the blame may be laid,
So here is my reason for writing
Salute to the happy old maid!
The typeface is a form of standard courier, riddled with jumpy letters, uneven kerning, and oddly bolded punctuation. Today, a young graphic designer might spend hours re-creating this font digitally; inserting just the right amount of happy accidents and inconsistencies to create a wedding invitation that looks as if it was rolled out of an old Royal typewriter.
I searched for the text online, but couldn’t find a reference to the poem. It’s signed M.C.W, which are initials that do not exist in the extensive family tree I’ve assembled for John and Juanita. The author remains a mystery.
The title of the poem is Amende Honorable. Per Merriam-Webster:
plural amendes honorables \”\
: reparation for a crime or injury formerly consisting in such a formal and humiliating acknowledgment of offense and apology as will restore the injured or offended honor of the one wronged; broadly : a full acknowledgment of error with apology
Amende honorable was a French mode of punishment which required the offender to be stripped, led to a church by the public executioner, who held the rope around the prisoner’s neck. At the church, the prisoner would beg God, and anyone else who might be listening, for a pardon.
Game of Thrones fans…sound familiar?
As it often happens during my online research, I became distracted by OUATOTI or Other Unrelated Awesome Thing on the Internet. Although it often delays my writing, I happily succumb to OUATOTI. If I squashed my click happy urges, I would never have found the remarkable Mr. Weingroff of the Office of Infrastructure at the Federal Highway Administration, while researching train travel in the early 20th century. You can read more about his nerdy awesomeness in this post.
Today’s OUATATI is the wonderful Merriam-Webster website. If you are a word-nerd, prepare to lose a couple of hours clicking through all the online materials, starting with Name That Thing, a 10 question vocabulary challenge.
If browsing a dictionary website doesn’t sound much fun, consider these tantelizing video lessons:
And my favorite: Irregardless – It is in fact a real word (but that doesn’t mean you should use it). If Merriam-Webster ever needs an example of ‘deadpan sassiness’, they should look no further than their own lexicographer and editor, Kory Stamper. Ms. Stamper takes no guff.
Amusing and informative videos aside, in my opinion the most interesting content on Merriam-Webster is the Trending Now stream. You may have noticed the popularity rank in the definition block of Amende honorable above. Amende honorable was in the bottom 10% of words looked up online through MW’s website. Merriam-Webster tracks online search queries, allowing them to pinpoint which words are trending. Trending words are then linked to correlating current events, providing a fascinating perspective on the pulse of our planet. For example, the word ‘existential’ started to trend after President Obama made a statement following the Brussels attacks on March 22nd, 2016.
Groups like ISIL can’t destroy us, they can’t defeat us. They don’t produce anything. They’re not an existential threat to us. They are vicious killers and murderers who perverted one of the world’s great religions. – President Obama, March 2016
Every year, Merriam-Webster determines the Word of the Year’. The Word of the Year in 2015 was an odd one: ‘-ism’. I encourage you to read this article that explains how a suffix became the Word of the Year, and review the events that triggered millions of individual dictionary lookups.