Picayunalism? Picayunosity? Well, whatever ...

Several times now in Forum entries, Melvyn has been surprised to find that one of my word choices is not a dreaded "Californism." This is based on his assumption (a practice he abhors) that, because I currently live in California, I am, therefore, a Californian. Nothing could be further from the truth.

So, as one of our former presidents was wont to say, let me be perfectly clear -- I am NOT nor will I ever be, no matter how long I live here (and, please God, let that not be the rest of my life!), a Californian.

This got me thinking about something I have repeatedly told my classes: EVERY word has a history, EVERY word has a story, and most words have a related philosophy and metaphor as well. It just happens that the story, and partially the history, and perhaps part of the metaphor and philosphy of "picayune" are a little more personal for me than most.

A bit of personal geographic history. I was born in New York and grew up in New England. But nearly as soon as I graduated from undergraduate university, I hightailed it down to (as Melvyn in his Henry Higgins mode recently deduced) New Orleans, where I spent the next 22 years of my life. I moved, through a series of odd circumstances, to California at the turn of the century. So, having lived now in 13 different places, what am I?

True N.O. natives would say that you can't be a true New Orleanian unless you were born there, and they may be right. But if home is where the heart is, then I am, and always will be, proudly New Orleanian, no matter where I live.

This brings me back to "picayune," an important word down there. It is the name of a town, Picayune, MS, and the name of the New Orleans daily newspaper, the Times-Picayune, for which I am proud to say I was a columnist for nearly twenty years. Proud, I say, because, though I always thought it was a great paper, it really showed its mettle during Hurricane Katrina when, it is no exaggeration to say, the actions of its staff were truly heroic.

Its name (later appropriated by Berkeley Breathed for the Bloom County Picayune, but that's another story) came from its initial price in 1837 -- 1 picayune, the name of a Spanish coin then in use in Louisiana (a state that at one time or another has flown ten or so different flags, including those of Spain, France, Britain, America, the Confederacy, and briefly its own flag as an independent nation). The Picayune merged with the Times-Democrat, and then with the States-Item, to become for awhile the Times-Picayune/States-Item, or TPSI (pronounced tipsy). Since it dropped the States-Item part of the name, it is generally referred to as the TP, which some of its detractors (of which I am most definitely not one) say is an all too accurate description. Melvyn, being European, you may not get the reference, but I'll leave you to look up what else TP stands for in the US. Winner of several Pulitzers, it has boasted writers such as O'Henry and Faulkner on its staff.

So, though my vocabulary may at times be eccentric, and much may come from my years in NO (including my fondness for the second person plural, a distinct word for which standard English lacks except in the South), I would venture to say that NONE of it is Californian.

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