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Monday, July 28, 2003

 
More blithe

Aaron Haspel (God of the Machine) has given a definitive answer to my question about the meaning of the word "blither" in the mouse poem by John Updike. Apparently, it means "more blithe" and is pronounced with a long i.

Updike is imitating Robert Burns here, so first I go to the Scots dictionary to find that "braw" is Scots for "fine." This helps me understand the poem but does not answer your question. "Blither" is not a Scots word, but it is an English word, with two meanings. Usually it is a verb, but as a verb it makes no sense in the poem. It is also a comparative adjective, meaning "more blithe," and this second sense clears the matter up. The last two lines mean: "theft (by the mouse) and murder (by the poet) are cheerier affairs when they're kept in the family." Unfortunately "blither," following "murther" directly, sounds far more natural with a short than a long i, which compounds the difficulty.
Marvellous! That Aaron's faur in the beuk.






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