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This place matters

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Last words

There's an NPR show called A Way with Words that discusses words, wordplay, word origins and such. Recently, I learned the origin of the term swan song. The term itself, we believe, found its way to us by way of the German word Schwanengesang, which I think sounds cooler.
Though the term came to us from German, the idiom exists because of a Greek legend - it was thought that certain swans sing a beautiful, mournful song right before they die.
It's a beautiful story, and it paints a lovely picture in my head. The only problem is that swans don't sing. I know I'm being too literal here, but swans honk. They grunt, they hiss, they moan and make all manner of sounds that aren't pleasant to hear. So the beautiful, mournful dirge that a swan might sing itself out with would sound a lot like rush hour traffic.

1 comment:

Anthony, and no other said...

That's why it's a beautiful image, though! A swan, after a lifetime of being utterly useless and horrible, gets a moment of transcendent glory right before snuffing it. The last gasp gets to be a melody instead of the usual honking cacophony. It's an inspirational thought for us grunting, hissing, unpleasant types.

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