November 6, 2021 by libroshombre
“Woman Sues Kellogg Over Lack of Strawberries in Strawberry Pop-Tarts,” a recent Washington Post article, got me considering how many things are missing these days. The aforementioned Pop-Tarts apparently contain more apples and pears than strawberries and their bright red color is achieved with vegetable juice and “paprika color extract.” This came on the heels of hearing the Larks’ 1951 version of “I Ain’t Fattening Frogs for Snakes,” a lively tune that roused my curiosity. How does one go about fattening frogs in the first place, and, in the second, why?
Fattening frogs for snakes, according to Blues-l.com, “means you’re doing something that only ends up helping someone else and doesn’t end up helping you. Literally, one is feeding frogs to fatten them up so they’ll be big and yummy … Then it turns out the snake is eating up all those frogs.” A frog fanciers’ website, Dendroboard.com does list the best things to feed certain show frogs, but not agricultural frog feeding. “Amphibious Aquaculture: Why Frog Farming Is Set for Success,” an article at Thefishsite.com article, states that a host of problems confront potential frog farmers, including disease, sanitation, cannibalism, and feeding them. The American bullfrog, the most popular breed, wants live food, and Purina and other livestock feed manufacturers have yet to develop an acceptable frog kibble.
In the same vein, a Mental Floss article on Colonial-era slang produced a similar expression: “Be made a cat’s paw of” (to be a dupe, to be used). Antique metaphors often age quickly and are missing from today’s conversations. The metaphor (“a figure of speech that directly compares one thing to another for rhetorical effect”) stands apart from a simile (“a comparison using like and as”). However, the most relied upon tool in my grammatical toolbox is the ellipsis.
An ellipsis is “the omission from speech or writing of a word or words that are superfluous or able to be understood from contextual clues” and are now indicated by “a set of dots,” as in “…”. The first recorded time an English writer used ellipses was in letters published in 1580, but originally dashes and hyphens were used instead of dots. Shakespeare mentioned them in Henry IV: “Hotspur dies on a dash” when that character’s last words were cut short. Thereafter, the useful ellipsis “proliferated most spectacularly,” according to Cambridge University professor Anne Toner, especialy in the prudish 1800s, since “blanking starts to be used as a means of avoiding libel laws,” as in “d… you!” In writing the 1901 novel “The Inheritors” Joseph Conrad and Ford Maddox Ford used over 400 ellipses because, Ford said, with them the authors could convey “the sort of indefiniteness that is characteristic of all human conversations, and particularly of all English conversations, that are almost always conducted entirely by means of allusions and unfinished sentences.” Their first ellipsis occurred in the book’s very first line: “‘IDEAS,’ she said. “Oh, as for ideas —-‘. ‘Well?’ I hazarded, ‘as for ideas—-?’”
Lots of things seem to go missing – keys, reading glasses, Congressional scruples – but few rival missing words, particularly historical ones. Remember the Alamo? Last summer a Time.com article, “We’ve Been Telling the Alamo Story Wrong for Nearly 200 Years. Now It’s Time to Correct the Record,” begins, “Imagine if the U.S. were to open interior Alaska for colonization and, for whatever reason, thousands of Canadian settlers poured in, establishing their own towns, hockey rinks and Tim Hortons stores. When the U.S. insists they follow American laws and pay American taxes, they refuse. When the government tries to collect taxes, they shoot and kill American soldiers. When law enforcement goes after the killers, the colonists, backed by Canadian financing and mercenaries, take up arms in open revolt … Now you can imagine how Mexican President Antonio López de Santa Anna would have felt in 1835, because that’s pretty much the story of the revolution that paved the way for Texas to become its own nation and then an American state.”
State law required the teaching of Texas history in 4th grade, junior high, and high school back in the 1950s, and I assume that still stands. We were taught a very slanted view of that history, though. Of course, that history was highly sanitized (i.e. pro-Anglo and anti-Hispanic), even though many of the “Texians,” as they called themselves, who fought for independence from Mexico were Hispanic. Our textbooks didn’t mention that Colonel Travis never drew a line in the sand for those willing to stay and oppose the Mexican army, that many of the Alamo defenders ran away instead of fighting to the death, and that Davy Crockett didn’t die fighting but was executed after he surrendered. Nor did Texas teachers mention that the Texans were fighting against the abolitionist Mexican government for the freedom to own slaves. That is what the most reliable historical documents reveal, though.
The first public library I directed was in Seguin, Texas, which changed its name from Walnut Springs shortly after Sam Houston defeated and captured Santa Anna. They chose Seguin to honor Juan Seguin, the son of Erasmo Seguin who owned the largest land holdings in Texas. Juan led a band of young horsemen who served as the Texas Army’s scouts and messengers. As an officer, Juan took part in most of the conflict’s battles, and, in fact, he was the last person to legitimately leave the Alamo before it fell, taking the final message from the Alamo defenders to the Texas Army commander. Afterwards, Seguin led the forces defending the western frontier, located and buried the ashes of the Alamo defenders, served as a Republic of Texas Senator and Mayor of San Antonio, and successfully fought Comanche incursions.
As the wiki article on Seguin said, “Texas became flooded with adventurous and land-hungry North Americans who were unfamiliar with the native Texans’ history and their loyal support of Texas. Seguin’s leadership and loyalty was challenged by these newcomers. Refusing to burn San Antonio to the ground by order of the new head of the Texas military was just the beginning.
In 1842, San Antonio was overrun by Santa Anna’s forces … and even though Seguín pursued the army of Ráfael Vásquez, chasing them from Texas, he was deemed to be to blame for the attack. Seguín resigned from office … due to threats on his life … and later served under Santa Anna in the Mexican–American War of 1846–1848.”
Soon thereafter the citizens of Seguin began claiming their town was named after Juan’s dad, Erasmo. That falsehood was upended while I was librarying in Seguin when a new retired resident and budding local historian researched the name claim and proved that Juan was the actual honoree. Things haven’t improved down there; a new Texas state law requires public school teachers to teach Holocaust and evolution denial as facts. But truth still lives in their public libraries, because, as President Obama said, “Libraries remind us that truth isn’t about who yells the loudest, but who has the right information. Because even as we’re the most religious of people, America’s innovative genius has always been preserved because we also have a deep faith in facts.”