If you gets cranky with­out your silk hanky...

The Compass - - OPINION -

A cou­ple of weeks ago, I watched with great en­joy­ment a tele­vi­sion doc­u­men­tary about the Great Fogo Is­land Punt Race. It’s 16 kilo­me­tres from Fogo to Change Is­lands and back, row­ing in two-per­son tra­di­tion­ally built wooden punts. It was a joy! Ab­so­lutely ex­cel­lent! The race is an­other one of the ex­cit­ing things hap­pen­ing these days on that beau­ti­ful is­land off the north­east coast of the beau­ti­ful is­land where I live.

The pho­tog­ra­phy was spec­tac­u­lar, no great sur­prise since a per­son on Fogo can close their eyes, aim a cam­era in any di­rec­tion, start shoot­ing and won­der­ful re­sults are pretty well guar­an­teed. There were cam­eras mounted on the punts so each pair of row­ers could be pho­tographed through­out the event and more im­por­tantly, the viewer could eaves­drop on their con­ver­sa­tion. There were also in­ter­views with com­peti­tors and boat builders, of­ten the same peo­ple, as they pre­pared the craft and them­selves for the race.

The bulk of the show high­lighted the un­scripted com­ments of the par- tic­i­pants. The pac­ing was set by how fast or slowly peo­ple talked. The pauses be­tween their sen­tences were not edited out. What a de­light­ful de­par­ture from the stac­cato, rapid-fire tempo that tele­vi­sion imag­ines de­mand.

At this pace, each word can be savoured.

The word re­peated most of­ten in the film was “cranky” and that be­came the ti­tle of the hour-long show.

When I heard this be­fore­hand, I won­dered. Cranky! Peo­ple from away have cer­tainly heard the word, but may not un­der­stand the par­tic­u­lar mean­ing as it re­lates to small boats. I do, be­cause I learned it from a fright­ened neigh­bour who nearly fell over­board from my punt when he dis­cov­ered, sud­denly, that my boat was dra­mat­i­cally less sta­ble than he was used to.

Now that I’ve seen Cranky, I know that prob­a­bly means I could beat my neigh­bour in a race, be­cause slim boats are tippy but fast.

I wanted to know where that par­tic­u­lar use of the word cranky came from, so I went to the Dic­tio­nary of New­found­land English. To my sur­prise I found noth­ing, but the Ox­ford Dic­tio­nary yielded a wealth of dif­fer­ent mean­ings.

I found the nau­ti­cal def­i­ni­tion I ex­pected, with the word used in a sen­tence from the early 1800s, “Beg par­don sir, but the boat is very cranky, if you goes on so, she will be over.”

That’s ba­si­cally what my neigh­bour said about my boat, but he didn’t use the word sir, and I can’t quote his pre­cise words be­cause chil­dren may have ac­cess to this news­pa­per.

I dis­cov­ered an­other def­i­ni­tion of cranky, one that refers to hu­man be­hav­iour, was also pretty much what I ex­pected: “of capri­cious or way­ward tem­per, dif­fi­cult to please, cross-tem­pered, awk­ward, cross.” Noth­ing sur­pris­ing there re­ally, a favourite say­ing of par­ents when I was a kid, par­tic­u­larly when you weren’t do­ing what you were told.

Or if you dis­agreed with your play­mates, “out of or­der, work­ing badly shaky, crazy, men­tally out of gear, crotch­ety, queer, sub­ject to whims or cranks, ec­cen­tric or pe­cu­liar in no­tions of be­hav­iour.” Pretty damn­ing stuff, but not en­tirely un­ex­pected.

The next def­i­ni­tion from 1788 was though. “A checked or striped, heav­ily knit woman’s apron, a blue pat­tern on a white back­ground.” Fig­ure that one out if you can! Beats me! Pos­si­bly it’s sim­ply a mis­print. It can hap­pen, even in the Ox­ford Dic­tio­nary.

Then, out of the blue, a fi­nal def­i­ni­tion that seems a com­plete con­tra­dic­tion of ev­ery­thing that has gone be­fore, ex­cept maybe the apron thing.

It is so puz­zling, so ut­terly out of line, but for all that, this fi­nal def­i­ni­tion of cranky may point more fit­tingly to the spirit of the Fogo Is­land Punt Race than any of the oth­ers.

I know that “Cranky” the ti­tle of the punt race movie refers to a speedy, tippy boat, but “ brisk, merry, lively, sportive, sprightly and dis­posed to ex­ult” sum up per­fectly the peo­ple from Fogo and Change Is­lands who ap­pear in the film. There is a sense of gen­tle teas­ing and ca­ma­raderie that links them all in this con­test on the high seas. The race has lit­tle re­ward save brag­ging rights, but I can imag­ine the com­peti­tors shar­ing long evenings in the fu­ture, re­count­ing cranky yarns of punt­ing, mem­o­ries of their tiny boats pushed across the vast sur­face of the ocean by gales of laugh­ter.

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