Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature: An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891. Vols. IXXI: Literature of the Republic, Part IV., 18611889
Language that Needs a Rest
By Willis Brooks Hawkins (18521928)
[Born in Aurora, Ill., 1852. Died, 1928. The Washington Post. 1889.]
I WAS awakened in the middle of the night by a disturbance in the library. It did not seem to be the noise of burglars. It was more like the murmuring sound of many tongues engaged in spirited debate. I listened closely and concluded it must be some sort of a discussion being held by the words in my big unabridged dictionary. Creeping softly to the door, I stood and listened.
I dont care, said the little word Of; I may not be very big, but that is no reason why everybody should take advantage of me. I am the most mercilessly overworked word in the whole dictionary, and there is no earthly reason for it, either. People say they consider of and approve of and accept of and admit of all sorts of things. Then they say all of us, and both of them, and first of all, and tell about looking out of the window, or cutting a piece of bread off of the loaf, until I am utterly tired out.
Pshaw! said the word Up, I am not much bigger than you and I do twice as much work, and a good deal of it needlessly, too. People wake up in the morning and get up and shake up their beds and dress up and wash up and draw up to the table, and eat up and drink up their breakfast. Then they jump up from the table and hurry up to go up to the corner, where the street-car driver pulls up his horses and the passengers ascend up the steps and go up into the front seats and the conductor takes up the tickets. All this is done even before people get up town and take up their days work. From that time until they put up their books and shut up their offices I do more work than any two words in this book; and even after business hours I am worked until people lock up their houses and go up to bed and cover themselves up and shut up their eyes for the night. It would take a week to tell what I have to put up with in a day, and I am a good deal worked up over it.
I agree that both Up and Of are very much overworked, said the word Stated, but I think I, myself, deserve a little sympathy. I am doing not only my own legitimate work, but also that which ought to be done by my friend Said. Nobody says anything nowadays; he always states it.
I do a great deal of needless work, said the word But. People say they have no doubt but that it will rain, and that they shouldnt wonder but what it would snow, until I dont know but I shall strike.
What I have most to complain about, said the word As, is that I am forced to associate so much with the word Equally. Only yesterday a man said he could see equally as well as another man. I dont see what business Equally had in that sentence.
We, too, ought to be granted divorce, was the substance of what they said; and among the voices I recognized those of the following-named couples: Cover Over, Enter In, From Thence, Go Fetch, Have Got, Latter End, Continue On, Converse Together, New Beginner, Old Veteran, Return Back, Rise Up, Sink Down, They Both, Try And, More Perfect, Seldom Ever, Almost Never, Feel Badly, United Together, Two First, An One, Over Again, Repeat Again, and many others.
When quietude had been restored, the word Rest said: You words all talk of being overworked as if that were the worst thing that could happen to a fellow, but I tell you it is much worse to be cut out of your own work. Now, look at me. Here I am ready and willing to perform my part in the speech of the day, but almost everybody passes by me and employs my awkward friend Balance. It is the commonest thing in the world to hear people say they will pay the balance of a debt or will sleep the balance of the night.
I suffer considerably from this same kind of neglect, said the word Deem. Nobody ever deems a thing beautiful any more; it is always considered beautiful, when in fact it is not considered at all.
And me, said Purpose; look at me. I get hardly anything to do because people are always proposing to do this or that when no idea of a proposition is involved. Why, I read the other day of a man who had proposed to murder another when really he had never said a word about it to a living being. Of course he only purposed to commit the murder.
It seems to me, said the word Likely, that nobody has more reason for complaint than I have. My friend Liable is doing nearly all my work. They say a man is liable to be sick or liable to be out of town when the question of liability does not enter into the matter at all.
Youre no worse off than I am, said the little word So; that fellow Such is doing all my work. People say there never was such a glorious country as this when, of course, they mean there never was so glorious a country elsewhere.
I saw that there was likely to be no end to this discussion, since half the words in the dictionary were making efforts to put in their complaints, so I returned to my couch; and I will leave it to any person who has read this account to say whether I had not already heard enough to make me or anybody else sleepy.