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Mum’s Tongue Twister

October 9, 2013


“Many, many years ago, word came down to a small Scottish village from the ancient castle in the mountains above. Its lord, an eccentric old bachelor, required a maid-of-all-work to come up there to live and serve him…”

So begins mum’s famous tongue twister. She never did reveal who passed along this centuries-old recitation, which all of us children loved to hear, especially when we were young enough to still be grappling with the mysteries of language and words. It remains to this day a gently amusing artifact from the parlor humor of a time when families were expected to entertain themselves. Little kids laugh at it even now.

The next morning, a young village lass knocked on the castle door. She had volunteered for the job but now felt a little unsure and nervous. The door opened, and there — large, red-nosed, his long red hair wild and uncombed, stood the lord. He gestured to follow him and led her into the castle hall, where the lord’s black-and-white cat crossed their path.

“What a nice cat!” The lass curtsied. “Your lordship, I am–“

“I am not ‘your lordship.'” He held up a hand to stop her talking. “Nor is this a ‘cat.'”

Looking confused, the lass could only curtsey again.

“While you live here, there are certain rules you must obey.” The lord approached her, glowering. “I am to be called Master of All Masters. This castle is High-Topper Mountain. The cat is White-Face Simmery. My pants are squibs-and-crackers. Bed is barnacle. Fire is hotcocklelorum, and water: pandelorum. If you make a mistake and misspeak, you will be sent home, immediately. Do you understand?”

“Yes, I do.”


The lass quickly learned the daily routine, which involved much cooking and endless cleaning, and for several weeks, everything went smoothly. But then, early one morning while making breakfast in the kitchen, a stray spark from the fireplace chanced to land on the cat’s fur. The terrified pet ran through the hall, accidentally setting a wall tapestry on fire.

The lass ran upstairs two steps at a time through thickening smoke and burst into the lord’s bedroom, shouting:

“Master of All Masters, get out of your barnacle, put on your squibs-and-crackers! White-Face Simmery has a spark on her tail, and unless you get some pandelorum, High-Topper Mountain will be all on hotcocklorum!”

"The" Red State men's novel... gutsy, smart, funny, prophetic

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