The radio was an important part of my childhood. I was limited in the amount of (non-PBS) television I was allowed to watch, but there was no such limit on the radio. The 80’s contained the complete range of my teen-hood, and I still have a fondness for ’80’s music. Mostly my parents listened to NPR (WUNC – Chapel Hill), so that was a big part of my childhood too. I have fond memories (to the point of idealized nostalgia) of listening to “Prairie Home Companion” by kerosene lantern after Saturday evening meals nestled in the “shack” in the mountain woods of Virginia. The vivid imagery spun by Keillor of Lake Woebegone interacted fantastically with the already active imagination of childhood.
While I liked elements like “Back Porch Music” and “Thistle and Shamrock” to a lesser extent, they too have left an indelible mark on my psyche. Listening to “Morning Edition” and “All Things Considered” gave me an inflated sense of my relation to current events.
My favorite thing to hear from NPR was the “On Words” segment from John Ciardi. I loved how he made language make sense. He tied loose ends together, he brought dead words to life and added flourish to those that were still active in our language. Like many things from childhood, it disappeared from my life with little fanfare and remained nothing but an occasionally called upon fond memory.
Then, in graduate school, I came across “A Browser’s Dictionary” at the Green Valley Book Fair which I bought just because it had the John Ciardi name on it. It never did for me what the actual radio broadcasts did, but that hasn’t stopped me from moving it 5 or 6 times with the rest of my book collection just for sentimental reasons.
I was therefore thrilled when a friend pointed out that NPR was now re-releasing “On Words” as a podcast. For the most part, this has been a treat. The thing I found most annoying was the “sponsorships” (ads) bracketing the brief content. Almost as annoying was the new podcast introduction provided by NPR. I found the intro to have been read by someone who has a voice made for print, and what’s worse, she mispronounced John Ciardi’s name. She gave it 3 syllables (Chee – are -dee) when Ciardi himself pronounced it with two (Char – dee). Fortunately, with the most recent podcast — the one that’s completely about his surname — they’ve replaced the intro (but not the outtro) with a voice I find far more pleasing and with better pronunciation, and the sponsorships seem to have declined such that it’s now a very pleasant listen.
What stuck me this time is that it appears that our surnames are more related than I’d have thought. Ciardi chases his surname back to the German “Gerhardt“. While that may be completely unrelated to the German Gephardt, it is still a stronger correlation than I’d have assumed existed between “Capehart” and “Ciardi”
Regardless, it’s been a treat for Ciardi to have risen from the grave in electronic form to help make my commute more erudite and to revive the lagging curiosity in etymology. I imagine that being an etymologist would be dull and tedious, but I’m so happy to have this one in my ear weekly.