Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Who is the "Step-Mom?" (Part 2)

Woe to him who thinks to find a governess for his children by giving them a stepmother! He only brings into his house the cause of their ruin. There never yet was a stepmother who looked kindly on the children of another; or if by chance such a one were ever found, she would be regarded as a miracle, and be called a white crow. But beside all those of whom you may have heard, I will now tell you of another, to be added to the list of heartless stepmothers, whom you will consider well deserving the punishment she purchased for herself with ready money.

Giambattista Basile, Nennillo and Nennella   http://www.pitt.edu/~dash/type0327.html#basile



When the stepmother found that she could not do anything through her husband, she made up her mind that she herself would get rid of them. So one morning, when her husband had gone away, she took the little boy, and without saying anything to anybody, she killed him and gave him to his sister to cut him up, and prepare a meal for all of them.

The Story of the Little Boy and the Wicked Step-Mother   http://www.pitt.edu/~dash/type0327.html#gaster



If you think the content of these excerpts, these children’s stories, are morbid then you are NOT alone. At the onset of this project I was certain that the “Wicked/Evil Stepmother” paradigm had roots, but my research has yielded stunning results.


(My inquiry into the “step”-mom has awakened in me the desire to research the emergence and re-telling of folktales. What did or does the content of such tales say about the social and cultural climate of the societies into which they were initially produced and purported?)

Today I polled approximately twenty people. I did not sit down with these people and conduct in-depth interviews, which I may do at a later date. For now, I am only interested in knee-jerk reactions or quick, off-the-top-of-your-head answers. I asked each person what comes to mind when they hear the term stepmom. Per usual, there were a few outliers or people whose answer(s) fell outside what was said by the majority: there was a majority. Two people told me that they think about the 1998 film Stepmom, starring Julia Roberts and Susan Sarandon. One person told me that they think of two Christmases (more gifts)—this made me laugh lightheartedly—and someone to talk to when mom is not available. Practically, everyone else said they think of Cinderella, chores, and EVIL when they hear stepmom. Obviously, I did not conduct a vast survey, but the results are important and meaningful. Notably, several people had much more to say—most of which deviated from the Cinderella route—when they took more time to really think about stepmom. I will speak with these people and write about their musings in future posts.

Etymological Findings…
 “Etymology” refers to the origin and development of a word. For example, the etymology of the term “Etymology”—pertaining to the prefix, etymo—is cited as a noun ethymologye, circa 1398, borrowed from Old French ethimologie, learned borrowing from Latin etymologia, from Greek etymologia, from etymon true sense of a word based on its origin (neuter of etymos true, related to eteos true (Robert K. Barnhart, The Barnhart Concise Dictionary of Etymology, 1995).
Did I lose you?
If you are asking yourself, “What am I reading?” or “Why am I reading this,” then we are on track.
Think of it this way: If writing, reading, theory, and research are like building a house, then a good, solid foundation must be established before the rest of the structure can come together…I (we, because the reader, YOU, is a part of this) am building…
What all of this mind-boggling language is saying simply: is that the word, “Etymology,” that human beings take up and use today, is steeped in a vast history of ancient origins, having been taken up and re-taken up—building upon the French word to the Latin word to the Greek word—offering a term that has come to denote the study of words and their origins, their development. In other words, WORDS have tales to tell for themselves! (My geeky interest is delighted!)
Barnhart’s Etymological dictionary cites step as “a combining form meaning related by remarriage of a parent rather than by blood, as in stepfather, stepsister. The original sense is indicated in Old English steopcild stepchild, for “orphan,” and by the cognates, Old English astiepan, bestipan to bereave…Etymologically, stepfather or stepmother (before 800) means “one who becomes a father (or mother) to an orphan…” (759).
I challenge the old adage, Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me, because words as performatives (which I will discuss in my next post), words as strategized language (a fancy way of referring to how words and their meanings are taken up…), and the fact that human beings are social creatures who live in and through communication—words, speech, even body language—necessitates a respect, so to speak, for words. So many people are quick to say, “Oh, well, it’s just a word…can’t hurt anyone,” but is this entirely accurate? I would be willing to agree that a word in and of itself is in essence benign. Yet, rooted in vast matrices of meaning and usage, I argue that the old adage is a farce, and perhaps impossibility.
Many thanks to my Starbucks colleagues, customers, and friends (outside of work, as well) for their willingness to participate in and contribute to my poll about stepmom.
Humbly Pressing On...