Copyright
Sam Elmore

HOW LONG IS A STRING?


In my day job, one of the entities for which I am responsible is Metrology. Webster's Dictionary describes metrology as being: 'the science that deals with measuring.' If you ask any of the young-uns who attended the sixth and seventh grades with me, back in the '40's, they would gleefully tell you that I never even learn't how to spell  science when I was in school.

One aspect of metrology concerns the acceptable degree of accuracy in any recorded measurement. If the client happens to be the U. S. Government, the degree of accuracy must be within 1.5 percent of absolute plumb; if it ain't, the work is deemed to be out of tolerance, and summarily rejected.

The other day, I watched as two professional Metrology technicians, utilizing a Laser-powered Theodolite 'thang-a-muh-jig', verified the accuracy of a piece of finished work. Seeing that state-of-the-art technology in action, I wondered what sort of accuracy you'd end up with if those same Laser-proof readings were translated into Arkansas measurements.

Take that word 'plumb', for instance. Webster states that plumb means: 'exactly vertical.' Okay---that's fine by me; but let's see how ol' man Noah's statement would gee-haw in Miz Hattie's kitchen:

"Mama, that dried apple pie you baked was plumb tasty!"

I've set there on them long benches in Mama's kitchen for years on end (no pun intended) and I've watched a hay-wagon load of pies come out'n that black-iron wood stove of hers. I've never seen one single pie  that was ‘exactly vertical.' Every one of Mama's pies was flatter'n a flitter!

In her recipes (kept in her head so they wouldn't get lost), Mama used measurements which, I feel certain, did not come out of the International Organization for Standards' (ISO) Metrology Handbook of Terminology. I've seen my sister Ruby get so flustered trying to write down one of Mama's learn't-by-heart recipes, she just th'owed her hands up an' hollered calf rope. (Here's how it would usually go):

"Mama, what ingredients do you use when you make (thus-and-such)?"

"Wa'al, I start with two pahms-full of Martha White self-risin' flour, sifted real good...."

Sister Ruby is sitting at the kitchen table with an Indian Head tablet and a yeller pencil, scribblin' like there ain't gonna be no rooster crow. While she's writin', she's tryin' to cipher out how much Martha White flour (in the modern, measuring-cup, world) constitutes a 'palm-full.' In the meantime, Mama has continued....

"....then you put in two glugs-a..."

"Whaaat?"

"....two glugs-a white vinegar, then I...."

"Wait-a-minute! What-in-the-dickens is a 'glugs-a'?"

(By now, Miz Hattie is showin' signs that her Dodson temper is apt to flare up.)

V-e-r-y carefully, as if talkin' to an awkward chile, she s'plains:

"What...I...sed...was; put in two glugs OF white vinegar! Then, ye' mix in...."

"But what's....uh....how much is a 'glug', please ma'am?"

"Jes' pull the stopper out'n the vinegar bottle, hold the bottle neck over the bowl, an' tilt it up 'til it goes 'glug'....twice't!"

(The Executive Director of ISO, in Lausanne, Switzerland, just shuddered like somebody'd dashed a bucket-a ice water down the trap-door of his long-johns.)

"Then", Mama continued, "ye' add a fanger full of...."

"What's...."

"Never mind; I was gon' show ye' anyway."

At which point, Mama takes a teaspoon (used for eatin' with, not measurin' with), prizes the lid off-a the Clabber Girl Baking Powder can, rams one finger down in 'ere, an' comes out with (what else?) a ‘finger full.'

"Oh!", says sister.

"Then ye' add a heapin' tablespoon-full of 'neller flavorin'...."

"How in the dickens...I'm sorry. Mama, how can anybody 'heap up' a spoon-full of liquid?"

"Girl, you ain't all 'at handy in th' kitchen, are ye'?"

"I try Mama, honest; but I ain't never used measurements like yours before."

"Okay; lemme see if I can s'plain it....d'j'ever fill up a glass with water 'til it was plumb full, an' jes' before it sloshes over, you can see some water stickin' up above the rim of the glass?"

(Author's note: Miz Hattie (my mama) wouldn't have known what a 'meniscus' was if you'd slapped her upside the head with one! Yet, she had just described one---to the complete and total satisfaction of ol' Noah his-own-se'f:

[Webster's New River University Dictionary: Meniscus; the curved upper surface of a nonturbulent liquid in a container.]

"Yes'm, I've seen water stick up over a glass like that", sister admits, with a bewildered look on her face.

"Wa'al, then---ye' already know what a heapin' glass-full is. Same thang goes for a heapin' spoon-full."

"When ye' git done cookin' this", Mama went on, "some people like to put some Looziana hot sauce on top of it. But, if I was you, I wouldn't use no more'n a coupla gooshes."

"Gooshes? What's a...."

"Jes' turn the hot sauce bottle bottom-up'ards, an' slap it with the pahm of ye' hand; it gooshes out a lot easier 'at way."

Arkansas ways of measurin' thangs prob'ly don't meet the exact criteria listed in the ISO Metrology hand-book, because Arkie measurements allow you more lee-way than them ISO standards do. A far'ner (that's somebody who is not a native of Arkansas) might wonder how a word like 'holler' can be used to measure distance. (First off, you must assume they already know that 'holler' means 'to shout.')

Let's take a theoretical situation, and see how it comes out:

"Where does so-and-so live?"

"He lives in Arkadelphia; jest about one loud holler from the water tower."

You can bet your high-steppin'-est Wyandotte rooster that the first thought crossin' the mind of an 'outsider' is gonna be: "how far is a holler, anyway?" Well, that depends on who's doing the hollerin', and who's doing the hearin'.

Let's say that the one doing the hollerin' is a genteel, soft-spoken woman raised in the Grand Southern Tradition which holds that: 'Southern ladies do not raise their voices in public'. Then, let's say that the one doing the hearin' is half deaf. In that case, there ain't no tellin' where so-and-so lives at!

A word of caution is in order here: certain limitations apply to the 'holler' method of measurin' something. You can stretch it out just so far, then it starts to lose it's degree of ack-ricy. If you git much more'n, say, seven or six hollers away from something, you're gonna have to shift over and use a different way of measuring. When you reach that point, you're talking about 'a purty fur piece', at the very least.

(If there are any 'Yankee-type' folks readin' this, please be advised that we're not talkin' about a Broadway show-girl's 'elegant mink stole' here, when we say purty fur piece. We're measurin' how fur it is from one thing to the next one.)

One might ask: "Well, how do Arkies measure weight?" Several methods are common throughout the state. One way (it's still the preferred method) is this: "Heavier'n a nail kag---with the nails still in it." That orta satisfy the ack-ricy requirements of the nit-picky-est Metrology Inspector ever born.

What about measurin' something that don't need a 'holler' to do it? Okay, try this:

A carpenter over at Horsehead Creek was building a new house, and run short of 2 x 4's. He hollered for his helper, a local boy straight off the farm. (Correction: he 'yelled' for him; he wasn't studyin' on how fur away the boy was.) Handing him the truck keys, the carpenter told the boy to go to the lumber yard and get him six more 2 x 4's. The lad went to the lumber yard and told the salesman:

"Mr. So-and-so sent me to fetch six more 2 x 4's."

"How long?", the salesman asked.

"Hunh?"

"How long does he want them 2 X 4's, boy?"

The boy scratched his head for a minute, then finally responded:

"He must want 'em quite a while, mister; he's nailin' 'em suckers up, down yonder in 'at new house."

I think the most discriminatin' Metrology man would agree that the following Arkansas measurement provides the correct algebraic response to this question, overheard in downtown Little Rock:

"Sir, how far is it to the Chatterbox Cafe?"

"Aww, it ain't no piece; you can skip a rock that fur."

Is there an Arkansas measurement for how 'pungent' or 'tart' something is? You bet your boots there is:

"Man! Them half-ripe plum-grannies'll make ye' teeth sharp, won't they?"

For every situation, there is one or more Arkansas methods with which to measure it. Some of them might stretch the imagination a little bit; such as this measurement for 'stuck up.' ('Stuck up' means 'arrogant', or ‘better than you', in case there's any city slickers readin' this.)

Mama Hattie was once't heard to say, about a relative-by-marriage who was more than a little arrogant:

'She struts jes' settin' there in the pew.'

(She said it under her breath, of course; Miz Hattie didn't never raise her voice in public.)

Directions are also quite simple in Arknsas. In response to a question about where someone lives, and how far away it is, you're likely to hear something like this:

"They live down that dirt road yonder; jest a little piece before you get to Tacky Bridge; there'll be a white mule standing in the fence corner."

Arkansawyers (bless their Suthrun hearts) understand, right from the git-go, that the ack-ricy of any measurement depends, primarily, on who's holdin' the other end of the strang you're measurin' with.