||[Apr. 12th, 2007|08:34 am]
[Reprinted from bourboncowboy.blogspot.com. I don't know how to do links on this site---Ive done it before, but damned if I can remember---so if you want to see the pictures, just go to Wikipedia yourself. Then scroll down to the Karen Han link.]|
When I moved to New York City and started taking the A train, every so often in the middle of the day on weekends I'd see an old Chinese man playing a strange-looking two-stringed instrument. "How cool!" I thought. "An instrument I've never heard of before!" Here's a link to a video that'll give you a sense of the performance. Just pretend you're on a subway platform, people are conversing nearby, and everything smells vaguely of pee.
Yesterday, while leafing through the introduction to a collection of short stories called San Francisco Noir, I read a sentence that started, "The other day at a bus station I saw a man playing a Chinese fiddle, or erhu."
My eyes gloinked. So that's what they're called! And a quick search on Wikipedia confirmed it. Meet the erhu. Apparently, I'd been staring directly at a crossword puzzle word and had had no idea. And what a word! At four letters, it's actually a bit more useful than the three-letter weird words we're stuck with, and with that letter choice, it's all but begging: "Dave! Please put me running across on the second row down of some wide-open crossword grid of Friday-level difficulty!"
And then a strange thing happened: the word didn't exist. It's there on Wikipedia, it's there in San Francisco Noir. Presumably people in big cities like Chicago have occasion to see them every week or so! But it is not in any dictionary I have access to. Not in Merriam-Webster's Eleventh Collegiate. Or the New International Unabridged, second or third edition. Not in Random House, not in Chambers. I checked the Webster's New World anyway, but I knew I was licked. Nothing. Apparently, those snotty lexicographers in their high, paper-filled, and incredibly flammable towers, feel that "erhu" does not meet an English linguistic need.
So I'm hereby announcing a new mission: to popularize the word "erhu." I'm going to use it in straight definition ("This weekend the erhu player was back at 59th Street"), in made-up idioms ("Oh, sure, it's complicated, but it's not like juggling erhus,") and metaphors and descriptions ("the sound was eerie, like an erhu being played by a baby vampire"). And when I use it, those of you who have read this post can knowledgeably smile and say, "Ah. The erhu. Thank you, Dave, for your continued selfless work on behalf of the crossword puzzle community." And if anyone wants to put me on a stamp later...well, shucks. You just do what you think best