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A reader wrote:
Some time ago I wrote to ask if there was a word in any language for a parent who has lost a child. My husband and I lost our son in the insane war in Iraq. You sent me a kind reply saying no. I am submitting this Pennsylvania-Dutch word, zeitlang, I found in the paper.
I shared it with some other Gold Star families who liked the word and description. Yesterday was Gold Star Mothers Day. I hate it. Everyone in the family is suffering, not just the mother. I like the sound of this Pennsylvania-Dutch word, perhaps because of my German heritage. So my family, my brothers and sisters in sorrow and I remain forever zeitlangers.
Diane Davis Santoriello
Pennsylvania Dutch is a dialect of German spoken by 17/18th century migrants from south Germany and Switzerland who had settled in Pennsylvania. The word Dutch here is a variant spelling of Deutsch (German language). Zeitlang in German means "a while" (from Zeit: time + lang: long). The sense mentioned in the newspaper article is not found in German, but that doesn't mean one can't extend it. After all, that's one of the ways a language grows. And what good is a language if it can't give voice to our deepest sorrows and joys?
This week we'll see a few words that do exist, words that make us say, "I didn't know there was a word for it."
famulus (FAM-yuh-luhs) noun
An assistant, especially to a magician or a scholar.
[From Latin famulus (servant).]
"But now television is trying to coolify magic by ridding it of its
associations with slimeballs in sequined suits, assisted by a mute
famulus bedecked in feathers, mascara, and an inane grin, together
partaking in a mindless ritual of sawing, stabbing, and vanishing."
A great secret of success is to go through life as a man who never gets used up. -Albert Schweitzer, philosopher, physician, musician, Nobelist (1875-1965)