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- Pedantique-Ryter rants about incomprehensible words
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Bonfire night and Halloween will be over by the time you read this. [And yes, I do know that the proper spelling is Hallowe’en, but the internet doesn’t cope well with apostrophes, so I’ve had to use the non-apostrophe spelling variant.]
Bonfire night, for all its somewhat gory associations, is at least a British tradition.
A classic American Trick-or-Treater. Note that huge bag for the haul of goodies.
Halloween in Scotland : guising
When I was a child in Scotland — centuries ago, since you ask, dear readers — there was no such thing as “trick or treat”. We had our own traditions. We went guising.
For those who may be bemused by the word guising, I offer a little history.
In the Middle Ages, the verb to guise meant to dress fantastically and a guiser was a mummer in a folk play performed at Christmas and — yes — Halloween. The word is related, of course, to our modern disguise.
In Scotland, guising lived on, long after its use had died out down south. And it travelled, too, with the Scottish diaspora, to places like Canada.
At Halloween, children went guising by dressing up and visiting neighbours’ houses. They could dress up as anything — none of that transatlantic rhubarb about vampires and ghosts and characters from Disney films. I remember going guising once, dressed in my mother’s kimono-style green dressing gown and carrying a makeshift fan. I was, I told the neighbours, a geisha, though I looked nothing like the real thing.
Once invited in, the children would earn their Halloween treats by singing songs, or reciting poems, or performing dances. As a reward, they would receive sweets or nuts or dried fruit. And they might have a chance to go dookin’ for apples, the fiendish game of trying to catch a floating apple from a bowl of water using only your teeth. I can tell you, from experience, that it’s extremely difficult to do and you tend to get very wet indeed. But it is very funny, nonetheless, for everyone, including the dookers.
Down with Trick or Treat
By contrast, trick or treat, I would say, is the Halloween equivalent of demanding money with menaces. Children dressed as vampires or ghosts don’t earn their haul of sweets and chocolate; they extort it.
Let’s hear it for guising, and a more civilised Halloween.
And another thing…
“Can I get a pizza?” “Can I get a beer?” Or even, “Can I get a consonant, Rachel?” [Yes, Countdown has been contaminated, too.]
Since when was it English to say “can I get…”?
Every time I hear it — and I’m sorry to say that it’s everywhere, these days — I’m tempted to throw things.
Please, PLEASE, parents. Please teach your children to ask for something by saying “May I have…?” or even “Could I have…?” I’d actually settle for “Can I have…?” if the only alternative is that hideous “Can I get…?”
Oh and if the children could add “please” at the end of such requests, it would be SUCH an improvement.