One Word After Another – James A. Autry

James A. Autry

Blessed Be the Words That Bond

It seems to me there’s an enduring air of mythology about father/son bonding activities. When I ask fathers about what they do or have done by way of father/son interests, I hear a variety of answers, most having to do with man stuff: fishing, skiing, hunting, golfing and, of course, watching sports on television.

There was a time I did some of that with my older sons, but those times are gone. For the past few years my son Rick and I have had lunch together once a week—and talk about bonding, we really have bonded. The activity? Talking about words. Rather, he talks about words and I listen.

It may sound dull, but a year or so ago, he lectured me on the history of the English language, and it’s more complicated and fascinating than a day of fishing or golf could ever be.

For example, Rick explained that Indo-European language was the origin of so many of our words. Both Romance languages and Germanic languages derived in one way or another from or through the Indo-European language, though they often changed in sound and meaning.

For instance, when words come from the Latin and into the Romance languages (French, Spanish, Italian), the sound of the letter “c” remains hard, like a “k,” but when those words come into Germanic languages (English, German) the letter switches to the soft sound of “h.” Thus, the Latin word “cara” in French becomes “coeur,” then in English becomes “heart” and in German “hertz.”

Then, in the evolution of the word, cara had its own meaning, “the beloved.”

In an older English version, this became hara, which also meant the beloved.

But words have a way of changing over time, and “hara” transmogrified (love that word!) into harridan, harlot and whore. From beloved to not-so-beloved within the history of one word. Don’t you wonder how that happened?

Now, this may not be your choice of a way to spend a lunch with your son (or daughter), but these kinds of conversations with Rick have been a source of endless delight for me, plus they have contributed to my lifelong learning.

In one of the conversations several years ago, we began to lament the impact that electronic media were having on kids. Reading seemed to be taking a back seat to TV and the internet.

So, as a couple of word guys, we decided to write a book for parents or grandparents or other adults to read with kids, with the goal of trying to regenerate an interest in reading and in words. And perhaps also trying to instill some values while we were at it. Thus we wrote a book, “Everyday Virtues: Classic Tales to Read With Kids.”

I can’t imagine a more delightful way to bond with Rick than through the magic of words and stories. Admittedly, it doesn’t get us out onto the fields and lakes and golf courses. On the other hand, it only costs the price of a lunch a week.

I have to admit that part of our bonding is that Rick never picks up the check—the price of fatherhood, I guess.

James A. Autry ( of Des Moines is a well-known author, poet, musician and business consultant who has written 14 books on such topics as gratitude, servant leadership and his Southern boyhood. He also has a poetry show on KFMG radio. “Everyday Virtues: Classic Tales to Read With Kids” will be published this fall.

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