Voting Women & Other Shenanigans

I had to look up the word “anent” which appeared in a new item quoted in my last blog.  It’s a preposition which means “concerning.”  Now forget that definition, because it’s an archaic term and it’s one that’s never coming back into style.  It may have been out of date when the Osage City Free Press resurrected it for the phrase "things he has said anent the United States and the war.”  The last person to employ the term outside of quotation marks may have been William F. Buckley, Jr., who hated to repeat words when there were some perfectly good ones just gathering dust in the back room.

After posting the item about the Kansas State Guard yesterday, I went back and added a few lines to put some distance between the Kansans who soberly pitched in to help the war effort and the ones who indulged in what I refer to as “shenanigans.”  It’s rather a lighthearted word to describe what amounted to kidnapping, terroristic threats, extortion, assault, and attempted battery with a chair, but I’m sure the high-spirited patriots in Marshall and Osage counties meant well.  “Shenanigans,” by the way, is a fairly modern word, first coming into its own in California around 1855, but as a singular noun.  Though it sounds wrong to our ears, it was once considered technically feasible to commit a single shenanigan.  The word has probably enjoyed a resurgence since 2007 when Ellen Page as Juno MacGuff uttered the sentence, "I mean, I'm already pregnant, so what other kind of shenanigans could I get into?”  “Shenanigans” used to imply deceit, but thanks in part to the film “Juno,” the word continues to drift toward the territory of exuberant mischief.  I like the word.  I can’t say it enough.  

I worked with a man a few decades ago who was fond of the phrase “for the nonce,” which means, "for now," or "for the time being."  It provides a clear example of why some words and phrases head for the dustbin.  “For the nonce” adds no shades of meaning to plain old “now.”  It simply takes longer to say and makes people wonder about you.  I looked it up “nonce" expecting to find it listed along with “anent” as archaic.  Nope, just somewhat formal.  That sounds about right.  I don’t think I could go around saying “for the nonce” unless I wore a monocle and puffed on a meerschaum pipe.

Several months ago I was puzzled by a term which a writer used while describing the kidnapping of Sarah Catherine White by Cheyenne raiders in 1868.  In one of the waves of attacks that also claimed Republic County settler Gordon Winbigler, Sarah's father, Benjamin White, was killed at Lake Sibley, and Sarah was carried off to endure seven months of captivity.  The reporter then interjected the information that “she was a voting woman.”  I thought I knew what he was saying, but struggled to understand why the phrase meant what it did.  I finally got it.

Women actually could vote in Kansas in the 1860’s, at least in school board elections.  By 1887 they were allowed to vote in municipal elections.  Men made sure the ladies didn’t have to worry their pretty little heads about Statewide matters or national politics until 1912.  But there was one arena in which women nearly always got to cast a vote, in fact, the deciding vote - when the question was, “Will you marry me?”  

It was the Victorian Age, and euphemism was in full flower.  It was improper to suggest in newsprint that a woman actually had legs.  Instead, she had limbs (One New York editor decided to make his own rules while poking fun at the game by insisting that his reporters must refer to a woman’s legs as “branches”).  Rather than pregnant, a woman was “in the family way.”   And when a girl reached sexual maturity she was at last ready to be a "voting woman.”  And provided that she voted the right way, her father no longer had to worry about any shenanigans.    

© Dale Switzer 2023