This blog is for everyone who uses words.

The ordinary-sized words are for everyone, but the big ones are especially for children.

Wednesday, 28 December 2011

Nuts and Bolts: Once upon a time.

If you want everyone to shut up and listen to you, all you have to do is say once upon a time...

This opening phrase of a story is pretty much the same all over the world. Sometimes it's a bit plainer, as in French, when it's usually simply there was a time, and sometimes it's more elaborate, as in the Classical Arabic there was, oh what there was, in the oldest of days and ages and times.

In Hungary and Georgia, as well as in Persian, there's a variation: there a story will begin: there was, and there was not. (They must be very interested in the truth, those people. Why, the Hungarians even have a tradition that if a listener sneezes then that means every word of the story is true. You can hear this sneeze played by an orchestra at the beginning of Kodály's folk opera ry János.)

Nearly everywhere, though, the important thing to establish is that the events of the story happened a long time ago. The Irish will say a long long time ago it was, when there was a king in Galway.

And one of the best-known stories of all, of course, starts in the beginning. 

And you can't get longer ago than that.

Word To Use Today: beginning. This word has been around since...well, perhaps since the beginning of English. There are certainly related words in lots of old European languages, but no one knows quite when or from where it came.

That's rather appropriate, I think.

1 comment:

  1. I love all these kinds of beginnings. I reckon modern writers should bring them back as much as they can. Once upon a time is my best of all but I am fond of 'there was once...'