Remember When? No.

Elevenses: Last week, a reader asked whether this unfamiliar-to-them usage was from my Alberta upbringing. Another reader explained that it was from Winnie the Pooh, who liked to have a little something sweet at–you guessed it–11 AM.

A.A. Milne used this word but didn’t coin it: It was, and is, informal British usage. The word derived, apparently, from a light meal called an elevener (circa 1823) and by 1887 had morphed into the elevenses we know today. Or don’t know, as the case may be.

As it turns out, I know elevenses but don’t know where I picked it up. I have no memory of anyone reading Winnie the Pooh to me (Did I read it on my own? Maybe). A quick Google search shows that Tolkien used it in The Lord of the Rings, referring to hobbits’ meal preferences (Was that where I learned it? Could be). I have no memory of anyone in the family indulging in elevenses-by-that-name, or offering me one (Some? Probably).

It seems an odd thing to have stuck without any reinforcement, but there it is: Our learnings *are* odd, and often unencumbered with conscious memory. I remember thinking that the Russia-and-the-United States I heard about so often on the radio was one place, one country, and have no idea how or when I got that sorted out.

And if we expand know to know-how-to, the examples explode. I know how to tie my shoes and brush my teeth, but don’t remember learning to do so. So it is with putting-on a cardigan, top-side up. Setting the dinner table. Making a bed. Wrapping a gift. Taking the bus. Making a phone call. Running the washing machine.

In the context of learning all these skills, it’s no wonder that learning a new word hardly registers.

This entry was posted in Appreciating Deeply, New Perspectives, Thinking Broadly and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

16 Responses to Remember When? No.

  1. John Whitman says:

    Isabel – “elevenses” is right up with wrapping a gift in my case. I was unfamiliar with the former and do a terrible job with the latter.

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      John – 🙂 We could run a remedial course in gift wrapping, if you like, just to get the basics. (Fifty years ago I had a roommate who spent more time on gift wrapping than I could ever have imagined. She worked as a window dresser . . .)

      • John Whitman says:

        Thanks, but no thanks. Now too old to learn new tricks!

        • Isabel Gibson says:

          John – Meh. Learning new tricks is what keeps us from getting old. But it’s entirely OK to be selective. 🙂

  2. Jim Taylor says:

    Maybe our memory banks are merciful. I’m told there are people who can remember everything — literally everything — including what they had for breakfast June 11, 1983. (As a matter of fact, I *can* remember that, because in those years I had granola for breakfast *every* day.) It must discombobulate those people considerably to have such a burden of memories — unsorted, undifferentiated… Fortunately, the rest of us can let some “ordinary” memories slide into the abyss.

    Jim T

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Jim T – It would make the problem of recall of a specific anything seem insurmountable. How on Earth do they sort through everything to find what they want?

    • Barbara Carlson says:

      I am one of those “good memory” people. It doesn’t bother me at all. It’s a lovely chryon running underneath my everyday life. Like a pin-ball machine, connecting the dots. It’s how I write essays — one thing leads to another.

      • Isabel Gibson says:

        Barbara – Memory as a chyron: a great metaphor. And good to know that a good memory doesn’t just get in the way!

  3. Ian Hepher says:

    I knew immediately that “elevenses” came from Winnie the Pooh, which was read to me by my English mom, which I read for myself a bit later, and which I read to my kids. Sadly, I think the tradition ended there. Coincidentally, last week I came across a book called “The Hums of Pooh” that we bought at Christopher Milne’s bookshop, some place along the south coast of England, in 1986.

  4. Barbara Carlson says:

    I do remember learning to tie my shoes — and wrap a parcel — etc. (above). My mother showed me.

    But I have never learned to make anything but instant coffee and never will. It all seems so unnecessarily complicated to get (to me) a bitter brew.

    Learning InDesign to prepare a 450-page book was a vertical learning curve. But I burned the CD and it worked first time at the printers! the next week my computer HD died taking all its memory with it. (I did back up, tho. First day of “computer school” I learned that!)

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Barbara – I think learning desktop-publishing software excuses you from coffee… 🙂 And I agree: it is bitter, to my taste.

  5. In my experience, being able to forget is normal for humans and beneficial. People with extreme access to memory are the exception and usually have health issues. From my research into hearing, I have found that those with exceptional memories have a weak right ear, as compared with their left ear. They may also have extremely sensitive hearing in both ears, which is not necessarily advantageous in a world where such extremes are not the norm. I read a Scientific American article today on the role of the hippocampus in memory and in imagining, which contains so much of surmise that is at odds with my discoveries that I was amazed. Also, it rests so firmly on rat brain research that I almost wish I could run clients through mazes seeded with rewards and dead ends — although life provides those for folks in the long run (pun intended), doesn’t it? I think it was through A.A. Milne’s writing that I came to understand that English Canadian children (for all their heritage) and British children have rather different learning experiences from the get-go.

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Laurna – Perhaps memory is like many other faculties in that performance in the central range is optimal for happiness. But, of course, I don’t actually know how my memory stacks up against any population average. 🙂 As for Canadian kidlets, yes, they do have a different cultural heritage and different experiences than the British. Or the American, for that matter, who are hardly a one-size-fits-all model themselves. I remember a teacher from Yuma AZ telling me that grade-school kids there had never experienced rain as seen in the Dick & Jane books. What the heck was this “playing in puddles”? They had no point of contact.

      • Well, yes; and everything else about Mother, Father, Dick, Jane, Baby Sally, and Spot and Puff was out of contact with a majority of the kids learning to read words and learning to read society through those beginning readers. The revolutions in readers have been more like revolving doors. Kids on average (I hear) still are not learning to read well — one American educator I was reading this week stated that the American population average reading level has fallen to Grade 6.5 — and still are not finding their social realities in their school reading materials. Although (shudder) maybe that’s a good thing in the US just now.

        • Isabel Gibson says:

          Laurna – Boy, it’s distressing to hear that reading is sliding backward. It’s the foundation of all book learning, not to mention a source of a great deal of pleasure.

Comments are closed.