Etymology with the 12-year old
On a typical morning at casa Griffin, the boy genius and I are talking over our scrambled eggs about etymology and medieval history.
BG: So dad, is an earl the same thing as a jarl?
Dad: Well, sort of. Same root word, of course, but the implications are very different.
BG: I bet a jarl gets in way more fights!
Dad: Sure, but that’s only because he has to. When people hear you’re an earl they figure you’d like some tea or something, but I guess it’s pretty much assumed that a jarl is itching for a fight. Wasn’t it Lord Byron, or maybe Jack Prelutsky, who wrote:
The earl tells his yeomen how to meet his every need
Because his great-great-something-something fought at Quercy
The jarl fells his foemen to defeat them as they bleed
While the women wail and beg the jarl for mercy.
BG: I’m pretty sure you just made that up.
Dad: …Yes. Byron could have said it better, I suppose.
The conversation goes on from there. By the time I drop the BG off at school, here’s what we have determined:
An earl drinks tea from a delicate cup with his pinky out; a jarl drinks mead and ale from a horn. But he doesn’t just drink it, he quaffs it. When people hear an earl is coming to their house, they tidy up and fluff the pillows. When the jarl is on his way they gather their weapons, then just panic and run for their lives. The earl arrives on a fine gelding; the jarl is riding a mammoth, or at least a wooly rhino. An earl carries a snuff box and a nosegay to ward off odors that displease him; for the same reason, the jarl carries the decaying severed heads of his foes. The earl wears silk and linen while the jarl wears chain mail over a cave bear pelt, which may still have a live cave bear in it. The earl’s clothing is neatly brushed. The jarl doesn’t even brush his teeth, though he probably files them to points. The earl dines off of fine bone china; the jarl also has bone china, but it’s made from the bones of his ancestors. While an earl gets his own family crest, the jarl gets his own Dungeons and Dragons adventure and the characters all have to be high level. We have no idea why any of this should be true, but somehow it just feels right. Maybe it’s just because everything sounds more awesome in Swedish.
Dad (as BG is getting out of car at school): So, do I even have to ask which you would rather be?
BG: Ha! A jarl totally pwns an earl.