By Shannon Scott (C) 2015
Its probably apparent to most who know me, and for even those who hear me speak for just a few moments, that I love words. I count myself as a wordsmythe and or wordist. On occasion, I believe I add some to the human vernacular like “Storyist.” Which for the record, is my word and have been using that one to refer to myself for several years now. Basically it means I’m “more than” a storyteller, and much more than a tour guide. In fact, I came up with it to add something more chic sounding to the concept of tour guide. And another thing for the record, I loathe each and every time I have to kowtow to the system and get my “tour guide” license renewed of have to go to a “tour guide” meeting at City Hall where we can be corralled or talked down to. Savannah doesn’t even realize what it could do to change the world of perception by just calling us “Storyists” or “Storytellers.” It would be yet another way the City of Savannah could set itself apart and show that it can think for itself as a place. It would elevate us into the realm of the artists that we are or that many of us can be, with our words. Can you imagine a town full of people saying to other, “No, no, no. We don’t use the word tour guide. That’s for other towns. We call them storyists.” Now that’s a city I could happily be a part of. But at the very least give us the option to check a different box on a government form. “Are you a tour guide or a Storyist? Check the box that applies.” But I digress. The point is, sometimes terms need to grow or there need to be new ones to apply to a new level of something. Taphophile for example, is one stirring around that one day may see the likes of being officially in the dictionary but for now, is a groundling word used in the backstreets and mean streets of unofficial lingo tossed around by word anarchists, lip terming hipsters and wordy wannabees. The Urban Dictionary defines it as a person with an “abnormal love of funerals, graves and cemeteries.” Obviously those who know me know that I fit the bill.
But then there’s “foodie,” and that’s what I’m really here to speak of. Long before I was a government licensed story doorman, I was a free thinking foodie. Especially in my early life, I cooked quite a bit and had jobs around restaurants. My career basically started in my hometown’s Country Kitchen as head breakfast and lunch cook, extended to sous chef work in a private club, later running a high end deli for a few years, and my last chapter was a 3 day stint at the prestigious Elizabeth’s On 37th as a night saute’. It was then that I decided my heart, mind and body belonged in something beyond making food for people. It became publishing and for 7 years, my company Jones Street Productions, Inc (as I lived on Jones Street), turned out four publications. And although it had a short run of 3 years, “The Foodies’ Guide — Where Area Foodies Really Do Eat,” was my pet favorite and was coveted by people in the hospitality trade to the point that even a few years after it was gone, some concierges harbored copies of it in their desks at work. I had to give it up because Savannah’s restaurant scene was far too small and I was more in love with providing information than I was selling ads to print it. But I’ll never forget that it was due to print the week of 9/11 and even though life stopped for the world that day, I paid out of pocket to get it over the hump of the printing press so that it would be proof that life goes on and it was my way of keeping something about fun, happiness, prosperity and American, very much alive. It in fact, was the least and biggest thing that I could do that week actually. You know, still go out and plant a tree kind of message.
The first time I really heard the word “foodie” was in 1991 while working under Executive Chef Chris Barnett and Night Sous Chef, Tony Kelly at Savannah’s First City Club. Or at least where I paid it attention because it came so casually out of a classically trained chef’s mouth. And said so definitively of one member in particular who was a high power Savannah lawyer that prided himself on knowledge of cuisine, French food in particular and was not shy about sending things back to the kitchen. Especially as he was Jewish and if it wasn’t fully cooked, it would be returned and I’d hear Chef Barnett exclaim with some amusement, “KILL IT” as he returned it to the flattop or sometimes fryer to ensure it was dead enough for Mr. Levy.
It was then of course, that I decided this is what I must be too. A foodie. I felt part of a special league in knowing this word, using this word, and yes, by my position cooking in a private club, that I was truly one of the privileged to crown others with this term should I see fit. Even if one’s paycheck barely paid the bills, having entitlement to such words made you feel like you were going places. I was now a foodie on my way to being an expert in the young, burgeoning science of foodieism.
But yes, it became a real measure for me and was critical in the spirit of me developing a character called “Foodie Agent008” for my publication The Foodies’Guide. Sometime in 2000, I conceived of him as a mix of James Beard meets James Bond and with a comic streak of a 1950’s “Bob” character that was wholesome in appeal. I drew him out one night for my graphic design neighbor, Chris M, and off we went to constructing the complete look. I was ecstatic with the end result.
Which by this time in history, “foodie” as a word was more commonplace for sure, but in my vision of carrying it further into mankind, I was determined to “define” it with my definition and style. Literally. Because at that sitting, it didn’t exist in Webster’s. Which before the internet was a big thing or things like “The Urban Dictionary” even yet existed, meant in so many ways, that it wasn’t really a word. I mean, need we evoke what I now look back and call “The Great Ain’t Debate of The 20th Century”? Thank you, let’s not. Those were dark times between people.
So, I sat down and defined it. And yes, I borrowed the dictionary to make sure it looked right, sounded right, felt right and could easily convince any onlooker, even the folks at Webster’s, that it belonged. Especially foodies right? And so when I was done, I put it right on the front cover of every issue I printed over those 3 years.
Ok, so it passed Grey Poupon in the general sense, but would it pass mustard at Webster’s? So I decided to try and phone the Word Gods and see. But yeah, how does one do that even? I mean is Webster’s in the phone book or is the phone book in Webster’s? Luckily, the internet was a tad more than an infant in 2000, but barely, and I found what appeared to be some rudimentary contact information for them. But could a lowly member of the English speaking public, albeit one of their biggest unconscious promoters, just dial them up? Let alone, be given access to the Department of Word Creationists? I imagined these people to have body guards and carried “WIPs” in briefcases handcuffed to their wrists. Oh, WIPS are Words In Progress BTW. Yeah, just made that up. Pass it along.
And aren’t we all a little curious about how words get into the dictionary? And when I say “the dictonary,” of course I mean The Dictionary — Webster’s. I mean Collier’s? I don’t think so. The Oxford? Who has time for all of those volumes and the space to boot! It’s Webster’s Jack. Everybody else, take a number. Step aside! But is there a committee? Surely. Are there word agents representing a word or for that matter, words? Or people that invented the word and are now peddling it to Webster’s? Do words get rejected and keep having to beef up their street cred for years before making the cut? Are there power trippers at Webster’s who sneer and laugh and say, “Maybe you should try the folks down at Roget’s,” and then go stonefaced and shout, “And where do you think Roget’s gets permission huh? Us! Now take your measly word back to the uneducated hovel it was borne from and call us when you’ve really got something for us to define!” And do those Webster’s cronies have signs behind their desks that read = “Ain’t is a word, but it isn’t a good one” — I don’t know, these are the things my mind had been asking itself for years.
Can you then imagine my delight, my thrill when they passed me back to the office of the ultimate wordsmiths? While on hold I was felt like glittering gilt on a Webster’s leather bound! It was as if I was standing on top of a 1000 dictionaries as I prepared to drop a definition on someone who made The Definitions! Finally, a very nice sounding man picked up the other end. I expected some high brow tone but instead here was this easy going gentleman, who was very welcoming to my inquiry. I should’ve known that he’d be so kindly to a fellow wordist! I got the feeling that wherever he was, that it was very quiet. Like a library you know? To this day I wonder was just a plain old office or was it in fact, a library? And did this guy go undercover to listen for new words? Put on disguises to be here and there in order to catch a rare new sound? Something just manifesting in the language and if it sounded musical enough, he jotted down where he was at the exact moment? During our talk, I could hear his brainy glasses hitting the phone receiver. I could tell he took a distinct pleasure in the nature of my call, as well the timing. He happily noted, even flattering me, that on his desk was an official piece of paper bearing the word and that it was a solid go for the 2002 Webster’s Edition. I’m not sure if the reader can appreciate what I’m fully saying here. I was in on the conversation about a word that wasn’t officially a word and was made privy to the fact that it soon would be before any kind of word was given to the public! I mean that literally and rhetorically! I can think of few things more awesome personally! And yes, you may now call me a word nerd. I realize how nerdy this is but you’ve got to admit, its the best kind! Although I can’t really tell you that a word is added with any real ceremony. I’m sure when “ain’t” made it, it made the news. But not sure foodie did oddly enough. But for me, it was kind of cause to celebrate even if I did like the Pre-Word period of the word foodie. It had more street cool then.
All the same, the Webster’s wordist and I got to the subject of my publication and my definition for it. It was kind of a unique moment of, “you show me your word, and I’ll show you mine.” Hah! And I think we both knew that we were holding some cards here. His greater perhaps than my own since he was the one who rubber-stamped the official definition in the end. So he read me the Official One, and then I read him mine. Upon reading it, I could hear him laugh and smile with delight and he said, “yours is definitely better.” And I asked him, was there any chance he could use my input to improve it or change it? He sincerely expressed regret that in the early phases, they take input from the public but even with that, in the end, its a very internal decision and their think tank has final say and that they were past the process for any revisions. And I could tell he wasn’t just saying that because its policy. What I knew, because it was in his voice, and what we both knew, was that my word was better. I don’t mean “definition” either. Because a word is only as good as it is defined and then used as such. What I mean is that in the whole sense, I had the better WORD. And so was the day that I like to think I left Webster’s with word envy.
I realize this sounds all self aggrandizing, and it is but I mean it in good fun. But you know who I really give the credit to inside of this silly story? My mom. She made me this word nerd by hovering over me with everything I wrote or typed up and made sure I used proper structure and punctuation. She inexhaustibly tested me for grammar and English exams when we were both beyond bleary eyed at the kitchen table late at night. And I didn’t always make A’s and not saying I’m perfect at it now. But it made me great in my ambition to express myself and to love words like she loves math. She loves words for their meanings to but a little more for their math as she’s the mathematician and chemist. She made me this mad scientist for words and passionate for prose. Who else calls up Webster’s to talk about words right and to brag on their own defintions? Nobody I know. You gotta be a crazy person to be someone like that and a little strange if you know one too.