Several years back, some friends and I were enjoying a day on Rehoboth Beach, when someone kicked over a drink of ours and one of us cursed loudly enough to trigger a justified glare from a nearby parent, whose kids were playing and had not in fact heard the naughty word. Still, we felt bad about our loose tongue, and we thought how useful it would be if you could find a non-swear word that was as satisfying to say as an actual curse. This seems to be impossible – the taboo of a curse word seems to lodge deep in the brain. (Language Log had a an article about how speakers of mutiple languages showed different brain chemistry when cursing in their native tongue; I cannot find the link at the moment.)

So we settled on walrus. It’s an odd word; you rarely run into them here on the East Coast; it’s reasonably satisfying to say; and no one gets offended when you mutter “Walrus!”

Early Senior year, my three roommates and I were having dinner at Joe’s American Bar & Grill across from the Westfarms Mall in West Hartford. We started discussing the four theses we would be writing, and how different they would be – Economics, Philosophy, Drama, and History. How could we unite these four works? I don’t know who suggested it, but the idea arose that we would include the word ‘walrus’ in each thesis. This was in September, and by May – as due dates neared – we all reached the hysteria that comes with completing large, important assignments. (One friend got so nutty she laundered a book, but that’s a story for another day.) September’s odd idea seemed like a foolish mistake, but we persevered.

The Economist included the Walri (a plural word we’d adopted over the year to refer to ourselves) in his acknowledgements before launching into his mind numbing prose on EU competition theory. The Dramatist used a walrus reference as an example of absurd theater (that’s the one I am fuzziest on). The Philosopher wrote about games and fun, and referred to walri frolicking on a beach. I give all three credit for using the word, but all of them engineered an awkward excuse for using the word, when the original challenge was to use the word with no explanation. Into this breach, I stepped and described the Marshall Plan as an “economic aide package of walrus proportions.” My advisor had repeatedly circled this in drafts with a notation like “word choice?” but I stayed the course.

Fifteen years later, I am unable to see one of these noble, whiskered and tusked creatures without thinking of those three friends.


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