Pastoral rituals

A Scott Hilburn cartoon from 10/3/13 with an uncomplicated (but imperfect) pun (vowsvowels) as its centerpiece, a pun that’s satisfying because the result is absurd, juxtaposing the world of a nursery rhyme with the world of church ceremonies:

(#1) The link between the worlds (made explicit in the caption) is in the nonsense-syllable refrain from the nursery rhyme (E-I-E-I-O), which happens to consist of the names of three vowel letters (with two repeated)

World 1 (the depicted ceremony, with an exchange of vows / vowels). From Wikipedia:

A wedding vow renewal ceremony or wedding vow reaffirmation ceremony is a ceremony in which a married couple renew or reaffirm their marriage vows.

Most ceremonies take place in churches and are seen as a way for a married couple to renew their commitment to each other and demonstrate that the vows they took are still considered sacred; most Christian denominations, such as the Lutheran Churches, Catholic Church, Methodist Churches, and Anglican Churches offer services for a reaffirmation of marriage.

The ceremonies have been popular in Italy for decades, and have existed in United States since the 1950s, but only became popular there after the 1970s.

World 2 (the pastoral setting, with an old man and a variety of animals on a farm, alluded to by the dress of the old man and his wife and by those vowels from the nursery rhyme). Wikipedia has a nice entry on the nursery rhyme; early versions lacked the refrain entirely and just focused on the animals, one by one; and then some later refrains had consonant-initial syllables (or riffed on o-hi-o). So it seems appropriate to treat E-I-E-I-O as just nonsense syllables — commonly used as fillers in nursery rhymes, folk songs, popular songs, rock music, and jazz singing, as in:

fa la la la LA, hey diddle diddle, heigh-ho heigh-ho, ti-yi-yippee, na na na, do-wah diddy diddy, ob-la-di ob-la da, rama lama ding dong

(The Wikipedia entry then just disregards the form of the refrain completely; it has a history, but not really an etymology, because it has no semantic content.)

Pastoral rituals. My title, with another — a different — pun, exploiting an ambiguity in pastoral. From NOAD:

adj. pastoral: 1 [a] (especially of land or a farm) used for or related to the keeping or grazing of sheep or cattle: scattered pastoral farms. [b] associated with country life: the view was pastoral, with rolling fields and grazing sheep. [c] (of a work of art) portraying or evoking country life, typically in a romanticized or idealized form. 2 (in the Christian Church) concerning or appropriate to the giving of spiritual guidance: pastoral and doctrinal issues | clergy doing pastoral work. ORIGIN late Middle English: from Latin pastoralis ‘relating to a shepherd’, from pastor ‘shepherd’.

The ambiguity in the title is between sense 2 in World 1 — the clergyman officiating at the renewal ceremony is doing pastoral work (the work of spiritual guidance) — and sense 1b in World 2 — Old McDonald and his entourage are part of pastoral life (the life of farms and related enterprises).

(You might wonder why such grossly different senses are listed in the same dictionary entry. The reason is entirely historical; the two trace back, by very different routes, to Latin pastor ‘shepherd’. The 1 senses of pastoral come pretty directly from that, by widening and metonymy (from sheep; to grazing animals; to locations where such animals are kept (on farms, in the country); to country life generally. The 2 sense of pastoral involves a metaphor — a minister is metaphorically a shepherd — that is prominent in the texts and teachings of the early Christian Church, turning on the analogy: the relationship of a minister to his congregation is as the relationship of a shepherd to his flock. But now pastoral-1 and pastoral-2 are clearly distinct lexical items.)


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