Aaron and the porcupine eggs

For spelling questions I start with the which-looks-right test before trying Spellcheck, Google, or the dictionary. Two of us were dueling through all the options trying to sort out "bur". We had seen "bur" and "burr" so many times they both looked wrong and were both likely correct. With prickles in my brain I headed home.

After a deep cleansing breath I opened the dear old Big Red Dictionary. Had to dust it off and apologize for my long neglect. A true servant should not be relegated to the bottom shelf. I had forgotten the sensory pleasures of the indented letter tabs and the light, thin pages.

The lesson plan under construction is using our senses to learn about seeds, seed pods, and a bit of seed dispersal for young children. They will not care if "bur" or "burr" wins. They will be unimpressed by the rough trilling of the letter r, as in Scottish pronunciation. Floating bur oak acorn caps in the water tub is more their style. And yes, bur oak seems to need only one r.

What burs attach in the memory? What hooks on the seed pods? I know exactly what I was wearing the day my Aunt Shirley and Uncle Rollie came to visit us in Edmond, Oklahoma. I bought the outfit at Anthony's on Broadway, not the Bryant store. That pink shirt is in the Great Shirts of the Late Eighties Museum collection. It was a stripe print over-dyed. Rollie, ever the bull**** storyteller, brought my kids a small box of carefully cushioned ancient "porcupine eggs". The boys were appropriately impressed, and did not touch the artifacts. We kept that box of cocklebur prickles in a drawer for at least a decade. Bur. is the abbreviation for bureau and Burma.

cockle n. Any of several plants often growing as weeds in grain fields

cocklebur n. Any of several course weeds of the genus Xanthium bearing prickly burs. 2. The bur of any of these plants.

Cockleburs are poisonous to livestock in the seedling stage, and were used in Greece as hair dye. I'm guessing we are trying for blonde, since xanth- indicates the color yellow.

Burrs (or burs) are an amazing adaptation for seed dispersal. The curriculum guide suggests I put a big sock over one shoe and leg of each preschool student and send them out to wander in the meadow to unwittingly pick up Velcro-esce seeds, The guide doesn't explain what to do with all the stickers in their jeans on the other leg.

bur oak  A timber tree. Quercus macrocarpa, of eastern North America, having acorns enclosed within a deep, fringed cup. The Big Red Dictionary is positive about the spelling of this name.

burn. Also burr. 1. a. The rough, prickly, or spiny fruit husk, seed pod, or flower of various plants, such as the chestnut or the burdock. b. A plant producing burs. 2. A persistently clinging or nettlesome person or thing. 3. Any of various rotary cutting tools designed to be attached to a drill. [Middle English burre, probably from Scandinavian, akin to Old Swedish borre.]

bur2 1. Variant of burr (rough edge). 2. Variant of burr (guttural trill). 3. Variant of burr (washer)....a washer that fits around the smaller end of a rivet... Not your Maytag.

Bur and burr keep dancing around doing variations on a theme. For most situations you can spell it whichever way passes your looks-right test.

Burr, which follows burp gun, is the name of the Vice President of the United States under Thomas Jefferson (1801-05). That would be Aaron Burr, 1756-1836, who famously fatally wounded Alexander Hamilton in a duel. Burr (copyright 1973) was the first novel by Gore Vidal I ever read. Checked it out at the Benson Branch of the Omaha Public Library in about 1984.

Xanthippe  the wife of Socrates; proverbial as a shrewish and scolding woman....You could say she was a prickly presence in the philosopher's life, or a burr under his saddle. Page from my Greco-Roman notebook project with Xanthippe in a VW:

Nuts!? Am I nuts?! Surely not, Shirley. We will discuss seed dispersal by wind, water, gravity, and scat some other time.

© 2013-2015 Nancy L. Ruder

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