20 Oct The Country Cousin in My Phone

I was fooling with my PDA today, checking email, when the data feed paused and I received this message: “fetching data.” Not “retrieving” but “fetching.” It brought to mind my passel of country relatives, Carolina Appalachia folk who call a valley a “holler” and say “over yonder” for “over there” and “dinner” for “lunch” and “ice box” for “fridge” and “tater” for “potato” and “reckon” for “think.” When, at 7, we moved North, I was shocked at how rough Northerners talked. They never addressed elders as “sir” or “ma’am” and they called children “kids.” They also said “I swear” a lot, as in “I swear I’m gonna kill you.” In the Old South, even the word “swear” seemed too strong to some and so they used “Sewanee,” as in “I Sewanee I’m-a-gonna kill you.”

I used to think my country cousins were as exotic as extraterrestrials. They lived away back in North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Mountains in an unpainted house on a dirt road. Predictably, we called them our “hillbilly cousins.” Their big old house–with its squeaky unpainted floorboards, steep narrow stairs, and dim drafty hallways–was thoroughly spooky. But I was eager to see it every time, and especially eager for a spine-tingling tour of the cold-storage cave across the road, its dirt ceiling carpeted with black shiny crickets. During one visit, we boys crowded around the hog pen out back and watched the big beasts rooting through the mud and kitchen leavings. Then the younger of our two cousins began to taunt the hogs and kick at their heads with his bare feet. Suddenly, the biggest hog grabbed him by the pants cuff and began to pull him into the pen. We three boys played tug-of-war with that hog, our little cousin—yanked between us and the pig — screaming for his life. One of us ran to fetch their grandpa, who came running out immediately — which told us, for sure, how dire the situation was. With his big fist, he rapped the hog on the head and the hog let go. Then the old man pulled himself up, adjusted the single strap of his denim overalls, and set the shaken boy on the ground, where he promptly collapsed in hiccups of relief. “You leave them hogs alone,” the old man scolded. “He would’ve eat you up right quick!”

“Fetch” comes to us from Old English (feccan), unlike “retrieve,” which comes from Old French: retrover. Some say we prefer Old English and Anglo Saxon words because they are simpler and more rooted in every day life. Let us not forget that Jack and Jill went up the hill to fetch that pail. My question is, Who was the software programmer who decided on “fetch” instead of “retrieve” for my phone? It’s a Nokia, by the way, from Finland. Nähdään! That’s Finnish for “See you later.”