Sometimes it’s easy to identify with Robert Frost, who once said, “I’m not confused, I’m just well-mixed.” Mixed nuts are a family favorite and, since my housemate disdains filberts, over the decades I’ve enjoyed quite a few of the many she’s set aside. Now bookish meanderings have led to nuts, the Knut, and Knut, and it took some reading to find my way through to confusion.
P.G. Wodehouse, the premier 20th century comic writer, set me off. He’s the focus of an Osher Lifelong Learning class I’ll lead next fall, and there’s lots of boning up required since he wrote from the first to the seventh decades of that era, a total of 99 books. I encountered the prolific Wodehouse’s works at my in-laws house about the time of the author’s passing in 1975, and his authorial voice and penchant for metaphorical frolic and wordplay immediately and permanently enraptured me, especially the adventures of Bertie Wooster and Jeeves, his cerebral valet.
An early 1900s music hall tune went, “Oh Hades, the ladies, who leave their wooden huts / For Gilbert the Filbert the colonel of the Knuts.” According to Green’s Dictionary of Slang, a multivolume set at our library, in those days, a Knut (pronounced “nut”) was “a dandy, a well-bred, fashionable (if not overly intelligent) young man,” and that describes Bertie to a T. The Knut, “the prince of young Edwardians,” was “descended from the Beau, the Buck and the Swell,” according to Oxford University’s “Wodehouse and the English Language,” and others in the genealogy include Macaronis, Coxcombs, Dandies and Dudes. The Penguin Wodehouse Companion states, “The Knut was an amiable person. You could laugh at him kindly. He cultivated a ‘blah’ manner and vocabulary … a Knut says goodbye in six different ways: ‘Bung-ho,’ ‘Teuf-teuf,’ ‘Tinkerty-tink,’ ‘Toodle-oo,’ ‘Poo-boop-a-doop’ and ‘Honk-honk.’” In the “pooterish slang” of the Knut, who preferred “the orotund (resonant, pompous, pretentious) to the curt,” one didn’t irritate, drink alcohol or get unbalanced, but rather “gave the pip,” “restored the tissues,” and “went off his onion.” Instead of being “in the soup” when in trouble, he was “knee-deep in the consomme’.”
An earlier Knut, Cnut the Great and Canute (both pronounced “ke-noot”) was the King of Denmark, England and Norway circa 1000 CE. Canute IV, his grandnephew, was King of Denmark when William the Conqueror conquered England in 1066, but he still considered himself the rightful heir. In 1085 Canute planned to invade and overtake England, but he dilly-dallied until harvest-time; his peasant sailors left for home and killed him the next year.
About that time, Fulk (aka the Falcon) was born in France and became the powerful, fifth count of Anjou before going crusading in 1119. Fulk was chosen by Baldwin II, King of Jerusalem, to marry Melisende, his daughter and heir, but Fulk refused until promised joint rule of Jerusalem. The marriage was friction-wrought, especially when Fulk assumed total command after Baldwin’s death, and more so when Fulk accused his queen of dallying with her cousin Count Hugh of Jaffa. Hugh rebelled, cutting a deal with the Muslims for protection, but eventually accepted a three-year exile. Meanwhile, Melisende orchestrated a palace coup in Fulk’s absence.
Fulk was no fool; Melisende’s love of books and reading was such she was called the Patroness of Books, so he ordered a very special book made just for her, now known as the “Melisende Psalter.” That did the trick, and their second son was born a year later. The 8-by-5-inch book was made by seven scribes and illuminators in the scriptorium, covered with finely-carved ivory depictions of the life of King David and is bedecked with gold and gems. It contains Old Testament psalms, prayers, numerous illustrations and an English calendar. The psalter’s now part of the British National Library’s collection.
Filberts (aka hazelnuts) are so called because the feast day of the French St. Philbert, Aug. 22, coincides with the nut’s traditional ripening date. “Nut” is also a slang term for “head,” and few places are better equipped for ripening your nut than your public library. As Mike Tyson once put it, “I’m a nut case, but that is what I believe.”
Greg Hill is the former director of Fairbanks North Star Borough libraries. Contact him at 479-4344.