First Lesson: Proper Names

T.H. White
The Sword in the Stone

Merlyn is not yet officially Wart’s tutor but the lessons have begun.

Two points to capture the implications of this scene:
1) Arthur is nicknamed Wart, (rhymes with Art, short for his real name)
2) The owl’s name is Archimedes

The Wart did not quite see, but was just going to say that he was sorry for Merlyn if these things made him unhappy, when he felt a curious sensation at his ear. “Don’t jump,” said Merlyn, just as he was going to do so, and the Wart sat still. Archimedes, who had been standing forgotten on his shoulder all this time, was gently touching himself against him. His beak was right against the lobe of his ear, which its bristles made to tickle, and suddenly, a soft hoarse little voice whispered, “How d’you do,” so that it sounded right inside his head.

“Oh, owl!” tired the Wart, forgetting about Merlyn’s troubles instantly. “Look, he has decide to talk to me!”

The Wart gently leaned his head against the soft feathers, and the brown owl, taking the rim of his ear in its beak, quickly nibbled right round it with the smallest nibbles.

“I shall call him Archie!” exclaimed the Wart.

“I trust you will do nothing of the sort, ” cried Merlyn instantly, in a stern and angry voice, and the owl withdrew to the farthest corner of his shoulder.

“Is it wrong?”

“You might as well call me Wol, or Olly,” said the owl sourly, “and have done with it.

“Or Bubbles,” added the owl in a bitter voice.

Merlyn took the Wart’s hand and said kindly, “You are only young, and do not understand these things. But you will learn that owls are the politest and most courteous single-hearted and faithful creatures living. you must never be familiar, rude or vulgar with them, or make them to look ridiculous. Their mother is Athene, the goddess of wisdom, and, through they are often ready to play the buffoon for your amusement, such conduct is the prerogative of the truly wise. No owl can possible be called Archie.”

“I am sorry, owl,” said the Wart.

“And I am sorry, boy,” said the owl. “I can see that you spoke in ignorance, and I bitterly regret that I should have been so petty as to take offence where none was intended.”

The owl really did regret it, and looked so remorseful and upset that Merlyn had to put on a very cheerful manner and change the conversation.

What intrigues me is that the proposed nick name works visually (Archimedes –> Archie) but not phonically (the “ch” is a “k” sound as in “klaxon” and not as “ch” in “cheese”) [unless one likens the pronunciation to the French Archimède].

All Greek to me that speaking in ignorance…

And so for day 2687

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