Su Lum: Slumming
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
I recently watched “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” and I would have sworn (taken a polygraph test) that that movie, which I had known from my early childhood and which had scared the hell out of me, my daughter Hillery and my granddaughter Riley (who had to be carried, screaming, out of the Wheeler), was called “Snow White and the Seven DWARVES.”
This stubbornness of my perception survived despite all the movie posters, the title credits and the non-stop references during the movie to the seven DWARFS. I mean no political incorrectness towards little people (the movie would never be made today) – this is about the spelling of the plurals of “f” words, words ending in “f,” which I had been taught (or thought I’d been taught) to pluralize by changing the final “f” to “ves.”
The plural of calf becomes calves, the plural of leaf becomes leaves, the plural of elf becomes elves, but the plural of dwarf becomes dwarfs, the plural of hoof becomes hoofs and the plural of roof becomes roofs.
The last example was brought home dramatically during a competitive game of Scrabble with my friends Bruce Berger and our dear departed friend Remo Lavagnino. I remember that the Scrabble board was set up on a card table in my current living room, meaning that the event took place sometime, but probably not long, after I moved into my “new” house (old miner’s shack) in 1972.
I don’t remember whether it was Bruce or I who triumphantly placed the tiles on the board to spell the word ROOVES (I think it was Bruce), but Remo’s reaction was instantaneous and outraged. “ROOVES?” he cried, “That’s not a word! What kind of word is that?”
Bruce and I, convinced of our defense, responded that ROOVES was the plural of ROOF, like DUH, Remo, you ignorant expletive, everyone knows THAT.
“SHOW ME,” Remo replied, unfazed by our condescending hilarity, “ROOVES in the dictionary!”
This sent us scrambling for reference books which, one by one, confirmed that the plural of ROOF is indeed ROOFS, a humiliation we suffer to this day.
Remo enjoyed his triumph immensely. “Look at all that snow on those ROOVES,” he would tease us. “Those ROOVES are going to start leaking pretty soon.”
In retaliation, Bruce and I would sneak the word “rooves” into our writings (my spell-check just changed that to “roves”), often getting past the editors’ eyes, but it was a very small satisfaction.
HOOFS? We know about the thundering hoof beats of the thundering HOOVES, but they’re the really the thundering HOOFS, and Salome entranced her audience twirling SCARFS, not SCARVES.
A whole consists of two halves rather than two halfs. Like the genders of the romance languages, there are no rules to follow – it is completely arbitrary (in French, the word for vagina is masculine). Even “what sounds right” doesn’t work for me because “ves” almost always sounds correct to my misinformed ear.
Anyway, I thoroughly enjoyed seeing Snow White and the Seven DWARFS again. I could have done without Snow White (especially the singing) and the prince (ditto), but the animals and the dwarfs were excellent and the animation outstanding. Several stars.
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