To Thole or Not to Thole

Did you know that thole is a word? Me neither until this morning, when my sweetheart, Lisa, who is a self-proclaimed word nerd, emailed me Merriam-Webster's "Word of the Day."

There it was: thole. "Well, that's interesting," I thought, but I overstated the matter. Thole is interesting the way that farina is interesting, possessing much the same personality.

Thole begins well as a pronunciation, but it falls flat at its definition. With its high-sounding Medieval lilt, thole is the kind of word you'd expect to perhaps refer to a Celtic bard, or some vital part of a knight's armor, or a high-ranking official in a king's court: "Lords and ladies, presenting his worship, Sir Edward Lockshire, Thole of Camelot."

Thole means none of those things. In fact, thole isn't a thing at all. Thole is a verb, not a noun.* You don't see a thole, admire a thole, wish you had a thole, or even feel indifferent about a thole. You simply thole. Or maybe you don't thole, depending. If you've made it this far into this article, I'd say that you thole quite splendidly.

Shall I tell you the definition of thole? Yes, if I wish you to refrain from wringing my neck. Thole means endure. Got that? When you thole adverse circumstances, you endure them.

Now, doesn't that just suck in every way possible. Seriously. See for yourself. Go ahead and try substituting thole for endure in any sentence you please, and then you tell me whether the result satisfies.

"Come, let us thole."

"The journey is long and hard, but I shall thole."

"I thought you would thole, but you didn't thole at all--wimp!"

Past tense is worse yet. Slapping an -ed on the end of the word sounds just plain weird:

"I thought you tholed, but now I think that thole ithn't in your vocabulary. I mean, isn't. Thole isn't in your vocabulary."

Good thing it's not, that's what I say. If we must endure, we'd prefer to do so without lisping.

When you need to convey a concept that smacks of character, such as endurance, you need a word with enough personality to do the job right, and thole isn't it. Nothing about it fits, not even the noun you could extrapolate from it. From endure you get endurance; does it follow, then, that thole gives you tholance?

Fortunately, no. Looking in the dictionary, I find one small ray of sunshine in whose warmth we can bask: there is no tholance. Those of you who fancy yourselves tholant, put it away. There's no such word.

But getting back to the need for a word's personality to match its character, open your thesaurus and you'll find a whole list of colorful and useful synonyms for endure: Survive. Gut it out. Persist. Brave. Push through. Bear. Undergo. Withstand. Sustain. All good words, very good--words with grit and muscle, and there are more where they came from. In contrast, switching out endure for thole is like replacing Mike Tyson with Woody Allen: neither substitute packs the punch it needs.

For all of the above reasons and others besides, you will not catch me using the word thole in my writing. It simply fails to convince.

So what do you think of all this?

That's what you think? Well, in fact, no, I really do not have way too much time on my hands. I just felt compelled to write. In this life, some matters are of such grave importance that they require comment. This is not one of them, but I have commented anyway. Now I'm finished, and you can get on with the rest of your day. Thank you for tholing this post to the very end.


* Okay, I have to recant. A second look in the dictionary reveals that thole is also a noun. According to Webster's, the noun form of thole refers to "either of a pair of pins set in the gunwale of a boat to hold an oar in place." This definition of thole I can handle, though its usefulness is limited. Among the world's least-asked questions, "Who's bringing the tholes?" has got to be near the top of the list.

Winterizing the Last of the “Kids”

It's finally done. Tonight I finally finished winterizing the last of my carnivorous plants. Should've done it at least a month ago, but somehow I just couldn't bring myself to do the deed. But a couple hours ago, with A Prairie Home Companion playing in the background, I set up shop and prepped my Sarracenia rubra ssp. wherryi and S. leucophylla for the fridge. They're now nicely bagged with sphagnum moss (treated with sulfur to prevent white mold) and are nestled with the rest of my plants in the vegetable drawer. There they'll stay till late March. Winterizing my pitcher plants and Venus flytraps is my least-favorite part of growing carnivorous plants. But there's no getting around it. American carnivorous plants have a winter dormancy requirement; they need their "sleep" just like you and I do. If I lived in a warmer growing zone, I could simply let them stay out on the balcony and endure the occasional frost. But here in Michigan, living in a third-floor apartment in a state where winter temperatures routinely drop into the teens, I have just one option, and that is to bag the plants and stick them in the refrigerator. Once so ensconced, they go into a deep dormancy until the spring. I'm not crazy about the sphagnum moss I used with these last two plants. It's purported to be Sphagnum magellanicum, and it's a South American moss rather than the Canadian stuff I'm used to. No problem there, but this stuff is colored a bright, unnatural green that smacks of some kind of dye. I'm leery of putting my plants in contact with unknown chemicals. But since this was the only sphagnum available at Fruit Basket, I guess I just have to take my chances. My carnivorous plants are dormant, after all, and I only need to store them for three months. So--cross fingers and hope for the best. By the way, the S. leucophylla is the striking white-topped plant in the center image, and the S. rubra ssp. wherryi is shown in the bottom photo. The Venus flytrap (Dionaea muscipula) at the top of the page needs no introduction. Click on the photos to enlarge them. And that's all I have to say about that.