Daily Archives: October 3, 2009

molossus & molasses

“No, no, no!”

Maury stood fuming, his hands splayed to the air and covered with thick, black, sticky liquid, while more of the same spread at leisure across the counter and dripped viscously onto the floor.

“That’s a molossus,” I said, getting up to have a better look at the peccadillo.

“I know it’s molasses,” Maury growled. “It’s molasses from a structurally unreliable carton!” He uttered an imprecation that would be indelicate to print here.

I reached over and turned on the kitchen tap, then grabbed a couple of paper towels to help mop up the mess. I was there to eat his food, after all. “No,” I said, “what you said. ‘No, no, no!’ It’s a molossus. A foot of three long, or stressed, beats.”

Maury was washing his hands. “Who’s talking about prosody?”

I risked a pun. “Iamb.”

He gave me a persecuted look over the top of his glasses. “Now is not the time for spondee-neity.” Heh heh. A true wordplay addict can’t resist even when in a sticky situation.

I was stuffing gooey paper towels into his trash can. “What, exactly, are you making, anyway?”

“Shoo-fly pie,” he replied. As if on cue, his oven beeped that it was preheated.

“Another molossus!”

“Yes, made with molasses.”

“Well,” I observed, “in the south, mo’ lasses than lads make it.”

“Yes,” Maury said, tossing the disintegrated carton in the rubbish, “and no doubt you’ll next make some point about its colour resembling the nether parts of moles.”

“No,” I lied, “I was next going to talk about how those southern girls like to call you ‘honey,’ which, in Latin, is mel – a nice nickname for a southern belle – which was the root of mellacium, which fed through Portuguese or Spanish to make our molasses.” I leaned against the wall as Maury took another carton of molasses out of his cupboard. Who has multiple molasses in their cupboard? And how many did Maury have? He closed the door before I could see.

“I’ll have to use blackstrap,” he said, and added, apparently forgetting who he was talking to, “so called because when poured it forms a ribbon rather like a black leather strap.” As he measured it, he muttered, “I’m heading for more of a black dog here right now.”

“A molossus dog,” I offered. “Massive, like a mastiff. A now-defunct breed, but a contributor to some of our bigger modern breeds, from St. Bernard to Rottweiler. A toponym: Molossia is a place in northwestern Greece.”

“Both words sound heavy,” he observed, “but not sticky.” He measured some baking soda into the mixing bowl, which held a mix of molasses, water, and eggs, and it frothed gratifyingly, making a slight sound not unlike the [s]’s in the words in question. As he mixed in some crumble of  flour, sugar, and butter and poured it all into a pie shell, then topped it with more of the crumble, he mused, “I wonder why a dog. Because it’s big? Why not a chimpanzee? That’s a molossus.”

“Perhaps they simply both come from the same place.” I watched him slide the pie into the oven. “Why name musical modes Lydian, Phrygian, or Dorian?”

“Or fridge-doorian.” Maury fixed his gaze on the fridge door and I got out of the way. He retrieved the mint syrup and ice for his impending julep and took them to the table, whereon rested the bourbon and glasses. “But nobody much uses those modes now, just as nobody much uses the molossus.”

I followed, hot on the trail of my next refreshment. “Gilbert and Sullivan did.” I saw Maury’s back momentarily freeze. He knew a song cue was coming and there was nothing he could do to stop it. He filled his tumbler to the brim as I launched into The Mikado:

“To sit in solemn silence in a dull dark dock,
In a pestilential prison, with a life-long lock,
Awaiting the sensation of a short, sharp shock,
From a cheap and chippy chopper on a big black block!”

Maury turned, washed back half his glass, and appeared to envision me enduring execution. He made an unpleasant smile.

“Yes, yes, yes!”