Monday, October 15, 2012

Caught Knapping

Remember that old song “The Happy Wanderer,” sometimes known as “Valderi, valdera”?  The lyric oozed pastoral charm:
            I love to go a-wandering
            Along the mountain track,
            And as I go, I love to sing,
            My knapsack on my back.

I’ve always wondered what a knap was and why the wanderer had one (or more) in his sack.

Nowadays, there are no knaps, but when the word knapsack came into use (the earliest citation in the Oxford English Dictionary is 1603), it stemmed from the Low German knappsack, which derived from knappen meaning “to make a snapping noise,” which was interpreted to mean “to eat.”  Sack is also Low German and—guess what—means “sack.” So the knapsack presumably was where the happy hiker carried food on which he could chomp away, no doubt making a snapping noise as he smacked his lips.

The knapsack’s cousin, the backpack, is pretty much the same thing, except it’s usually mounted on a metal frame.  Its use was first noted in 1914.

The cheeky Urban Dictionary tells us that the versatile backpack can also mean a form of hip-hop music that is socially conscious, a person who constantly hovers too close to his or her mate or dancing partner, a person with muscles on his back, a nerd who contributes nothing to a gathering but a sour disposition, a manager who oversupervises, or a few other interesting things that I would blush to mention.

The Bard of Buffalo Bayou has been known to blush on rare occasions, when discovered in flagrante delicto.  Here is one of the more flagrant of his delicta:
            I love to go a-wandering
            Along the Vegas Strip,
            And as I go, I tightly cling
            To one lone poker chip.

            That one chip is all that’s left
            Of all the cash I had,
            And now I’m broke and so bereft,
            I hope Steve Wynn is glad.

            But losing all my hard-earned cash
            Was not so bad a thing
            As when I broke out in a rash
            To hear Wayne Newton sing.

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