Blues in the Heights 

Somebody wrote in the paper the other day about the blue-stocking neighborhoods of the Heights and Hillcrest. I think they meant silk-stocking. — Ann O'Nimity

Ann is probably right. The adjective silk-stocking means "aristocratic or wealthy." But maybe, just maybe, the writer had something else in mind. A bluestocking is "a woman with considerable scholarly, literary or intellectual ability or interest."

Many bluestockings live in the Heights and Hillcrest; they're particularly thick around Wordsworth book store. Several Arkansas Times staffers reside in these two neighborhoods and their stockings are vividly blue, as far up as one can see.

I'm sort of an honorary bluestocking myself. I somehow got on the mailing list for a book catalog called "Bas Bleu," which is French for "Blue Stocking." Somebody must have tipped them that I'm a Jane Austen fan. (Though not enough to buy any of those books where a fictional Jane Austen catches murderers.)

The Bas Bleu website says that "In about 1750, Mrs. Elizabeth Montagu (later called 'the Queen of the Blues') and her friends founded the first official bluestocking society in England." I didn't know that. I did know that in the 1920s and '30s, Bessie Smith was called "the Empress of the Blues." She was the Jane Austen of her field.

A reader who identifies himself as "a swamper at the Wye Mountain Branch of the Internationally Famous Rasputin Mule Farm" writes concerning our discussion of mule skinner:

"The term 'mule skinner' was used by those who worked with the 20-mule teams that hauled borax out of Death Valley in the late 1800s. I do not know if the term originated with them. I do know that it's figurative. Those who drove these 20-mule teams would crack a whip over the backs of the mules to get them going, and keep them going, but they never intentionally hit the mules with the whips. Despite tales to the contrary, a mule will not tolerate pain and mistreatment. A mule that is mistreated will invariably become a dangerous renegade. I have seen perfectly good, gentle mules turned into dangerous animals by mistreatment."

Much the same happens with newspaper columnists.


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