Sunday, June 24, 2012

Why “Tafferel”?

The name of a blog is very important.  It’s also hard to come up with. 

The name must be indicative of the philosophy of the organization and reflect the business at hand.  So we couldn’t go with “Tattler” because we’re not going to be tattling on anyone or spreading rumors.  “Tell-all” was scrapped because we don’t know all to be able to tell all.  After much deliberation, the word “tafferel” popped to mind.  Where had I heard it before?

Ah, yes!  It was in Henry David Thoreau’s Walden:  “Yet we should oftener look over the tafferel of our craft, like curious passengers, and not make the voyage like stupid sailors picking oakum.”   I had to look up a few words; for all I knew, tafferel meant map and oakum might have something to do with noses.

“Tafferel” isn’t spelled that way anymore; now it’s “taffrail”.  A taffrail is the rail around a vessel’s stern, the back part of the boat.  Evidently, Thoreau recommended that we should not only be concerned with where our craft is going, but also where it’s been.  What kind of wake is the vessel leaving? 

I don’t know how lexicographers in the 1850s spelled tafferel, but I think Thoreau was delighted to use this spelling because he wanted to direct attention to the original meaning of the word.  “Tafferel” comes from a Middle Dutch word, “tafereel”, which means panel or picture.  So, paraphrasing Thoreau, every so often we should review the picture of our lifestyle to check out what we did and how our passing affected it.

Well, if that were all of Thoreau’s statement that influenced me to name this publication, I could stop here.

Thoreau said there’s a certain group of folks who go through life “like stupid sailors picking oakum”.  Oakum is hemp fiber obtained by picking the strands out of old rope.  It was an automatic, mindless, yet all consuming chore of lint picking.  But the picking of oakum was a necessary endeavor.  When out of sight of land, the sailors picked oakum to caulk the seams of the ship to prevent its sinking. 

Needle workers often get lost in their projects.  We pick and stitch and drift on the sea of our imaginings, hardly seeing the task at our fingertips, focused -- and yet not!   And many a needlework project has bound the family together and kept it going.  Though I perform a lot of chores around here to keep me going, I’m getting up now and again to look around me, like a “curious passenger”, to see where I’m headed and where I’ve been and where I am now.   That’s what the blog is all about, Charlie Brown. 

It’s a tafferel.


  1. Very nice explanation of Tafferel. Did you know I couldn't find it in Perhaps I did not search hard enough, but it certaintly did not 'pop-up' like most words do.
    Anyhoo... I consider myself a bit more educated from this read. Tyvm for sharing.
    The Mallenator

    1. Tafferel is a valid word, though archaic. Google it and you'll find a very nice explanation/definition in various places such as Wickipedia. Happy googling!

  2. 'Tafereel' in Dutch is a a tableau you might see on-stage or perhaps depicting an historical painting such as 'The Night Watch'.

    Beautiful writing. You've always had such a lovely way with words.

  3. Karlin, Now why did I know that your blog would not only be fun, but educational, as well? It makes one pause and reflect.
    I especially liked this line: "Evidently, Thoreau recommended that we should not only be concerned with where our craft is going, but also where it’s been."
    Thoreau's primary meaning gives pause for thought, but more importantly in connection with your 'craft', your words gave me pause for thought. No not about your boat, but the journey of your chosen passion: fine yarn, sharing the 'craft' of it and the gentle guidence of using the best to achieve the best.
    Your 'yarns' have always achieved both meanings for me. Thanks for all that you have taught me about good thread!