The biggest words I ever learned as a kid I learned from Tom Lehrer. Starting around 6th grade I think. Have no idea where I heard his songs — it's not like he was on the radio or anything. But when I discovered that I liked his lyrics a whole lot better than anything emerging in rock-n-roll, (and that my favorite songs on the radio were things like 'Runnin' Bear' and 'Woverton Mountain' and Marty Robbins ballads, I knew too, that I just wasn't a regular kid.
Here's some of the vocab I first became aware of through his songs:
virility — clearly had something to do with something I would never have (or care about).
fertility — the opposite of virility.
sterility — A great word! These words just all sounded so terrific together.
futility — this was the only word in the batch that I was already familiar with.
liability — = kids, apparently.
senility — which rhymed with 'lose your ability' as I recall.
elements — all of them. And that's pretty much the last I ever heard of them.
cyanide — this was the only one I ended up learning a lot about, later. Apricot pits, for example, have enough cyanide in them that they've long been used for camel birth control (a pit being inserted into the cervix to block and kill off the swimmers...).
solicit — which still sounds pretty dumb.
masochism — which still sounds pretty familiar.
tango — which still sounds pretty incomprehensible.
plagiarize — little did I know that of all his terms, this is the one I'd become the most familiar with.
genuflect — turned out to be davvening.
transubstantiation — still very unclear.
vatican — right. I had never heard of the Vatican.
You get the idea...
But the main thing that I got from Tom Lehrer was that refrain that he punched up that echoed in my brain from the first time that I heard it until now:
— and-everybody-hates-the-jews —
And what do you do with that? It just hit to the core, and I didn't understand it, and yet the evidence seemed in that he was right... And then there was the Six Day War, and Occupied Territory, and not returning that territory, and Lebanon, and Syria, and Gaza (at the moment) — and the policies of the State of Israel being equated with just plain being Jewish. I mean, even apart from the Holocaust and Inquisition that I'd been raised on.
And Tom Lehrer had said it out loud, clear, concise and simple.
And recently, there was a Facebook stream I was following, that came to exactly the same point: Kill all the Jews, and everything will be just fine after that. Blunt and clear.
Not, "I disagree with Israeli occupation..."
Not, "We must build a Palestinian State..."
No, just "Kill the Jews."
And what do you do with that? It just hit to the core (again), and I don't understand it (again). And yet it appears to be one of those 'eternal truths' that I was raised with, raised to expect, raised to prepare for (somehow). But Tom Lehrer didn't provide a template for what to do about it, did he?
I picture my dad playing Anu anu ha-Palmach on the record player and us marching around the dining room table, a little army of two.
And what do you do with that?
Go upstairs and sing along with Tom Lehrer. National Brotherhood Week. But the bloody song always ends the same.