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Rube is Not the Word to Describe My Neighbours

Rube

 Census 2018 is on my mind. New Zealand is about to count itself.

Our dwelling details will be designated rural. We will count our hens and our cattle. I guess we will explain again, our septic waste and water supply systems, uses of buildings and land. No doubt we will list our gender and our levels of education and income. Who knows what other questions will be asked. Our feelings and views will not be canvassed. Data will show we are neither feather-brained nor bovine in outlook. Such questions are designed to elicit data to give an overall statistical snapshot of people who live in the countryside on Census 2018 day.

What I do know, is that the tally of rural residents living on our country road will show our neighbours’ occupations as: accountant, builder, commercial hydroponic rose grower, dairy farmer, engineer, horse breeder, industrial chemist, land developer, nurse, policeman, retiree, school bus driver, school principal, stay-at-home parent, student, urban business owner, web developer. And what I also know is that these neighbours have busy workdays and busy weekends. 

We affect to live a rustic lifestyle just fifteen minutes drive from the city. To some, country living may seem unsophisticated. Sunhats, jandals, gumboots are not fashion statements. They are practical items that suit the living on the land. Old-fashioned he may be, our neighbour persists  year-round in true Kiwi style by wearing a singlet, shorts and gumboots as he goes about his jobs. We all wear gumboots as the preferred footwear when the soil is saturated after rainy downpours and when we struggle in flooded paddocks to save wrecked fences. 

Fenceline

This time a post had to be pulled out of the water.

In stormy weather, a work gang forms and men rev their chainsaws and tractors to deal to a fallen tree blocking the road. We are able cook up a one-pot meal over the woodburner or gas-fired BBQ during a prolonged power outage.Our gender, our educational levels and occupations count for nothing at these times. Neighbourly commonsense and cooperation matters. These are the same people who on Monday morning, switch to their sophisticated urbane selves and dressed in their city clothes, head into town to their places of work. 

But back to the word prompt for this post. Getting started was the hard bit. What content could I use on which to peg the prompt. I consider myself to have a good knowledge of the meaning and use of the English language. As a competitive Scrabble player, I pride myself on a quick recall of words. How could I have not come across this word? Awkward.

First I thought maybe the word had something to do my birthstone, that precious, blood-red coloured gem, the ruby. Shakespearean quotes came to mind. After all, there are many rub- words associated with red and rubies that evoke emotion and symbolic meanings. Then there are these proverbial words,

Who can find a virtuous woman? for Her price is far above rubies.

Next, I wondered if I could play around with the shortened version of a given name like my Great-Aunt Ruby or a man’s name like Reuben. Both names feature in lyrics of well remembered songs but yielded few writing cues.

Feeling ignorant, I broadened my word meaning search. It was American dictionary time. Hayseed to me is something that falls from a dried grass stalk and is often the cause of a seasonal allergy known as hayfever. Hillbilly, not really in this country. Yahoo or lout, maybe the young guy who 360s at the intersection or weaves his vehicle at speed through the designated 55kph corners of the windy stretch of downhill leaving black tyre marks on the road surface. 

Finally. Got it. This has been an exercise of making sense of cultural use of words to express ideas.

Rural voters were tired of being treated as rubes by state officials who showed interest in them only at election time. 

The word definition and its use in the sentence imply prejudice, a put-down, a negative viewpoint of rural folk. I am word wiser now.

Reminder to self. Memorise the 4-letter Scrabble word list. There are only two hooks, -l and -s, for the word ‘rube’.