The summer of 1981 my father had a love affair with the word “‘tis”. It became how he would respond to many of my brother’s and my questions.
“Is it time to go to bed?” We asked. “‘Tis.” “Is this the way to the lake?” “‘Tis.” Statements were met with the same response. “It’s so hot in here!” “‘Tis.” “Disney world is awesome!” “‘Tis.”
Initially we didn’t take much notice. It was only after hearing it a number of times throughout the day that we began to think, “What ‘tis going on?” We hadn’t had much exposure to this supercilious-sounding contraction; maybe in Christmas carols like Deck the Halls where “‘Tis the season to be jolly.” Or in Shakespearean vernacular, “Tis almost fairy time” from A Midsummer Night’s Dream. But in regular conversation? And as a solo response with no attached words? “‘Tis” had no place in our typical household about toast and swimming pools, monopoly and math homework..
We wondered. Was my dad trying to save time by cutting out a syllable or two? Was he working out some sort of Dickensian, or Old English fantasy? Was he hoping this term might elevate him to Bard status?
It wasn’t just the word itself, it was how it was delivered with an almost haughty air, a sense of peering down his nose as it slid off his tongue and into conversation with the laziness that accompanies common contractions. His eyes would blink languidly and his lips would purse gently outward as if he were savoring the elegant taste of the phrase. Even my mom raised an eyebrow. “Tis? Really, Peter,” she’d chuckle, but my dad held steady.
Of course, as soon as we figured out that this was not typical father patter, we began to make fun of him. We were hell bent on eradicating this word from the vocabulary with relentless teasing so it could join the stash of other words we had banished from his lexicon (“bathing costume”, “frock” , “hearth”, and “unguents and ointments”. ) We began to respond to all my dad’s queries and assertions, with the same one word, our necks jutting out, chins hailing the sky, lips curving downward as if something unsavory sat upon our tongues.
“Did you clean your room?” My dad would ask. “’Tis.” we’d reply. “How was school today?” “Tis!” we’d blurt.
Finally, my dad, relinquished the antiquated term, with grace and a smile, leaving it to be used by the poets and aspiring Shakespeare’s without the mockery of children who don’t understand the value of a lyrical abbreviation.
30 years later you might ask, “Tell me a story about your Dad. Is it true that he was a remarkable man?”