When I first came across the word crotchet I thought it was the familiar word, crochet. I spent some time researching the word, thinking that there was some literary variation on the meaning to what I understood to be handwork created with a notched needle and very fine thread. No useful results were forthcoming.
So I went back to the source of my interest, John McIntyre, the author of the daily blog You Don’t Say.
John used the word in a posting this past week and I noted it, but I noted it incorrectly. He was actually using the word crotchet (which, coincidentally, comes from the French word crochet. There is some history to their connection, but it escapes me.) Knowing that it came from a McIntyre posting, I should have made the connection to a word very well known to me: crotchety. I use that word frequently to make reference to a person who is generally older and set in (his) ways. That is to say, this person is not fond of changing behavior and is therefore seen by most people around (him) as odd, or a little whimsical.
There was a lady in my hometown who was known as crotchety. She lived in a kind of ramshackle house and I suspect she was something of a hoarder. Her grandson was a friend of mine who told me that she was really a nice person, and quite intelligent. But we kids, who reveled in being cruel, treated her like the oddball she appeared to be. There were all kinds of stories about her, most of which were pure fantasy. We needed a witch in our town, so this crotchety lady became our witch.
To have an odd practice of any kind qualifies a person to have a crotchet. College professors are classically depicted as having a crotchet. One of my favorite professors in graduate school at Yale had the odd practice of interrupting what could be a very serious lecture to wave his handkerchief and uttering the sound, “heh” to the truckers who drove past the room where his classes were held. They must have noticed it over the years, because the truckers invariably honked their air horns in response. He then returned to the lecture, never missing a beat. It had been a tradition of his for years, so we all watched for it to be sure we were in on the historic stories about him that emerged. That was a crotchet…an oddball kind of thing peculiar to him, and not something someone else would desire to copy (except when telling the stories about him.)
Crotchets are not always quite that visible or outlandish. Sometimes they are just an off-beat way of writing or using a phrase. Whereas crotchety carries somewhat of a negative character to it, crotchet, itself, is neutral, just a descriptive word which helps us identify a unique, repeatable characteristic of someone’s behavior.
Photo Credit: Arthur Ward