When I was a kid, I’d often go to spend time with my grandma and grandpa, who lived about 25 miles away. Their house was out in the middle of nowhere, so getting there was one long stretch of watching the passing scenery from the back seat of their Chrysler Cordoba. Of course, this is Indiana, so for much of the year, the scenery consisted primarily of corn fields. I remember watching the corn go by and saying “Corncorncorncorncorncorncorncorncorncorncorncorncorn” all the while, pausing only for the occasional house or woods or bean field. The fact that my grandparents didn’t beat the tar out of me after the first half mile’s worth of corncorncorn is a testament to their saintly character. God knows I’d have lost it after the first 15 seconds and been like, “If I hear corncorncorn come out of your mouth one more time, we’re going to stop this car and cut a corn switch for your behind!”
But, of course, my grandparents were better people than I am—most everybody is, really—and so they never said a word, and I didn’t realize how truly annoying that would be until I became a parent. What I did discover, however, is that if you say a word enough times in a row like that, it loses its meaning. Try it next time you’re driving past some corn. Pretty soon, it’s like your brain just gives up—which, come to think of it, may have been what was really going on with my grandparents.
I thought about corncorncorn, because Garlic Sis works for the Indiana State Museum, and yesterday she was telling me that they’re planning a future exhibit all about corn. I started laughing. “Are you serious? Really, that sounds like the most boring thing ever. I mean, this is Indiana. I feel saturated with corn knowledge just from living here.” Garlic Sis, who is the voice of authentic Hoosier culture at the ISM, agreed, and said she’d tried to explain this to the hoity museum types, but that they just didn’t get it. I said, “Let me guess…they’ll include things like ethanol production and corn being used to make biodegradable packaging.” “Yeah, they were talking about those things,” Garlic Sis replied with a chuckle. “That’s what I figured, ” says I, “we already know about that stuff.”
But that was no great shock. Hoity museum types are nothing if not predictably condescending. However, what did come as a shock, was their complete lack of knowledge about a traditional Hoosier cultural event called cornin’. She suggested to one person at the ISM that they include cornin’ in the exhibit. “What? I don’t know what that is.” Garlic Sis was like, “What do you mean you don’t know what it is?!” She tried a couple of other folks, even adding the proper G sound onto the end of the word—cornING—Garlic Sis is fluent in both Hoosier and Hoity Museum Speak, you know—and only found one who knew what she was talking about.
Garlic Sis began to wonder if it was strictly a west-central Indiana phenomenon. She called and related the story to me. After I finished ridiculing her for saying cornING, I said, “It’s those city folk you work with. Of course they don’t know what cornin’ is.” We decided that I should ask all you guys to put your 2 cents in. Do you know what cornin’ is?