Y is for Yarn

Written by Kerry E.B. Black

When people knit, they use thick threads of wool, cotton, or flax to stitch and pearl and create. When story tellers spin a yarn, they weave unverified accounts of adventure incorporating the fanciful or hyperbolic. The tone is realistic, but the content is often outlandish. The exaggerations and embellishments add excitement and interest.

Yarns bring to mind sea captains describing a voyage over tankards of rum, or Baron Von Munchhausen and his eccentric historic accounts. In “Big Fish,” a son is disgusted by his father’s yarns. After the patriarch died, the young man appreciated his father’s imagination.

Yarns lend themselves to long, rambling, engaging tall-tales, narrative in presentation and filled with colloquial or idiomatic language. The word yarn comes from Old English, “gearn,” long and improbable. The name itself seems colloquial.

In Chinese, these tales are called “p’ing hua” and in Russian, “skaz.”

My Grandfather Charles O. Scherrah spun marvelous tales, stories that left me wide-eyed. My mother, an excellent story teller in her own right, laughed as she ruffled my hair. “Mind you keep the source before your thoughts.” I blinked at her seeming sacrilege. Pappap was a military man and a gentleman, the father of fifteen and grandfather of too many to count. Surely his word shouldn’t be questioned. Yet I remembered her words after I asserted the veracity of one of his tales. My companions enjoyed a hearty chuckle at my expense when I discovered Pappap could spin a pretty good yarn, indeed.