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"Hunkering Down" for Tea With the Dean

Tea with the Dean
Mina Beveney '11 (left), a resident of McCulloch Hall in the East Wheelock Cluster, shares a laugh with John Pfister at Tea with the Dean.

John Pfister (pronounced: fis-ter) knows how to throw a great party. An assistant dean in the office that looks out for first-year students, Pfister holds regular teas for the students he advises in the East Wheelock Cluster (EWC). If you're lucky enough to get on his mailing list, you'll get to read his invitations, which will warm you as much as the piping hot tea, cocoa, and other goodies featured at these gatherings. His messages always seem to speak to the heart, not to mention the mind, which makes sense considering that in his other life he teaches in the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences. Pfister sent the following invitation for a winter term Tea with the Dean:

The best of the afternoon, fellow EWC denizens!

I was talking to a good friend the other day and I asked her what she had planned for the weekend, and she said, "Oh, not much-I might just get a good book and hunker down for the duration." I had to smile because in my family, we used the word "hunker" all the time and turned it into a bit of catchall for describing the state of "hunkerness." You could be a "hunker" (as in, "Hey, don't be hunker; get outside today!"). It could describe a state (as when you came across someone's project spread out across the floor:  "Well, that's quite a hunkeration you have there!"). It could even take on weird verb forms ("Look, I don't want you to hunkerate all afternoon. You need to get outside and shovel the driveway.").

I have a real passion for these kinds of words. I collect them and love hearing how others came up with words of their own. One of my favorite books is Paul Dickson's Family Words. Here are some of my favorites:

PRUTT: black sediment on the bottom of a cup of coffee.

PUCKLES: marks left on the skin by an elastic waistband.

THANK-YOU-MA'AM: a pronounced rise and fall in the road that gives a roller-coaster type thrill in a car going over 40 mph. These were once common almost everywhere but are now largely confined to asphalted back roads in the country.

Everyone has these kinds of words in their vocabulary. They describe something unique and genuine and they comfort us when we hear them. What words did you or your family make up to describe a neat idea or something a little strange? Why not drop by Tea with the Dean and share them? In the spirit of making the place a little more like home, we have a nice collection of comfort foods and, of course, a warm cup of tea. Join us to share a word, or just listen. It's a great way to meet someone new or get to know someone a little better. I look forward to seeing you there and I hope you are staying warm.

Questions or comments about this article? We welcome your feedback.

Last Updated: 5/30/08