Master of All Masters.

fallsbooks1Vaughn Hardacker here: Recently, I was talking to a young couple, parents of two children, four and six, and the topic of how we entertain our kids came up. As I expected several techniques were mentioned, all of which were technology-based. I thought back to my childhood and wondered how we survived in the days before personal computers, DVDs, CDs, the internet, cable TV, and of course video games. The answer of course, BOOKS!

I learned to read, and thus started a life-long love affair with books, reading fairy tales to my younger brother (four years my junior). As children we listened to them and laughed or cringed with fear (keep in mind this was before Disney stole the genre and romanticized all of the stories) never realizing that each of them had a point to make. Hans Christian Anderson’s immortal The Little Mermaid was written as a warning to his society that what we do does have consequences.

One of my favorites was a short little story entitled Master of All Masters. The story illustrates the problems that can occur when people who use different words to describe things. It is short so I will include it here. The version below is the English one, although similar tales exist in multiple cultures such as Scotland and in India. For those who would rather let someone else do the reading you can see a famous version of the story told by Danny Kaye at

Master of All Masters: An English Fairy Tale

A long time ago in England, there was a very poor family: a mother, a father and a daughter named Jane. They were so poor that they didn’t have enough to eat. So one night, the mother didn’t eat supper, and the next night the father didn’t eat supper. And when Jane was fully-grown, she too took a turn and didn’t eat supper every third night.

After several months, Jane thought, “I think my parents can manage this farm on their own. If I got a job on another farm, I could eat there. Then we all would have enough to eat. That’s what I need to do – find a job on another farm.”

So Jane told her parents of her plan.

“But Jane,” cried her mother, “We would miss you so!”

“And it’s so close to Christmas, too!” said her father sadly.

“I will miss you too,” replied Jane, “I know – I will only take a job if I can spend every Sunday and every holiday with you.”

So Jane’s parents reluctantly agreed. That very afternoon, after Jane had finished her chores, she packed a tiny bundle of her extra clothes, and started walking to the village.

On the way, she met a man, also walking to the village.

“Well, young lady,” he said heartily and haughtily, “Why are you walking to the village this afternoon?”

“I’m looking for a job on a farm.”

“Really? Is that true? What a coincidence! I am going to the village to hire someone to work on my farm. I just decided this very morning that I had enough money to do that.” He looked at her very carefully, from the top of her head all the way down to her toes. “Just what sort of work can you do on a farm?”

“Why sir, I’ve been doing all sorts of work on my parents’ farm my whole life. I can plant and harvest the crops, I’m very good with the animals, and I can cook and take care of the house.”

“Well, well, well,” he said. “You’re just the sort of worker I’m looking for.”

So they started discussing how much he would pay her.

“Sir, I will only be working for you 6 days a week. I must go home and spend each Sunday with my parents.”

“That’s fine, Jane,” he replied, “As long as you make me a good hot meal on Saturday night, leave me enough prepared food for Sunday, and are back in time to serve me a hot breakfast on Monday morning.”

“Very good, sir. Why don’t we try this for a week to see if we’re both happy with this arrangement?”

“That’s a good idea, Jane, a very good idea.”

So they turned around and started walking back to his farm. He was thinking,

“Isn’t that just like me? I decide to hire someone in the morning and even before I get to the village, I’ve hired someone that very afternoon! Hmm, isn’t that just like me?” And he let out a great sigh of contentment.

Then he turned to Jane. “What will you call me, Jane?”

“Why, sir, or master, or whatever you wish.”

“Jane, I want you to call me Master of all Masters.”

“Alright, Master of all Masters, whatever you wish.”

When they got to his farm, he said, “It’s getting late, Jane. I’ll show you around the outside of this prosperous farm tomorrow morning. Right now, let’s go inside.”

So he led her to the kitchen. “Over there, in the corner, is where you’ll be sleeping, Jane.

What do you call what you’ll be sleeping on?”

“Why, a bed or a couch, or whatever you wish, Master of all Masters.”

“Jane, I want you to call that,” he said thoughtfully, “A barnacle.”

“A barnacle,” Jane repeated, rather doubtfully. “Whatever you wish, Master of all Masters.”  

“What do you call what I’m wearing on my legs?”

“Why, trousers or pants, or whatever you wish, Master of all Masters.”

“Jane, I want you to call them,” he said thoughtfully, “Squibs and crackers.”

“Squibs and crackers,” Jane repeated, again rather doubtfully. “Whatever you wish, Master of all Masters.”

But she was thinking, “I think he’s a little crackers!” 

Just then a cat dashed across the kitchen floor.

“What do you call that, Jane?”

“Why, a cat or a kitten, or whatever you wish, Master of all Masters.”

“Jane, I want you to call that,” he said thoughtfully, “White-faced simony.”

“White-faced simony,” Jane repeated carefully. “Whatever you wish, Master of all Masters.”

 Pointing to something in another corner, he asked, “What do you call that, Jane?”

“Why, that’s a Christmas tree, Master of all Masters.”

“Jane, I want you to call that,” he said thoughtfully, “A Druid’s arbor.”

“A Druid’s arbor,” Jane repeated slowly. “Whatever you wish, Master of all Masters.”

 “And what is next to the, ah, Druid’s arbor, Jane?”

“Why, the fire or flame, or whatever you wish, Master of all Masters.”

“Jane, I want you to call that,” he said thoughtfully, “Hot cockalorum.”

“Hot cockalorum,” Jane repeated very slowly. “Whatever you wish, Master of all Masters.”

Jane was getting very tired, trying to remember all these silly words, and keep straight which was what… 

“What is in this bucket, Jane?”

“Why, I call that water but I imagine that you call it something else, Master of all Masters.”

“Yes, I do. Jane, I want you to call that,” he said thoughtfully, “Pondalorum.”

“Pondalorum,” Jane repeated with a sigh. “Whatever you wish, Master of all Masters.” 

“What do you call everything you see, Jane?”

“Why, I call that your farm but you call it ?”

“I call it,” he said thoughtfully, “High Topper Mountain.”

“High Topper Mountain,” Jane repeated with an enormous sigh. “Whatever you wish, Master of all Masters.”

“Jane, you seem to be a little tired, hopefully because of all the walking you did today. Why don’t you just fix us a quick meal and then go right to, ah, barnacle?”

“Thank you, Master of all Masters.”

And that’s just what Jane did. But when she fell asleep, she had a few nightmares about words crawling in her ears and out of her mouth and swarming all around. She finally fell into a sound sleep until she was woken up by a crash and a whoosh. The cat had knocked the Christmas tree into the fireplace, and the tree had caught fire! Jane pulled the tree out of the fireplace and threw the water left in the bucket on the burning tree. But the tree was still burning and Jane didn’t know where the well was!

So Jane ran to her master’s room and shook him, yelling haltingly,

“Master of all Masters, get out of your barnacle and put on your squibs and crackers. The white-faced simony knocked the Druid’s arbor into the hot cockalorum. If we don’t get more pondalorum, the whole High Topper Mountain will be on hot cockalorum!”

“Yuh?”, he said, yawning broadly.

She repeated faster:

“Master of all Masters, get out of your barnacle and put on your squibs and crackers. The white-faced simony knocked the Druid’s arbor into the hot cockalorum. If we don’t get more pondalorum, the whole High Topper Mountain will be on hot cockalorum!”

 “Jane, WHAT are you talking about???!?”

“Master, get out of your bed and put on your pants. The cat knocked the Xmas tree into the fire. If we don’t get more water, the whole farm will be on fire!”

“OH! Why didn’t you say so in the first place?,” he exclaimed. He did just what Jane told him to do. Jane followed him to the well and they eventually put out the fire.

And while Jane continued to work for him for many years, never again did she use any of those silly words.

My brother always laughed when he heard about hot cockalorum and pondalorum. My favorite rendition was always a one time performance by my father. I enticed him to read a story to us one rainy afternoon (keep in mind that my father had a grammar school education and worked hard as a truck driver his entire life. Reading was not something that came easy to him). He started stumbling over many of the words such as pondalorum and each time I would correct him and tell him how to pronounce it. After several minutes of this he tossed the book at me and said, “There you smart little #@^&!, you read it!”.

It probably didn’t help him much that my brother and I were rolling on the floor in fits of laughter nor did my mother telling him, “He set you up,” help matters any.

When I think about the great memories today’s technology may be taking from this and future generations of kids, I can’t help but feel sorry for them.


About MCWriTers

Kate Flora is the author or co-author of fifteen books, including her Joe Burgess police procedural series, her Thea Kozak series, two true crimes, a stand-alone suspense and a memoir, as well as many short stories. Her books have been Edgar, Anthony, Agatha, and Derringer finalists. She’s twice won the Maine Literary Award for Crime Fiction and won the 2015 Public Safety Writers Association award for nonfiction. She divides her time between Maine and Massachusetts. Flora is a former international president of Sisters in Crime.
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