by Robert H. Spain

Yesterday the word of the day was katzenjammer.

When I saw the word I felt the hair on my head bristling, tingling, waking up. Words don’t usually affect me this way, but seeing this word sent shock waves throughout my mental lexicon as I frantically searched the data bank for recognition.


This word, I am sure, has never been given my attention until this moment. I am confident that I have never ever used it in a sentence. It is an absolute surprise that the word jolted my mental hard drive.


It is likely, I suppose, that the word has lingered somewhere in the outer boundaries of my thought reservoir but not enough to ever emerge as useable.

Now, what is this all about? What has created the apparent fascination with this word? Wonder of wonders, I knew the word as a child. I read the word almost every day. It was a part of my early vocabulary. The Katzenjammer Kids was a comic strip in the Nashville Tennessean which was a fixture in our home during my entire growing-up years.


In this comic strip, there was a mama with children. It therefore seemed logical for katzenjammer to be their last name. But no, katzenjammer wasn’t a family name at all; it was a real word with real meaning.


The dictionary definition of the word katzenjammer is “a state of uneasiness, anguish, distress, uproar, and clamor.” Thus the cartoonist, Mr. Dirks, and those who succeeded his work, grabbed hold of the definitions and wove them into a family story unleashing the antics of  two young boys, Hans and Fritz, upon the world. Anguish and clamor and uproar were splattered across the page every day with the final section of the strip usually making sense of it all.


This remembering something far out of the past has reminded me of the glory of creation. Retrieving data is a daily experience for many of us, but latching onto the strange word katzenjammer and dragging it to the surface after eighty years is more than I can understand. Why did the Lord give us this amazing ability? Is it for us to understand? As the psalmist said:

“I am fearfully and wonderfully made.” (139:14 NIV)


Ponder your own abilities and talents. Why do you think God gave you those? Perhaps it is not for us to understand at all. After all, it’s been pondered for millennia. It’s nothing new.


Psalm 8: “Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name throughout the earth!…when I look up at your skies, at what your fingers made…what are human beings that you think about them; what are human beings that you pay attention to them? You’ve made them only slightly less than divine, crowning them with glory and grandeur.”


Perhaps our ability to recall memories and strange words after decades of storage is to give us memories to comfort us. Perhaps it is to give us pause to ponder God’s creation. Perhaps it is to give us the ability to teach the next generation.


So, when your children are using your couch as a trampoline or one kid has stuffed their younger sibling into a barrel and is on the precipice of a dangerous hill ready to push him on his way, tell them to stop their katzenjammering and watch the look on their faces.


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