“He whispered wonton words to young maids.”

The only words that I would call “wonton words” are “crispy,” “steamed,” “Szechuan,” and maybe “soup.” I can’t imagine anyone whispering any of those to young maids, whether said maids are chambermaids, French maids, Merry Maids—or young girls, maidens, fair maids.

Perhaps my student was thinking of fortune cookies instead of wontons? The best cookie fortune I ever got is “Everyone needs a porpoise in life.” I would love to have a porpoise, although I don’t think my house would accommodate one. Maybe he would live in Long Island Sound and consent to come to my whistle: that would be delightful! I’m not sure I’d go so far as to say I need a porpoise, but fortune cookies are supposed to tell us things we don’t already know, so maybe I do.

Of course I knew what she meant, and so do you: (only one letter off, why blame her?) wanton words. And shame on him, that lecher. Here’s Webster’s: “playfully mean or cruel, mischievous; lewd, bawdy; causing sexual excitement, lustful, sensual; inhumane; having no just foundation or provocation; without check or limitation.” Take your pick. This is a foul seducer of youth (note the “young” maids), without any provocation mischievously whispering wild and lewd words in hopes of producing sexual arousal. (I think I got all the definitions in!) I don’t remember now whom she was referring to, but whoever it was, Shame on him I say again.

But just for a moment keep that wonton in mind. “Wanton” can also, of course, be used as a noun: “a frolicsome child or animal; a person given to luxurious self-enjoyment; a lewd or lascivious person.” It’s only part of a person in Robert Graves’ witty poem “Down, Wanton, Down”…but what a part, and how much fun the poem is once the reader gets the, um, point.

Go and read the poem.

And now, replace “wanton” with “wonton.” Not quite the same, is it?

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About RAB

Teacher of English writing and literature (college-level); academic-freedom activist; editor and copy editor; theater director, costumer, actress, playwright. View all posts by RAB

9 responses to ““He whispered wonton words to young maids.”

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