New year brings new experiences

By Norman Knight

Every January it is the same thing. I am caught off guard; I’m taken aback by the new year.

What I mean to say is that I am thrown slightly off balance by the actual number of the new year. Two thousand seventeen already? Really? This realization has been surprising me for decades now. Each year’s number seems just a little surreal. I remember imagining the future when I was young and now those impossible years are appearing right there on my calendar.

I think 2017 will be a good year, or, at the least, an interesting one. (But then again, aren’t they all interesting?) Maybe I have a good feeling because I find the number 17 to be an interesting number. I find I have no trouble wandering down the mental byways the number evokes.

“She was just seventeen, you know what I mean…” the Beatles sang in my formative years. Just a few years after “I Saw Her Standing There” was released, I myself turned 17.

How does that other song go? “When I was seventeen, it was a very good year.” Ah yes, 17 was a great time in my life. It was 1968 — talk about interesting times — and I was a teenager with the future ahead of me. A far-flung, science fiction future that included the unimaginable year 2017. (Would we all have picture phones by then?)

One place my mind goes when I think of 17 is to Lyon, France, and a trip I took a few years back. I was fortunate to stay with a French family, a pere and a mere with three children including the youngest daughter whose name was “Seventeen.”

Of course, I was curious and asked about her name. Her father said it had nothing to do with the specific number or any special anniversary or anything. He explained that he just liked the sound of the English word. I considered the sounds of words, the music words make apart from their meanings. The French word for seventeen is “dix-sept” (“dee set”). I thought then and still think it would make a nice name.

Another curiosity about the word “seventeen” is the way the pronunciation changes depending on how it is used. When you say “She was just seventeen…” it is the second syllable, “seven-TEEN” that gets the stress.

However, when listing numbers in the teens, it is the first syllable that is stressed: “FIF-teen, SIX-teen, SEVEN-teen.” Hey, for a Word Nerd, this is fascinating stuff.

Seventeen also is the number of syllables in a traditional haiku. In my teaching days, I looked forward to discussing and writing haiku with my middle school students. Although haiku in the hands of an artist can be as profound as any poetry, it is a simple poetic form for young people to work with. I believe they had fun trying to fit their ideas into a three line/seventeen syllable structure. My goal and hope was that my students would develop at least a little bit of an appreciation of the beauty and wonder of language and maybe become a little word-nerdy themselves.

Way back when I was 17, I couldn’t really imagine the everyday reality of 2017 except in a sort of spaceship, flying cars, Jetsons sort of way. And with the breakneck speed of modern technological progress, my imagination is not powerful enough to picture the world of 2027 or beyond.

But for today, Jan. 4, 2017, the long term is not my concern. I am just here to enjoy and experience the beginning of a new year.

And now, looking at my new calendar, I realize it is only 16 days until our new president is sworn in.

Inauguration Haiku

speech galas police

loud partisans crowd cold streets

it’s gonna be YUGE

If nothing else, 2017 should be an interesting year.

Norman Knight, a retired Clark-Pleasant Middle School teacher, writes this weekly column for the Daily Journal. Send comments to