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June 2004
by Jim Wayne Miller

Reader’s Response

During the bookclub discussion of Newfound, our panelists speculated on the origins of the expression “played hob with.” Writer Martha Bennett Stiles (Lonesome Road) sent us this response, along with some comments about author Jim Wayne Miller.

Dear Book Group:

I believe that the expression “played hob with” comes from Old English. The hob, a goblin, was spectacularly mischievous. I grew up in the Virginia Tidewater, but don’t recall whether or not anyone spoke of playing hob with this or that best-laid plan. However, my mother, whose paternal grandfather was Appalachian (Shepherdstown, just over the Kentucky border in West Virginia), frequently used that expression to mean fouled up in a big way (so that I and all my siblings do too). I’ll bet Professor Allison would be a good one to ask. It’s common for emigrants to hang on to the old way of speaking their language longer than the stay-at-homes. A north Irishman of English descent today might be more familiar with venerable English expressions than Englishmen! As, of course, are many Appalachians ...

As it was Jim Wayne Miller’s book that you were discussing, I want to take the opportunity to say that I have never known a writer more generous to other writers than he was. I never knew him to turn down any appeal, reasonable or naive. Was it Samuel Johnson who claimed that one writer was as apt to be of use to another as a flea trying to feed on another flea? Whoever, the fact that it has been quoted for a couple of centuries emphasizes my conclusion that Jim Wayne Miller was one of the kindest men who ever lived. His best work was his poetry, but I was especially pleased to see you giving any book by him attention.

Thanks for your program; my husband and I, who are fairly farm-bound, always look forward to it.

Martha Bennett Stiles

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