Garnishing the Gartesque – A Gartymology

Like “pike,” the word “gar” comes from a long, skinny weapon; it’s the Old English word for spear. Hence, “garfysshe” (Middle English) is an Anglo-Saxon spearfish, and the garfish is its direct descendant, hailing straight from the Cretaceous Period a hundred million years ago—the actual still-existing fish having evolved a whole lot less than its brief etymology.

Hardly garish at all, the Spartan gar is definitely unRococo and not garrulous in any manner. That is, its utilitarian armor and unadorned neo-no-nonsenseness lend an art-deconess to a highly functional form that’s suggestive of other connotations; particularly that of the gargoyle.

And it’s not just a coincidence that the world’s most grotesque fish shares qualities with ye olde garcitecture dating back to the Middle Ages. Those elaborate Gothic waterspouts sticking out all long & necky were sculpt to resemble heretics; the Old French word “gargoille” meaning throaty. As in the Spanish word “garrote” (a stick used for twisting a cord), which later took on the context of mugging someone through strangulation, before turning into a type of choking execution that relies upon an iron collar.

But back to the gargoyle: a pagan icon that started out in the form of Nordic vegetation spirits, then metamorphosed Christian-style into your basic infidels (ie, wildmen, madmen, lepers, witches, skeletons, and other monstrous social rejects) until sometime around the 1500s, when they became your standard Renaissance demons, reflecting trendy traits of the Devil: pointy ears, serpent tails, bat wings, etcetera.

So no wonder gar have been labeled “devil fish” by various cultures. And no wonder they’ve been massacred by the masses, sometimes even lynched. And no wonder children fear them like the bogeyman. That’s why there’s a folk tradition of parents breaking off their beaks—to show kids how to deal with a nuisance.

The history of the garfish is the history of the Jews. As well as the Indians (in fact, gar were native Americans before Native Americans were). And the history of gar is the history of the slaves. Because gar are the dispossessed, the persecuted, the poisoned and imprisoned and the banished and the scum. They’re exiles who’ve been dammed (for the most part) to the swamps and rivers of the South, where the Acadians were dumped and the runaways and outlaws hid; where the US Army cornered the Miamis, Shawnees, Mingos, Ottawas, Red Sticks, half the eastern tribes, and where the Seminoles made their last stand—so that hybrid crappies could be stocked from Canada down to Mexico and claim a stake in a new nation of industry, deforestation, levees and suburban sprawl built on the bogs of spawning grounds.

Because gar, like the Old French mot “garbon” (boy), hark back to the Old High German word of “wrackjo,” meaning some bum who got kicked out (aka, a wretch).

Aye, the history of gar is one of garboil (from the Middle French “garbouil,” meaning turmoil), in which the garniture of anti-gardom demands that certain ichthyologicals be subjugated to the lumpen-class of “garbage fish.” Which, according to Marx, is the most dangerous class; because unlike the troutoigeoisie and bassletariate, they can be murtilated at a moment’s notice.

Such is the nature of what the gartesque inspires in its garblers. Garanoia is a product of garaphobia, which is fueled by a garrison of garlore garbed as fact, with one gar-thing that the gar-fearing throngs never seem to garner: there’s a reason why the Old English oath “By Garrr!” is a euphemism for “By God!”

A reason we shall never witness. Because after the last vast toxic cloud has settled on the flooded plains, the Gar shall rise again! And as they porpoise on the surface, a Gargantuan Gar shall lead them all unto Garvana. And in this Gartopia, an avant-garde Garden of the Gars shall be born, where the New Gar Guard shall feed upon the crustaceans of all our collective Garmares.

For the Gar shall inherit the earth!


Projected Letters is a literary magazine dedicated to publishing the best new and established writing from around the world.