A Word In Edgewise: ‘Pon My Word

Photo by BigStock/Aaron Amat
Photo by BigStock/Aaron Amat

Photo by BigStock/Aaron Amat

“A man’s word is his bond,” is a statement repeated in one form or another through centuries (and applies to women, though seldom recognized in patriarchal societies). Numbers 30:2 declares, “If a man vow a vow unto the LORD, or swear an oath to bind his soul with a bond; he shall not break his word, he shall do according to all that proceedeth out of his mouth.” Bishop of Exeter Joseph Hall wrote in 1608, “His word is his parchment, and his yea his oath; which he will not violate for fear or for loss.”

A “word,” as a binding application is unique to each individual man and woman, declared through vocalization, handshake, or signature, to declare that individual will do what they say without fail or excuse. One’s word can seal the deal for a horse trade, property sale, marriage vow, or assumption of high office. Down on Old Broadway, Mindy’s gambler-patrons, according to Damon Runyon, offered their “markers,” while U.S. Presidents publicly make an oath/affirmation after they have been elected but before assuming office.

Obviously, a person’s word is only as valid as the intention behind the promise. In Guys and Dolls, Sky Masterson hands Sarah his marker—written on the back of an Isaiah quote placard. She hesitates, he reassures; “If you don’t think it’s good, ask anybody in town.” Later, she wishes to release him from the proposition. Sky demurs; “I cannot welsh a marker.”

Others in the nest of gamblers can, and do, without a flicker of a scruple. During a craps game in a sewer in the bowels of Broadway, Big Jule, tapped-out, demands to play on credit. “Here is my marker,” he snarls, scribbling “IOU one thousand dollars, X.” He commences to roll his personal, blank dice. “I had the spots taken off for luck. But I remember where the spots formerly were.” He sports a gun, no one complains.

Real leaders aren’t as easy or amusing to parse, and I don’t intend to enter that dark and thorny bramble in these few allotted words; let the musical make my point. There are always the Sky Mastersons; they believe that to be known for welching a marker is losing the passport to your country. You are no longer a citizen, but a “chump,” and a chump is nobody. And always the Big Jules, who without a qualm file the spots off their dice, sign markers with “X” and carry a betsy in their vest to silence dissent.

A man can put his hand on a Bible, a law book, a mint copy of Donald Duck in Ancient Persia, or thrust it in his pocket. If he holds the intent to honor his oath or intention, his word alone is gold. Without intention, solemn words and rituals will have no effect. Just something to keep in mind.

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