Sunday, 6 March 2011

A teasel (teazel, teazle) is a plant that flowers in egg-shaped, dense, spiny heads with long, slender, stiff, prickly bracts below the head and numerous, short, stiff bristles within the head, the flower heads maturing into hard, brown, stiff-spined structures that were used for teasing and carding wool (hence the common name). Flowers from July to September. Teasel occurs throughout southern Ontario in waste areas, meadows, roadsides, and sometimes in cultivated land, usually in moist areas and on coarse soils. (Source, Govt. of Ontario Ministry of Agriculture.)

I don't know whether our plant is an immigrant or native, but similar plants occur in Great Britain and Europe and have been used for carding, time out of mind. Thus the Miriam Webster definition - teased TEASE/ transitive verb:
  • to disentangle and lay parallel by combing or carding, to tear in pieces; especially to shred (a tissue or specimen) for microscopic examination;
  • to disturb or annoy by persistent irritating or provoking especially in a petty or mischievous way, to annoy with petty persistent requests, pester or coax;
  • to comb (hair) by taking hold of a strand and pushing the short hairs toward the scalp with the comb;
  • to tantalize especially by arousing desire or curiosity often without intending to satisfy it.
It's the second definition that is occupying my mind this evening. I am good and tired of being poked with spiny comments.

My mother sometimes said, sadly, that she hated her grandfather when she was a small girl. He was a great man for teasing children, sometimes to the point of tears, and then by the gift of a candy or coin buying, he thought, complete forgiveness. She loathed the teasing, steered clear of the man when she could, and never forgot or forgave him. In consequence, she never teased, not even her hair. And aside from the Christmas game of guess-the-gift, I don't do it either.

Women and men tease differently, I think. Little girls tantalize one another with secrets, gangs and whispers. Little boys tend to pull hair, shriek insults and, in my long ago and antique childhood, dip pigtails in inkwells. (Yes, I am that old.) And although this type of action becomes more sophisticated in an adult, the impulse persists in many people, long after they are old enough to know better. I wonder, sometimes, if adult male teasing is a way of expressing affection without becoming vulnerable by showing the underlying emotion. I wonder that about my great grandfather who, I assume, was brought up in the nineteenth century to be 'manly' and strong. I wonder if his actions, so wounding to his granddaughter, were the only way he could show he noticed her.

My maternal grandfather made me plasticine rabbits and rescued me from my grandmother's hens. My paternal grandfather taught me to play euchre, cribbage and poker and slipped me quarters (big money in 1949) when my mother spanked me. I was a precocious only child, bewildered by playground teasing and far too prone to hide in a book. A lot of the vicious girl gang warfare of late childhood simply went over my head. I remember some insults from high school, but I have never been able to figure out what the people who gave them out thought they would gain.

And then I went and married a man who likes, from time to time, to tease. His teasing is quite gentle and isn't petty or overly aggressive. But it does disturb and annoy me, so I guess it fits the definition. And I can't seem to be able to explain why I am disturbed or annoyed in a way that he can understand. The comments he means, I am sure, to be amusing always seem to come from around a corner and catch me unaware. I feel insecure and inadequate. Then I realize I am being teased and he doesn't mean it. Maybe I don't have any sense of humour. Maybe I wasn't properly seasoned as a child and teen. Maybe he is trying to tell me something indirectly. Maybe some day he won't do it any more.
Maybe I should just pick out the sharp little spines and get on with things.

How do you feel about teasing and being teased? And what do you tell your children?


  1. Teasing can have a hurtful and mean side to it. It can be use as a sneaky weapon that one can hide behind. If teases can be spiny, the use of them can be spineless. If I tease it's very brief and light, kind of wink, wink.. It's not nice to get kids, or even adults for that matter, worked up by prolonged teasing.

  2. My dad does the same thing. I agree that for certain people it's a way to show affection without making oneself vulnerable; but it is ALSO a way of genuinely criticizing a person while laughing and saying, oh, I was just teasing... My dad uses it both ways, so generally I laugh while he's laughing and then think a good long time about what he actually said. Sometimes I take it as advice. ----- I only see my dad a few times a year, though, so it's a lot easier to deal with.

    My husband has this thing he does with the kids where he runs his hand down their faces, as if petting them, and says, "Smooth this way." Then he pushes his hand up their faces, smooshing their noses, and says, "Rough that way!" Smooth this way, rough that way. Like both definitions of teasing.

    Thank you for the explanation at the beginning. I didn't know any of that. It's fascinating. We have the same plant here, but I believe it's called a thistle, and also called noxious. How very, very interesting that it is also useful.

  3. I have tried carding wool, and I don't have much patience for it. I cannot imagine how much I would hate having to use those teasel buds to do it. And I don't have any patience with teasing. I am thin skinned and have always lived by the rule "don't dish it out if you can't take it."

    My husband occasionally teases me or makes my foibles the butt of a joke. I think I react poorly because my mother was very critical and a source of conditional love, never unconditional.

  4. There is teasing and teasing, isn't there?
    One kind is playful and not meant to hurt and can even show a kind of affection.
    However, the second kind is often aimed at people who have already shown that they dislike it and are upset by it and it seems to give the teaser power over the other person. I think it could be related to bullying.
    Then of course, it all depends on how secure the recipient is. If they have been put down as a child, then they are more likely to become upset.
    I think we must all tread warily when we feel the need to tease.
    Maggie X

    Nuts in May