My Grandfather Said “Arf!”

My grandfather said, “Arf!” He’d come around a corner, see you coming the other way and “Arf!” After while, this pre-kindergartener started saying it back – “Arf!” “Arf!” as a mutual greeting.

For decades I thought he was just mimicking a dog, and in fact, that interpretation of what he was doing led to a whole life of making animal sounds, weird sounds, character voices and impressions of celebrities.

But decades after he died I came across an old Popeye comic from the 1930s in which Popeye exclaimed “Arf!” when he was surprised by something. In fact, Popeye said this all the time! I suddenly realized my grandfather had been quoting Popeye from his youth and not greeting me but exclaiming surprise at encountering someone charging around the corner at him.

Imagine, a whole life of making sounds based on a fortuitous but erroneous interpretation! I wonder how many of the foundational ways we feel about life and about people, upon which we build entire life-guiding narratives are actually based on misconceptions and/or misinterpretations, for better or worse?