Dr. Know: The Old Main Public Library, “Nueroscience” in Norwood, and Lovely Layouts


Illustration by Lars Leetaru

Every time somebody posts pictures of the Old Main Public Library, I see the same arguments: What a crime to demolish such a magnificent building versus No, it was an unmanageable and unsafe mess. Please, can we get an official ruling? —LOOK IT UP

Dear Look:
Undeniably, those old photographs of Cincinnati’s long-gone library—built in 1870, demolished in 1955—are gorgeous and inviting. We who admire them enviously, however, never had to spend hours inside, trying to climb through the stacks, trying to find a place to sit, and especially trying to breathe. Summers on the upper floors were famously unbearable. The basement, infamously cold in winter, was crammed with flammable periodicals waiting for one careless flick of a match. The inventory of books on all floors grew like kudzu, crowding out offices and reading areas.

Those who wonder why nobody came to the defense of the “magnificent” structure should consider this: In 1935, the library staff conducted daily tours of the building for the specific purpose of showing the public how terrible the place was. The “Horrible Example Tour” tried to raise money for a bond issue that would replace the building (it failed). When demolition finally came, ads selling off the library’s innards gleefully cheered, “Historic old structure to go to in order to make way for progress!” If no tears were shed when the building came down, it was because those who had endured the decades inside had no tears left.

I work at Linden Pointe, the large office park in Norwood. At one building, the sign outside listing the companies inside has a misspelled name. Riverhills Neuroscience is shown as “Nueroscience.” They moved in more than a year ago. Hasn’t anybody noticed?

Dear Brain:
One of the Doctor’s great life achievements was his December 2014 column, in which he exposed the shocking scandal of a misspelled Cincinnati street sign. His fearless investigative report, disregarding all danger to himself, resulted in a replacement of the sign at 15th and Republic Streets. It had, for years, impersonated itself as Repulic.

Now, thanks to your diligence, the Doctor has returned to glory. He boldly entered Riverhills Neuroscience and informed the receptionist of their sign’s outrageous textual offense. She feigned surprise—not fooling anyone—and said she would notify her supervisor about it, acting as if she and the staff were not part of a vast conspiracy. Nice try.

A few days later the Doctor bravely returned to Linden Pointe’s parking lot and found all evidence destroyed. “Nueroscience” had been silently corrected in the dead of night. Stay alert, citizens! Even this magazine has a criminal past: The spine on last July’s issue said JULT 2016. The Doctor, showing neither fear nor favor, will forever be Cincinnati’s champion for spelling justice.

As a non-native, I’ve become accustomed to hearing people say please instead of what. But another expression people use around here intrigues me: At funerals, mourners going to the viewing sometimes call the event a layout, as in, “Aunt Thelma’s layout is Monday at noon.” Is this a Cincinnati thing, and might it be German-based? — PLEASE

Dear Please:
An expression like “she was laid out beautifully” is universal, but converting it to a noun (“Howard’s layout was well-attended”) is not. Did that idiom originate around here? UC linguistics professor emeritus Joseph Foster found the following citation for this usage of layout in the Dictionary of American Regional English: “OH Cheviot urban middle high school M White.” Bulls-eye!

Or maybe not. Professor Foster says he has not personally heard anyone say layout as a replacement for visitation or viewing. Other ears beg to differ. The Doctor, having decided for the first time to share a reader’s question on his personal Facebook page, received a firehose of responses. Many described a lifetime of hearing this expression in Cincinnati and in places far beyond. Other locals said the term is unfamiliar to them. Perhaps it is more cultural than geographical.

As far as a German connection, local Teutonic authority Don Heinrich Tolzmann says it might come from Aufbahrung, which can mean “to present or lay out.” The most impressive reply in this category, however, came from one of the Facebook respondents: “I’m sitting in Dresden right now with two native speakers. It’s Aufbahrung!” What a world we live in. And die in.

Dr. Know is Jay Gilbert, weekday afternoon deejay on 92.5 FM The Fox. Submit your questions about the city’s peculiarities at drknow@cincinnatimagazine.com

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