Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Noun or Verb?

Jules Léotard was a French trapeze artist. His revolutionary performances—performed without a safety net—were so inspiring to George Leybourne that in 1867 he wrote a song about Léotard: "The Daring Young Man on the Flying Trapeze."

But Jules' more famous legacy is the one-piece exercise wear that now bears his name. Originally designed to allow for flexible, unrestricted movement on the trapeze, Léotard is, quite literally, a man who became a noun. And he hardly stands alone. Behind some of our most common words stand real-life namesakes. Where would be without Louis Braille, Etienne Silhouette, Joseph Guillotine, and the Earl of Sandwich?

What would I have to popularize or become known for to become a noun? To have a name that is so closely tied to something that it becomes interchangeable? Will "pulling a Peggy" ever be used beyond the scope of my own family to indicate my penchant for practical jokes? Will "Johnstone Scale" ever become a mainstream way to measure enthusiasm? I find it a little under-whelming to become a noun with the ever-present risk of genericide (think kleenex, bandaid, and google).

I prefer to lend my name to verbification—the act of activating a noun. Today, I will choose a new verb for myself, and it will be fun. Today, I will be a verb.

"I think I am a verb." ~Buckminster Fuller

Saturday, October 9, 2010

1,000 Marbles

This is one of those lessons that life seems to hand us from time to time. It's helped me to keep a good perspective on my own priorities.

An elderly Ham radio enthusiast tells that when he was 55 years old, he sat down one day, did a little arithmetic, and found the average person lives about 75 years. Multiplying 75 years times 52 weeks, he came up with 3,900, which is the number of Saturdays the average person has in his entire lifetime. At 55 years old, though, he had already lived through over 2,800 Saturdays. He began to think that if he lived to be 75, he only had about 1,000 Saturdays left to enjoy. So he went to a toy store and bought every single marble they had, visiting three toy stores to round up 1,000 marbles. He took them home and put them inside of a large clear container.

Every Saturday he took one marble out and threw it away. By watching the marbles diminish, he focused more on the really important things in life. There is nothing like watching your time here on this earth run out to help get your priorities straight.

One recent Saturday, at 75 years old, he took the very last marble out of the container. He figured if he made it until the next Saturday, he'd been given a little extra time. And the one thing we can all use is a little more time. What did I do with my precious time today? I did some volunteer work this morning, and then I went to a toy store and bought some marbles.

My wish for all you, my friends? May all of your Saturdays be special!

Thursday, October 7, 2010


For those of us who love words, entertainment is everywhere.

After reading Lewis Carroll's "Jabberwocky" earlier this week, I've been on the lookout for examples of portmanteaux (chortle and snowmageddon), malapropisms (historical versus hysterical), colloquialisms (hootenanny), and accidental word coinage (refudiate and misunderestimate).

This morning, with my coffee in hand, it all came together for me in a comic strip. There is perhaps nothing that consistently serves up an abundant helping of wordplay--what The Washington Post calls 'an unraveling coil of malapropism and accidental word coinage'--than "Get Fuzzy," one of my all-time favorite comics.

I've heard it said that you can tell a lot about a person by seeing what makes him laugh. I'm not sure what this says about me, but a day that begins with laughter can't be so bad!

Friday, October 1, 2010

Blue Jays

There was a group of raucous Blue Jays in the woods behind my house this morning. I was instantly transported to the home of my Aunt Marge and Uncle Erv in Ann Arbor, Michigan, where I spent a lot of time during the summers growing up. The woods behind their house was filled with Blue Jays who trumpeted their quarrelsome cry all summer long, providing a noisy backdrop to all our activities.

I have the strongest and fondest memories of spending time with them in their home on Dartmouth Avenue. So I sat and thought of my cousins, of the pool in their backyard, and of the screened-in porch where we children ate during the summer. I remember the books spilling from shelves in every room, my aunt's zucchini bread, the laughter, and the exotic treasures collected on their travels, especially the Russian nesting dolls. I thought of the Baskin-Robbins ice cream shop down the street, Daiquiri Ice sherbet, and Silly String fights.

When I heard the Blue Jays this morning, it brought all this back in an instant warm rush of nostalgia. Did my aunt and uncle ever imagine they were collecting things and building a life so full and rich that I now long to remember? And did they ever imagine the unlikely role Blue Jays would play in reminding me? Aunt Marge and Uncle Erv are no longer with us, but the Blue Jays bring all this home for me, and I find myself awash in early morning memories.