The Desiccation of Wit

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

triumph of the will (pt 2)

"Yes, it was a real boon to our cause," I wrote to someone in an email yesterday, which made me think about what an odd word "boon" is. It may be apparent to anyone who's read any posts in this space that my co-host and I have a fondness for esoterica that is matched perhaps only by the Australian fondness for beer-- of which, more later.

So I looked it up. The OED reliably (and stuffily) informs me that boon is from the Middle English bene and originally meant a prayer or entreaty before a substantive shift that now sees it mostly used to mean the object of the same. Or that it can refer to "The stalk of flax or hemp after the fibre has been removed; the stalks of cow-parsnip and other umbelliferous plants. " Well, thank god I finally know there's a word for that. What a boon(1). (Naturally I had to look up umbelliferous. Pretty much means like it sounds.)

But that's all neither here nor there. The important thing was that thinking about "boon" (n) made me think about Boon and The 52. David Boon, colloquially known as Boonie (because everything in Australia is colloquially known as something that ends in a vowel), was a member of Australia's national cricket team during the 1980s, and while he was a fabulous player who averaged more than 40 runs in test cricket, he is probably most fondly remembered for the exploits that earned him his other nickname: The Keg on Legs. The story goes that Team Australia in the 1970s realized three things: (1) Australia is far from everywhere (except NZ), thus (2) all of our away series involve very long flights, which provides us (3) more drinking time on average than any other team. What happened on the next team flight to England is as logical as 1+1+1 = beer.

Now, by the time Boonie came along in 1984, things had calmed down a bit and (at least as the story is now told) people weren't making bets on their own ability to consume beers on every flight to England-- perhaps because Rod Marsh's record of 45 beers seemed unbreakable, one of the holy numbers like 755 (shut up, Barry Bonds). But Boonie was a believer. He knew it could be done, that records, though we vaunt them, are not holy things but milestones that spur us, the human race, to greater and greater exercises of the spirit and will.

And so, on a 1989 flight in the middle of what was a slump for Team Australia, Boonie set out on his quest with grit and determination. By all accounts, he made the last push from 22, reached just outside Singapore, toward Marsh's 45 unaccompanied, one man toiling alone against long odds and impending touchdown at Heathrow. One man strode alone into the unknown-- and triumped. By the time London was in sight, Boonie had downed 52 cans of beer (apparently not including the 3 consumed in the Singapore airport, which were outside the rules of the contest) and secured his place in history. He had a pretty good Ashes, too.

The morals of this story are legion. But I think one of the things the legend of Boonie highlights is what we've lost as sports become increasingly professionalized. When games were populated by highly skilled amateurs, we could simultaneously admire them and imagine ourselves in their shoes. (If we were white men in the 1930s.) Now, when athletes in our most watched sports look like oversized well-shaven gorillas crammed into spandex, that kinship is absent. I can no more imagine myself playing linebacker in the NFL than I can imagine myself fully comprehending the Unified Field Theory of Torts. (Though, boy, if I could do either that would be sweet.)

Cricket stayed close to its amateur roots longer than most American sports-- maybe because it was a gentleman's game, maybe because of geographic dislocation, maybe because it's hard to imagine an effective revenue structure if every country that plays your sport has only state-run television stations. But Boonie reminds us of the benefits amateur status brought to the game. Because at some point most of us have been in a bar on a Friday night, surrounded by friends who are having a raucous good time; and we've wrestled with our demons. It's someone else's turn to buy a round and they place the beer gently in front of you on the table and you glance over, half turned away from the joke that is being told, and think: "No. I can't." But then someone, perhaps not even someone you know well, offers an encouraging smile and the next song on the jukebox is one you love and haven't heard in forever and reminds you of a night before when self-doubt also crept up. And you look back at the unopened can, moisture beading and slipping like minutes down its smooth side, and you think: "Yes. I can."

This one's for you, Boonie.


Blogger Radio said...

1) I though crickets were bugs.
2) I didn't realize that you could play a "bug."
3) 52 beers? JESUS, did he DIE?
4) I though David Boonie was an American Pioneer who has knives named after him.
5) What's "Australia"?

10:04 AM, April 04, 2006  
Blogger dw said...

Wow. Well, there's clearly but one sentence with which to begin: "[Boon, n. The stalks of cow-parsnip and other umbelliferous plants."

The cow-parsnip? Yes, of course, the famous cow-parsnip. Combine a farm animal with a root vegetable? Why not?! It's the greatest thing since the liger, the griffin, or the pushmepullyou. The product of ingenious intergenus cross-breeding, the florafaunal equivalent of the world-famous turkey-turnip, radish-rat and jicama-horse. [Does that count as alliteration? Don't ask me. Once, when I was a summer camp counselor, and the other counselors named their teams the "Red Rabbits" or the "Green Goblins" or the "Brown Bunnies" (no, no, that was Vincent Gallo's entree into soft-core porn- my mistake), I insisted upon calling my team the 'Purple Pterodactyls."]

Well, sadly, no. Per the OED, the cow-parsnip is in fact merely the product of one man's perverse imagination:

"A large umbelliferous plant, Heracleum Sphondylium, wild in Britain: so named by Turner."

Truly, indeed, the cow-parsnip is wild in Britain. It engages in hooliganism not only at football matches but near the cricket field, too; its upper lip quivers almost weekly; it once downed 53 pints of Guinness on a train ride to Cardiff. (Guinness: It's good for you.)

And, indeed, umbelliferous? Again, to the OED:

1. Bearing flowers arranged in umbels.

Umbels. Umbels? Feh. Ok, OED, force me to flip through your imaginary internet pages again. What's that? Umbel is on the same page as umbellifeous? Who woulda thunk it?

1. A mass of inflorescence borne upon pedicels of nearly equal length springing from a common centre. Cf. UMBELLA

Inflorescence? (Shouldn't there be a 'u' in there somewhere?) Pedicels? Umbella?

Umbella? Certainly, good sirs, you must mean 'umbrella', no? Let's see. Umbel, umbelap [To encompass, surround. transitive; obsolete. Thank God.)], umbelay [Same as above. Last citation c.1338: "That was his folie, so long in his bed gan ligge, Untille the Waleis partie had vmbilaid the brigge"], umbella.

The definition of umbella is "A more or less convex disk [...]." More or less? Thanks for that specificity. It's more or less convex. A little bit jagged. Pointy in places, but occasionally curvy. Feh.

But it does remind me of a good joke. OK, not actually a good joke, but a joke I once invented.

Q: How did the principessa use to stay dry in the rain?
A: Mmmm, bella!

But back to the cow-parsnip, "so named by Turner." Joseph William Mallard Turner, I immediate presume, but lo and behold, no. Three centuries too late JMW.

1548 TURNER Names of Herbes 76 Sphondilium. It may be called in englishe Cowpersnepe or rough Persnepe. It groweth in watery middowes and in ranke groundes about hedges.

It restoreth my soul. It leadeth me in the path of righteousness for its name's sake. Yea, though I walk through the fescue of Hertfordshire, I will fear no evil. For thou art with me, Cow-parsnip. Thy udder and bulbous fruit, they comfort me.

What a noble plant! What powers one can reap from the combination of Bos Taurus and Pastinaca sativa! And -- as if the aforementioned merits were not enough -- it can be to you a boon(1) in Risk: The Game of World Domination:

1780 COXE Russ. Disc. 52 There are no trees upon the island; it produces, however, the cow-parsnip which grows at Kamtchatka.

Who knew, Lex? Who knew?

10:20 AM, April 04, 2006  
Blogger Mandy said...

Boon, beer, umbellas. I'm a shove you nerds in a locker.

10:31 AM, April 04, 2006  
Blogger Mandy said...

Can I take back that last comment? I'm a little terrified of Alexis "Gargamel" B. since her last comment on my blog indicated her joy - not just schadenfreude, not even a little platscham, but pure, unbridled joy - at reading about people who had been grotesquely injured, possibly paralyzed, almost killed, by various freak accidents and near non-misses. Whoa! Not gonna mess with you.

But DW and Candlestick, you're still getting shoved into a locker.

10:35 AM, April 04, 2006  
Blogger Dillet said...

I am Dillet.
I want to die.

Phone: 248-703-7218
State: Michigan
Adress: 443816
City: Shelby
Zip Code: 48617
So kill me today!

4:31 PM, April 04, 2006  
Blogger BestRapperAlive said...

Who is Dillet and why did he go to Torts?

12:01 PM, April 05, 2006  

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