Monday, May 28, 2012

To Marceau, or Not to Marceau?

The other day on NPR I heard a blind man describing his attempt to orient himself in a strange room.  To familiarize himself with its layout, he related, “I Marcel Marceaued  the walls.”  This is the first time I had heard the name of the late, famed French mime used as a verb.

The reference, of course, is to one of Marceau’s famous routines in which he creates the illusion of a walled-in space by moving his flattened palms along an imaginary surface.  Although not a word was ever spoken during any of his performances, when he came offstage, Marceau was a ceaseless raconteur, as I learned in several après-show gabfests. He once said, “Never get a mime talking; he won't stop."

According to a cousin, Marceau spent his last years “lonely, ill, and broke.”  He died at a racetrack in Cahors in 2007 at the age of 84.  They say he went quietly.

Other names of individuals that have morphed into verbs include those of Marceau’s compatriot with whom he shared a name, François Marcel (marcel, “wave the hair with heated irons”), physician Franz Mesmer (mesmerize, “hypnotize”), jurist Robert Bork (bork, “discredit by an attack on character”), and John McAdam (macadamize, “pave a road with a small stones bound with cement”).  (The last is not the same as the botanist John Macadam, who discovered the macadamia nut.)

Another noted nut, the Bard of Buffalo Bayou, will never be a verb.  He’s much more suited to be an improper noun.  From under his favorite rock, he writes:

            I Marcel Marceaued a wall,
            And J. Edgar Hoovered a hall,
            And I trust you won’t scoff
            When you learn I showed off
            By Nolan Ryaning a ball.

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