Monday, November 19, 2012

Don’t Bogart Me

In a post-election op-ed column in The New York Times, Maureen Dowd wrote: “Last time, Obama lifted up the base with his message of hope and change; this time the base lifted up Obama, with the hope he will change….They want Barry to stop bogarting the change.”

That last phrase—“bogarting the change”—struck me as not only infelicitous, but also unintelligible.  What on earth did she mean by “bogarting”? It must be a typographical error, I thought.  Wrong again!

Unbeknownst to me, bogart is a verb that has been in use since the 1960s, and it means to “use or consume more than one’s share.” Its origin is a bit complicated.

In many of his films, the actor Humphrey Bogart was pictured smoking a cigarette, which he kept constantly dangling from his mouth, without removing it, even while talking.  In the marijuana culture of the 1960s, it was considered bad form to keep a joint in one’s mouth rather than taking a quick hit and then passing it around.  From the image of Bogie’s soggy ciggie, hogging a joint became known as “bogarting.”  This usage was reinforced by a 1968 song, “Don’t Bogart Me,” recorded by the Fraternity of Man, which was used in the 1969 film Easy Rider.  Part of the lyric goes:
            “Don’t bogart that joint, my friend,
            Pass it over to me.” 

Bogie is not the only movie star whose name has become an eponym, referring to actions or items. Others include:

* John Wayne, whose name is a verb meaning to “act with great force and little deliberation, in a consciously heroic manner,” e.g., ”He John Wayned the door” (i.e. he kicked it in).

* Shirley Temple, a non-alcoholic drink made with ginger ale, orange juice, grenadine, and a maraschino cherry, at one time commonly served to little girls when their parents were having cocktails.

* Roy Rogers, a similar non-alcoholic drink typically for little boys, in which cola replaces ginger ale.

* Mae West, an inflatable life jacket (from its resemblance to the star’s buxomness).

* Marilyn Monroe, after whom (for similar reasons to the Mae West jacket) small, highly rounded sediment mounds in certain tidal flats are named “monroes.”

* Tom Cruise, a verb that can mean either to “become overly excited” (from an episode on Oprah Winfrey’s TV show in which Cruise jumped on a couch to express his love for Katie Holmes) or to “pretend to know more about a subject than one actually does.”

Speaking of folks who pretend to know more than they do, we can’t overlook the Bard of Buffalo Bayou, who is at the head of that class.  Here is his latest pretension:

            Young Tim’s a timid little eponym,
            Who always fears someone will step on him.
            His brother, Tom, is just a homonym—
            The two of them intone a common hymn
            And pray that Tom becomes a synonym,
            So there’d be nothing folks could pin on him.
            And Tim? He prays to be a toponym,
            And then, he thinks, there’d be no stoppin’ him.

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