boondoggle and scoubidou


Put this under ‘stuff I didn’t know’.

Boondoggle – to me and perhaps many others – refers to a project or scheme that wastes time and money, accomplishing nothing.

But it also refers to a type of weaving – the type of four-part weaving that creates lanyards and key chains.  (Any number of strings can be used, as long as it’s more than two, but four-part is what I learned first.)  This type of weaving has been around awhile, perhaps as long as women have been making things, but became a fad in the 1950s in France, where it was called ‘scoubidou’.  Yes, it’s pronounced skooby-do, but is neither a cartoon character nor related to skiddoo (as in, 23 skiddoo).

When I was a kid, I’d ask questions about what something means, or when something happened.  My father would say ‘go look it up’.  It’s a habit, now.  But the only rationale I’ve found for looking things up is serendipity – finding things you aren’t looking for, but want.  The internet has brought me a broader way to look things up and find stuff I’m not looking for.

And somehow, that concept – finding what I’m not looking for – brings up both card catalogues and printed newspapers.

Here’s the deal:  Today, if I search in the library database for Marie Antoinette, I can find novels and biographies about Marie.  But I won’t run across a whole slew of books about the French Revolution, economics, the relationship between the French and American revolutions . . . or even something on how the French came to accept the culinary uses of the potato (Antoine August Parmentier had a lot to do with this).  It’s because search terms for computers have to be more specific, while searching the card catalogue didn’t.  (Under the Dewey system, non-fiction books about Marie Antoinette would be cross-referenced with books about the French Revolution.  I could easily stumble across things in French history that would illumine that paper I never wrote.)  And once I learned where books were shelved, I could find even more un-related but fascinating topics.

Discovery is a major part of learning.  But having the right search terms seems to require that I already know (and am interested in) things.

Printed newspapers do the same thing for me.  Today’s New York Times includes an op-ed piece about Clint Eastwood talking to an empty chair (and suggests that, what he missed was the opportunity to put himself in that chair, imagining he had to make the decisions he was deriding).  The front page also included an article about folks reactions to the Eastwood speech, and how it came about.

Because I steadfastly have been ignoring the Republican convention, and wouldn’t have followed a link to coverage of it, without the printed paper I would not have read about the chair.

And I wouldn’t have thought about the value of putting my imagination to work to see both sides of an issue.  You know, imagine you say all the things you want to someone – and then imagine being the other person, and what they might say back.  That’s the benefit of seeing connections that I might have otherwise ignored.  I’m routinely grateful that the Times continues to print.

Oh, and about 23 skiddoo.  I followed that lead on the internet because of scoubidou.  I learned that this early 20th century slang probably arose in New York at the Flatiron Building (one of my personal favorites).  Skiddoo existed as a slang for ‘getting out while the getting is good’ or avoiding bad luck by leaving before it arrives.  23 skiddoo derived from a place as much as from a time.

Broadway and Fifth Avenue—the two most important streets of New York—meet at Madison Square, and because of the juxtaposition of the streets and the park across the street, there was a wind-tunnel effect here. In the early twentieth century, men would hang out on the corner at Twenty-third Street and watch the wind blowing women’s dresses up so that they could catch a little bit of ankle. This entered into popular culture and there are hundreds of postcards and illustrations of women with their dresses blowing up in front of the Flatiron Building. And supposedly this is where the slang expression “23 skiddoo” comes from, as the police would come and give the voyeurs the 23 skiddoo to tell them to get out of the area.

Boondoggles aside, I’ll skiddoo to go turn some raspberries into sauce.  September is here, and it’s time to prepare for winter feasts.

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