Dave's Brain Has the Right Stuff!
Last week in the English Office, my friend, colleague, and age-twin Liz wondered aloud about the origin of the phrase "pushing the envelope" and I took the bait; though I could care less about word origins, I'm always willing to take an etymological moonshot (because it's so fun to be correct) and I said, "I don't think it's about regular envelopes at all . . . I think it's about the envelope of air in the atmosphere . . . I think it's from The Right Stuff," and this top-o-the-head conjecture, this specious speculation, this frothy cream of my consciousness, this absurd lexical reckoning turned out to be spot-on, and while I know that those of you with razorlike CPU memories are thinking: who cares? what is it to retrieve a memory? what's the big deal? I would like to speak for the other folks, I would like to advocate for those of us who live on the flip side of the coin, the people who can't remember words and phrases and places and names, the people who struggle to recall what they had for breakfast, the people who can't always remember exactly where they live . . . this hypothetical person, when he is asked to produce his address, at the front desk of a certain electronic store (it might have been Circuit City, but-- typically-- I can't remember) completely freezes up and not only forgets his address but also can't recite his phone number . . . this is a person, who can't even remember if he's started or ended his parentheses, this kind of person, when he remembers something from many many years ago, and remembers it in context, and produces it-- like a magician . . . like a lexical Houdini-- then this person should be lauded and congratulated and celebrated, because his neurons have demonstrated the right stuff, and there's nothing more inscrutable and black-boxy than a bunch of neurons; not only are they hard to control (and harder to corral) but when they behave properly in context, then great celebration and rejoicing should ensue.