Thursday, March 24, 2011

Some Elephant

I have known for a while that Jumbo the Elephant was relatively important; that is, he was an elephant in P. T. Barnum's circus, he was hit and killed by a train, and his stuffed hide was donated to Tufts. He is now our official school mascot. It was not until recently, however, that I learned just how influential that creature truly was.
Jumbo! He is slain.

Namely, that the popular use of the term "jumbo" to refer to something very large (eg. Jumbo-sized playing cards, JumboTron, ) came after the elephant. That is, they didn't name him Jumbo because that meant big; we use "jumbo" to mean big because it was the name of a big elephant. [1]

That's crazy! I mean, imagine if your name became an adjective simply because it was your defining feature. People for years to come would name their popcorn, televisions, and mattresses after you, likely without even realizing it.

Or, even stranger, suppose you were an elephant.


  1. almost kafkaesque

  2. It would truly have to be something Gargantuan.

  3. They made a giant steel tank, named Jumbo, to try to contain the Trinity test of the first atomic bomb. It wasn't used, so not only was it big, it was also a white elephant.


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