A couple of days ago I got to wondering about dandruff. Whatever happened to it? When I was a boy during the McKinley administration you couldn’t open a newspaper or magazine without being warned about dandruff.
If you were on a date with a girl and she noticed the flecks of dandruff on your shoulders, you were finished. It didn’t matter that dandruff was not contagious and did not signify your membership in the Communist Party or AMORC (Ancient Mystic Order of the Rosy Cross). If you had dandruff, you were a slob. Or so said the drug companies that sold an alleged cure for dandruff. Even back then, pharmaceutical firms bent the truth, and they haven’t stopped since.
I’m probably mistaken in thinking that dandruff has disappeared or faded from our civilization. After all, dandruff is nothing more than dead skin cells. My exhaustive research reveals that about half a million cells are released each day from our scalps, and even more if you live in Phoenix or Reno and other places where the air is abnormally dry. Regular shampooing can reduce the amount of dandruff, so modern Americans aren’t nearly as worried about it as they used to be.
Instead, the drug companies run frightening advertisements about other maladies, such as yellow teeth. Remember the old jingle, “You’ll wonder where the yellow went, when you brush your teeth with Pepsodent.”? What a crock. Today everyone knows you can’t remove teeth stains with toothpaste. You’ve got to find a dental specialist with a Ph.D., licensed to practice the arcane art of teeth whitening. Only after a series of pricey visits can you step back into polite society, confident that your smile is just as blinding-white as it should be.
Getting back to dandruff: Is there any connection between dandruff and dander? Are you sure you know what dander is? I know that dogs and other pets tend to shed dander, which is mostly discarded skin cells, same as dandruff. Dander can cause breathing problems and other allergic reactions.
If someone becomes angry, people will say “Look out – he’s got his dander up.” Does this mean that if a scientist took air samples of someone experiencing road rage, his/her dander index would be higher than that of a person quietly meditating in a Hooters restaurant?
A person who gets his or her dander up also may be accused of having a conniption, or a conniption fit. It’s not clear where the word “conniption” came from. Many English words have no clear origin. One of them is “funky.” Next time you hear someone refer to funky music or funky clothing, ask him to precisely define “funky.” He’ll probably try to give you examples, but that really won’t do it. If he succeeds in giving you a definition of funky, ask someone else to do the same thing. I guarantee you the two definitions won’t agree.
Can you define “crud”? Sure you can. It’s almost any disgusting material, a built-up layer of filth, dirt or slime. The term crud is sometimes applied to a person. “What a crud that guy turned out to be.” The word probably wasn’t used, or even known, before the 1940s or thereabouts. Early records indicate World War II servicemen gave the name “crud” to social diseases.
Another interesting, vague word is “jiffy.” Exactly how long is a jiffy? We’ve all used that expression at times. “I’ll be back in a jiffy.” I don’t know the time limits of a jiffy, but engineers and physicists seem to. They have assigned specific measurements, such as how long it takes for an electron or light wave to travel through a vacuum tube, or between an elephant’s tail and its trunk. Stuff like that.
A similarly undefined measurement of time is a trice. Is a jiffy longer or shorter than a trice? “As her beau impatiently waited in his hansom, Amanda got dressed in a trice and flew out the door.” When is the last time you used the expression “in a trice”? Never? Me, too.
That’s enough word play for the day. I appreciate your following me through the tangled wilds of dandruff, dander, conniptions, funky, crud, jiffy and trice. I realize that most readers would have preferred that I write my thoughts on missing Malaysian airliner 370. I considered doing that, but then I realized that every worthwhile fact or idea about that plane has already been covered. In triplicate and ad nauseam. Too bad the national news media haven’t yet awakened to that fact.