I like reading a wide variety of subjects, and keep certain volumes around, like a book of quotable quotes, a rhyming dictionary, and the New York Public Library Desk Reference. Now, I’m not entirely an academic reader – I’ve been known to carry on a relationship with a good novel from time to time, and I especially like some of the things found on the Wal-Mart bathroom wall, but generally I enjoy sticking my head in books that give me plenty of trivial knowledge so I can bewilder and dazzle anyone unlucky enough to be trapped in an elevator with me. Well, I was poring over a book that tells when certain things were invented, and who the inventor was, when I came across an entry that read that in 1866 a fellow by the name of Alexander Melville Bell (evidently not the Bell that invented the graham cracker – you know, Alexander Graham Bell) came up with the idea of lip reading.

As soon as I read that, I knew someone was making things up.  Do the writers of that book of inventions mean to say that no one did any lip reading before 1866?  What about the poor slave in ancient Egypt who watched two task masters chatting at the bottom of the pyramid?  I suppose since this is before the invention of lip reading, he looked at the one task master’s lips moving and thought he said “Let’s free the slaves after lunch,” when the fellow actually told his buddy “Let’s beat the slaves for lunch.” Imagine the letdown.  How can someone invent something like lip reading? That’s like saying Herman Toot invented the fart.  Before that everyone had to pass gas through their ears. I’d be willing to bet that Oog the caveman was sitting in his cave, saw Mrs. Oog grunting with their neighbor and was able to tell by watching her lips that she said Eekanbeack instead of Hottontott.  I’m not trying to take anything away from Mr. Bell.  If the scientific community felt the need to give him credit for being able to tell what the people down the street were saying, so be it.  It made me wonder, though, what other silly things have been attributed to a single individual, so I did a little research.

In 1285 a fellow by the name of Alessandro de Spina is credited with inventing eyeglasses. I suppose before that, people had to prop their reading material on a tree stump and back away until they could see it. Before eyeglasses people actually had to look through coke bottles.  Before eyeglasses you could flip an old geezer off without him throwing his dentures at you.

Sir John Harington invented the flush toilet in 1589.  If he didn’t get a ticker tape parade for that one, he should have.  Can you imagine what people had to do before that? “Harriet, could you hand me some toilet paper and a fork?  I’ve got a floater here.”  I would have solved the unemployment problem by starting the world’s first pooper scooper business.  Its motto would have been: “Like it never even happened”.

The medical thermometer was invented in 1616 by Santorio Santorio.  He’s probably the ancestor of Duran Duran.  Before his invention patients had to hold mercury in their mouths and then spit it into a bowl of tea leaves.  I bet he had a few bumps in the road along the way, though.  “Mr. Feliciano, I TOLD you not to bite down! Now you’ve got to hold the mercury and broken glass in your mouth until I can get some tea leaves.”

Of course, everyone knows the sandwich was invented by the Earl of Sandwich.  I’m just glad his name wasn’t the Earl of Crap.  “Would you children rather have a peanut butter and jelly crap, or a bologna and cheese crap?”

A man by the name of Edward Beard Budding (someone should have invented a better name for him) brought the first lawn mower into the world.  Goats around the world began dying of starvation.  Yeah, well they should have been grateful they didn’t have to drink all that gasoline anymore.

I could probably go all day like this, but I’ll save you the incredulity.  I do need to mention one of the greatest inventions of the modern world: in 1860 a Mr. John Newnham came up with the idea of the snap button.  Think about how much time and effort he saved! I’ve got another book that chronicles famous last words, and one of my favorite is the suicide note of a man who obviously lived before Mr. Newnham’s invention.  It simply said: “All this buttoning and unbuttoning.”  I
feel you, sir.  Where was the snap
button when you needed it?

 


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