Friday, January 30, 2009

In an alternative world, if you found a word in someone else's beliefs that you couldn't understand, you would say, "I don't understand this" rather than "This doesn't make sense."

"Jumbo" didn't start as a word for large.

It was how non-Africans heard an African word for a spirit, and it was used as a name for an elephant, large among elephants, 11 feet tall at his shoulder. It was part of mumbo-jumbo, the spirit name as heard. Mumbo jumbo became a terms for nonsense, jumbo was applied to an elephant capture in Africa.

He lived for seventeen years in the London Zoo, and then was sold, amid much protest, for ten thousand 1882 dollars to P. T. Barnum, the circus guy. As Jumbo the elephant became more and more famous, the world Jumbo was extended to many large things, often large sizes of commercial products, like now.

Thomas Nast, the cartoonist who attacked Boss Tweed and the Tammany Machine in New York and who made an elephant the symbol of the Republican Party, drew a picture of Jumbo with a shackle around one of his feet in what he labled "Barnum's American Dungeon." Jumbo had tears running down his face.

Barnum displayed Jumbo for three years, as the circus travelled. Then Jumbo was killed by an unscheduled freight train, which seems like it couldn't have happened if he had been left in the London Zoo, or in Africa. This doesn't make sense to me, all this capture and movement. I'm used to hearing such stories, but it doesn't make sense to me, in a large and draining way.

--information from Ruthven Tremaine's "The Animal's Who's Who: 1,146 Celebrated Animals in History, Popular Lore, Culture, and Literature."