The Tao of Soccer and Other FactoidsLeave a comment
July 17, 2014 by libroshombre
The great Chinese philosopher Lao Tzo once advised letting “things flow naturally forward in whatever way they like,” but that was well before the invention of the modern soccer ball. The first balls were whatever was nearby and kickable, from hair-stuffed animal bladders to human skulls, and they didn’t spin at all predictably. ESPN Magazine ran a life-size photo of the oldest extant soccer ball, c. 1540, and it’s a cruel-looking thing made of two oblong pieces of crudely-sewn leather. The sport was banned by Scotland’s King James II in 1457, but this crusty, old ball was found stuffed behind paneling in the Stirling Castle bedroom of Bloody Queen Mary, who must have been a fan.
American Charles Goodyear patented his rubber vulcanization process in 1836, and in 1855 he designed and made the first vulcanized soccer ball, which was a hard thing to kick. Seven years later, the lesser-known H.J. Linton introduced a huge innovation: the inflatable ball bladder, making the ball’s true flightpossible. Like Goodyear, Linton’s fascination with rubber made his life one of penury and tragedy. Goodyear died owing between $200,000-600,000 while attending his daughter’s funeral, and Linton’s wife died of lung ailments brought on by inflating thousands of her husband’s balls.
Soccer’s rules for acceptable balls have been unchanged since 1937: “The circumference shall not be more than 28 inches, nor less than 27 inches, while the weight at the start of the game must not be more than 16 ounces, nor less than 14 ounces.” SoccerWorld.com says, “What has changed drastically over the last 30 or so years is the material the ball is made of and the shape of the panels that make up the ball.” Players of my generation, the 1970s-80s, knew soccer balls made of pentagon-shaped leather panels rather than today’s sticky, waterproof synthetics. Leather absorbs water, making early morning and rainy games dangerous, for a fresh ball couldn’t be used until the second half. The leather panels grew slicker as the game progressed, and the water absorption could double the ball’s weight. In 340 official games I saw a half-dozen men cold-cocked by wet balls.
Non-soccer players might consider these factoids of minimal interest, but they’d be wrong. They’re actually trivia, which the Oxford English Dictionary defines as “things of little consequence.” A “factoid,” meanwhile, is “something that becomes accepted as a fact, although it is not, or may not be, true … a simulated or imagined fact.”
The problem’s with the “-oid.” According to the American Heritage Dictionary, “The ‘–oid’ suffix normally imparts the meaning ‘resembling, having the appearance of’ to the words it attaches to. Thus the anthropoid apes are the apes that are most like humans … Similarly, ‘factoid’ originally referred to a piece of information that appears to be reliable or accurate, as from being repeated so often that people assume it is true.” Norman Mailer coined “factoid” in his biography of Marilyn Malone, which is a factoid factoid.
The term “tabloid,” on the other hand, was originally “trademarked in 1884 as a brand name for a small, flat, compressed piece of a medicinal substance: a medicine tablet.” Free-lance druggists soon began compounding and marketing their own tabloid products, and the manufacturers lost their restraining suit. “After the court decision, says Daily Writing Tips, “’tabloid’ lost its capital T and was used generically to mean anything that provided a lot of value in a small package … When gossipy newspapers with pages half the size of standard newspapers came into vogue, they were called tabloids.”
The small, affordable Sopwith biplane was also known as a tabloid, and in modern terms “tabloid” has come to mean sensationalistic. Our public library is sensational at aggregating huge amounts of information within its walls and website, and it provides great economy of scale for knowledge for the borough’s consumers, i.e. “a lot of value in a small package.” Here’s one last factoid: nearly 60% of our borough population has a public library card they’ve used in the last two years.