Monday, April 6, 2009

To Be: A Noun

Over on LinkedIn the other day, leadership trainer and founder of Leaders and Thinkers, Benjamin Anyacho, asked, "What do you want to be remembered for as a leader?" He referred to Methuselah, Noah's granddaddy, who lived for nearly a thousand years, yet his legacy was written in two sentences. "In fact," Benjamin noted, "there was nothing to be remembered about Methuselah except that he was the oldest person that ever lived, and he had sons and daughters," and he added, "it's not how long we lived but how well."

I replied that I would not be so quick to disparage Methuselah. His achievement was so profound, so unique, and so well known, that the old fellow has become a noun.

There is something to be said for becoming a noun. James Watt became a noun, representing power even to this day. Adolf Hitler became a noun, it is true, but his name is a pejorative. We honor Napoleon with a couple of nouns, one a pejorative, the other a pastry.

Few people in history are sufficiently notable or notorious to even reach the lesser status of adjective. A candy retailer named Morris Michtom honored Teddy Roosevelt by naming a stuffed animal after him. Michtom founded the Ideal Toy Company on the strength of public response to the Teddy Bear, but the toy's association with Roosevelt's name was so tenuous that it is now all but forgotten; few writers these days even bother to capitalize the "teddy" part.

The adjective taken from Charles Ponzi's family name is much in the news these days, but his unfortunate survivors may have difficulty passing checks imprinted with their names. Franz Kafka became the root of an adjective – although his name requires an added "-esque" to serve that purpose. Almost anybody can be an –esque. Even the pop bubblegum music supergroup ABBA, whose name is an acronym for its members, has lent its moniker to an adjective of the -esque form – though not one that is entirely complimentary.

One's legacy may also become a verb. Folks caution White House interns these days not to Lewinsky. Good advice, but in another generation it won't be understood – and probably won't be followed anyway.

Victor Hugo said, "The word is the Verb, and the Verb is God." Buckminster Fuller expressed that line as "God, to me, it seems, is a verb not a noun, proper or improper." Some say that Fuller declared that he, himself, was a verb – which with some logical manipulation might be taken to equate himself with God. I'm not so sure he actually ever claimed to be a verb and I'm pretty sure he never claimed divinity. I am fairly certain, though, that Ulysses S. Grant, shortly before he died, believed himself to be a verb instead of a personal pronoun. Possibly just wishful thinking on the General's part.

I could accept a legacy as a verb, so long as it is an energetic one.

I would also be satisfied were my legacy an adjective, but more delighted to survive as a noun. What, exactly, would a Kalsey be? That remains to see. Something admired, or respected, or striven for, I hope. Any good thing will do.

One thing I do not look forward to being is a past participle, mostly because few people know what those are.

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