Scesis Onomaton (ske’-sis-o-no’-ma-ton): 1. A sentence constructed only of nouns and adjectives (typically in a regular pattern). 2. A series of successive, synonymous expressions.
Footballs. Bowling balls. Basketballs. Soccer Balls. Tennis balls. Golf balls. Soft balls. Croquet balls. Handballs. Paintballs. The world of sports is a world of balls. In fact, balls are probably the most prevalent pieces of equipment in the sporting world. Without balls, we’d be down to darts, and archery, and horseshoes, and curling, and badminton, and skiing, and skeet shooting, and chess. But that’s beside the point when you consider the tiny country of Vestigial.
A favorite competitive sport in Vestigial is called “Pine Pulling.” The game takes place on a Christmas Tree Farm near the sea. “Pullers” are ranked in accord with how long it takes them to uproot a tree. “Pine Pulling” harkens back to a time when Vestigial was a poor nation and it’s citizens couldn’t afford saws or axes, so they tore 6-8 foot tall spruce trees out of the forest earth, ripped off their branches, and used them for firewood—for warmth and cooking. The pine wood is rich in pitch so it was easily lit. Since they had no saws or axes, they shoved their wood straight into the fireplace—perpendicular to its walls. In addition, as a sideline, they made toothbrushes out of the branches and sold them to neighboring Norwegians, until they were invaded and annexed by the Norwegians in 1602. Nevertheless, the persistence of “Pine Pulling” as a sport is testimony to the resilience of Vestigial culture.
Then, in Stuckland, a microscopic state in South Africa that hardly anybody realizes exists, there is “Ant Whispering.” Stuckland has formidable ant reserves. In fact, there are easily more ants than human in Stuckland. The region is dotted with gigantic ant mounds, some of which are over 100 feet high. The annual games take place on the ant preserve in central Stuckland called Devil Ants Den and use the “Ant Tower” as the staging ground for the competition. Called “Vuur Mier” in the local dialect, the ants are almost identical to the Fire Ants introduced into the US from South America. “Ant Whispering” is played by single players scaling Ant Tower, sticking their face in the hole at the top, and yelling “Stay down!” for 15 seconds. The competitor with the fewest blisters on their face wins the competition, and the first prize: a free visit to the emergency room of the nearby hospital. Of course, the competition is undertaken to prove the hardiness, bravery, and resilience of the Stucklanders.
Competition. Sticking it out. Pride. Practice. Perseverance. Every culture has its games that exemplify its character and commitments, but there is a common thread: Winning and Losing. Inevitably there are more losers than winners. There are far more frustrated and angry competitors who lost than happy, smiling winners. Losers may be beaten up by their backers when they get home, lose their wives and husbands to winners, or become despondent drug users. Nobody likes a loser. But there’s light at the end of the tunnel!
I abstain from playing sports. Abstinence is a higher virtue than playing because it colors over winning and losing with “neither.” You put yourself out of play and no longer endure the ups and down. However, there is still a place for winning and losing in my life. I have become a “lottotarian” specializing in $1.00 scratch-off lotto tickets. Since there is no skill involved in scratch-off lotto, winning and losing are not attributed to me and do not involve me in a tangle of egotistic back-slapping or guilt-laced self-recrimination.
New York’s lotto motto says it all: “Hey, you never know.” This is a life-lesson that’s worth spending one dollar on.
Definition courtesy of “Silva Rhetoricae” (rhetoric.byu.edu).
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