Monday, September 26, 2005

The Element of Surprise

Surprise is a funny thing.

Often surprises are good. Just as often they are bad.

People sometimes speak of the "element of surprise." That's stupid. Surprise it not listed on the periodic table of elements.

Surprise is not an element. If you were a scientist and you found it you would be surprised.


If you don't, I really don't blame you.

So, why do people say the phrase "the element of surprise?"

It is an interesting story.

Back in 1912 in Stockbridge, Massachusetts the Teider Museum was expecting an important package in the mail containing rare artifacts from the childhood of George Washington.

Instead, when the buggy dropped off that day’s mail, the package did not show up.

Days passed and Tom Nuckles, the museum's curator, waited for the package. When it was fifteen days late, he sent a wire to the delivery point (in San Diego.)

His counterpart in San Diego (noted pianist Peter Smasnth) responded with a letter that read:

Dear Tom,
Thank you for the small length of wire that you sent us. I plan to use this wire to hang many paintings in the museum.
Cordially yours,
Peter Smasnth

After reading the letter, Tom wrote back.

Dear Peter,
Send me the George Washington stuff.

A mere 3 days later the package arrived. Inside was a note from Peter reading "these are the elements you requested."

Tom opened the box to find many historic items. They did not belong to George Washington; however, they belonged to George Washington Carver.

They included a pair of roller skates (made of peanuts), a shotgun (complete with peanut bullets) and a giant peanut (made of smaller peanuts.)

Angrily, Tom shipped the package back with a not saying.

Yes, these are elements... elements of surprise.

Peter liked the phrase and two years later when he was invited to perform at Lollapalooza '14 he called his musical set "The Element of Surprise."

The phrase stuck and is the 1,127 most used phrase in America today. It is just behind "step up the plate" and just ahead of "tuna makes me gassy."

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