Yes. There was a Crapper.
Thomas Crapper did not invent the flush toilet outright, but he did patent many things that improved its function, like the floating ballcock.
And yes, there was an Earl of Sandwich.
John Montagu, the 4th Earl of Sandwich, was a gambler and wanted something he could eat that wouldn't messy up his card play. His sandwich caught on, and in fact, his descendants are still making them.
On the other hand, Otto Titsling (or Titzling), the purported inventor of the brassiere, is a myth. The first patent for the modern bra was taken out by the 1920s publisher, libertine, and the overall roaring Mary Phelps Jacobs (a.k.a. Caresse Crosby). Calling a brassiere a “Caresse” would have been cool, don’t you think?
Furthermore, there was no Earl of Condom, despite tales of England’s King Charles II asking his associate to make him something to keep from getting the pox. The modern latex condom owes more to Charles Goodyear, who is far better known for his tires and inner tubes. But just imagine if we also called condoms “goodyears?”
Come ON—just imagine this as a condom commercial...
Actually, variants of the word “crap” were used centuries before Mr. Crapper and his floating ballcock. And Sandwich wasn't the first to put meat between two pieces of bread—and it was Sandwich’s cook, anyway.
Likewise, Arnold Palmer did not invent the Arnold Palmer, and Nellie Melba did not invent Melba toast (which I really like, except whenever I ask for it, I feel like my grandmother).
Debating names for inventions and creations makes for great conversation. It can become passionate, but usually it remains civil. Perhaps that’s because regardless of whose name it is, the right of people to claim their inventions or creations isn’t the issue.
Thus, while Italians and the Chinese may argue about pasta, they argue with archaeologists, not with navies.
And, if Beethoven writes a symphony, he can call it Beethoven’s 5th (or 3rd or 9th or whatever). No one is going to argue today, yesterday, or a hundred years from now.
But what about naming a mountain? A species? A subatomic particle?
What about naming a new world?
Currently, I am writing my next novel. I would like to finish this book to give to my readers. But, although I may have editing and scheduling deadlines, I’m not concerned with anyone writing this novel before me.
Yes, I have friends who are writing under deadline, but we are all writing different books.
I could not care less who publishes first. I only hope we all do well. :)
On the other hand, for explorers and researchers in the business of discovery—finding something that is already there—publishing is a completely different game.
Two research groups run the same experiment, to get the same results. It’s as if they are all rushing to write the same book—and only the first will get the notoriety, glory, future funding…and the right to name.
Competition between explorers and researchers can seem thrilling, and their goals are often about big and important things. I think of Scott and Amundsen rushing to the South Pole. Or Glenn Seaborg and his Lawrence-Livermore group racing their Cold War counterparts at Dubna to discover transuranium elements. Or the current crop of physicists trying to find evidence of dark matter.
But in their quests to discover, explorers can also arrive to name and claim, even go into someone else's homeland and dictate what sort of language the colonized should be speaking…what stories they should tell and what gods they must worship.
Discovery is so often followed by claims of ownership. Not just the conquerors, but the also botanists, the taxonomists…
I think of the Scotch Bonnet pepper, which has nothing to do with Scotland. The General Sherman tree, which has nothing to do with General Sherman. And mapmakers using the name “Mt. McKinley” instead of “Denali.”
Our discoveries have told and shown so much of our world. But perhaps they also delineate what we can and cannot call our own, as well as show can happen we push beyond those limits.
Columbus can discover America and calling the people who greet him Indians.
But who owns that mountain, this world, those people, and this universe?
What’s the difference between Columbus and Crapper?
Perhaps one misidentified an entire continent and everyone that lives there, while the other is the misidentified inventor of the flush toilet?
That’s what’s so paradoxical about discovery vs creation. I think that I shall never see a poem as lovely as a tree.
But I would rather see someone sign a poem than carve their name in a tree.
And that poem you wrote in middle school—the cringey one that your mother still insists on bringing out and reading over Thanksgiving dinner? Your ownership that poem is far more indelible and proper than the name of Mount Everest or even its Tibetan name, Chomolungma, “Mother Goddess of the World,” could ever be.
It’s yours. (But she is still your mother, so be nice.)
Brilliant, determined minds have discovered so much of what is meaningful or substantial about the world. But they can also harm that very world when they conflate discovery with ownership
On the other hand, whether it’s as grand as Beethoven’s Ninth, or as refreshing as an Arnold Palmer—inventions and compositions are created.
Caesar salad? Edison phonograph? Sloppy Joe? Shakespeare sonnet?
They are all creations. And claiming them is all good.
Our creations, whatever they are, are some of the few things we can claim as “ours” and usually not hurt anyone.
And sometimes, we can even give our creations to others to enjoy.
And so, as long as I’m not plagiarizing anyone, I can sip on my Arnold Palmer and my Melba toast. I can stream some Beethoven and concentrate on making my next book the best it can be.
And I can look forward to when my next novel is finally done, to when I can give it to my readers and say, “I love you. This is from me.”
Cover by me. :)
*By CrispyCream27 - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=80241349
**"Chief Seattle Quotes." BrainyQuote.com. BrainyMedia Inc, 2021. 11 December 2021. https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/chief_seattle_461851
***By Mary Phelps Jacob - http://patimg2.uspto.gov/.piw?Docid=01115674&homeurl=http%3A%2F%2Fpatft.uspto.gov%2Fnetacgi%2Fnph-Parser%3FSect1%3DPTO1%2526Sect2%3DHITOFF%2526d%3DPALL%2526p%3D1%2526u%3D%25252Fnetahtml%25252FPTO%25252Fsrchnum.htm%2526r%3D1%2526f%3DG%2526l%3D50%2526s1%3D1115674.PN.%2526OS%3DPN%2F1115674%2526RS%3DPN%2F1115674&PageNum=&Rtype=&SectionNum=&idkey=NONE&Input=View+first+page, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=47556815
****By Buck Blues - Flickr, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3463852