January 28, 2009

"Either [Joaquin] Phoenix is perpetrating an elaborate Andy Kaufman-style hoax...or he's truly lost his marbles."

Either he's lost his marbles, or someone has spilled the marbles.

So, what's happening with Joachin (who looks ridiculous these days in a big beard and recently performed 3 rap songs in a Vegas nightclub and fell off the stage)?

And also, how did we ever get started using "marbles" to symbolize mental things: sanity and secrets. Everyone has his own personal marbles — "his marbles" — which we only mention when we think they may have been lost. It's always "lost," too. You don't spill your personal marbles. Even if someone has a sudden, public mental breakdown, we don't say: "Oh, no, he's spilling his marbles."

So there are those personal marbles — his marbles, your marbles — and then there are "the marbles." These are shared marbles, even though we never say "our marbles" — Don't spill our marbles — or "their marbles." They're just the marbles. These our secrets, and I suppose we like the image of secrets as something round and spillable that we carry around. And we never just lose these marbles. It's always spill — perhaps because a spill is there to be seen, making a mess. Whereas the lost marbles of sanity are nowhere to be seen. "He's lost his marbles." "Oh, really? Have you looked around for them?" They are really nowhere at all. They've ceased to exist.

Now, it must be said, that the #1 slang definition for "marbles" is "testicles." So, I've got to think that that the idea of losing your marbles or spilling your marbles traces back to testicles. "Spilling the marbles" — don't expose what should be kept covered. And your sanity? I know the etymology of the word "hysterical" is:
1615, from L. hystericus "of the womb," from Gk. hysterikos "of the womb, suffering in the womb," from hystera "womb" (see uterus). Originally defined as a neurotic condition peculiar to women and thought to be caused by a dysfunction of the uterus. Hysterics is 1727; hysteria, abstract noun, formed 1801.
So there is this notion that your sanity depends on your sexual parts. Don't lose your marbles!

Anyway, sorry to confront you with testicles so early in the morning. And I hope Joachin is okay... and that he would shave.

IN THE COMMENTS Graham Powell said:
I find it hard to believe that the #1 euphemism for "marbles" is "testicles"as I have heard people refer to nuts, balls, stones, cojones, huevos, etc. etc., but NEVER marbles.

My response:
I said "the #1 slang definition for 'marbles' is 'testicles,'" not "the #1 slang definition for 'testicles' is 'marbles.'" It doesn't work both ways!
Graham continues:
Interesting side note: The "testicles" tag brings up a truly shocking number of posts.
Apparently Graham is new around here. And easily shocked! Did you notice that I made a penis joke in the new Bloggingheads?

59 comments:

AllenS said...

You lose your marbles, you spill your beans. IIRC.

Ann Althouse said...

So have I lost my marbles? You're saying there is no phrase "spill the marbles"?

Bissage said...

Good for Mr. Phoenix.

You can't make an omelette without breaking wind.

traditionalguy said...

Too early in AM to get my marbles collected to respond intelligently, so I'll just say, keep your marbles safe and warm. There's nothing worse than frozen marbles rolling around everywhere.

Ron said...

Then is it crazy that meat has 'marbleing'?

Ron said...

Althouse, given Joaquin a break...are you not merciful?

Tibore said...

"So there is this notion that your sanity depends on your sexual parts. Don't lose your marbles!"

Well, to be specific, sanity depends on the concept of not being separated from your sexual parts. Which is why Lorena Bobbitt story is such an insanity-inducing scenario for men (*shudder*).

Golden West said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Fred4Pres said...

I hope this is a hoax. I like Joaquin Phoenix and if he pulls it off it is a great joke and commentary on celebrities and media, like Tropic Thunder without doing the actual film. Because it would be sad if it were not.

fcai said...

No beards, no shorts. The queen has spoken, all must obey.

Golden West said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
rhhardin said...

My impression was marbles was from boys playing marbles, back in the day before games of skill were outlawed.

That's where they learned to knuckle down.

To lose your marbles meant to have misplaced them, as a sign of mental confusion.

Without marbles you are nobody.

AllenS said...

"You're saying there is no phrase "spill the marbles"?"

Yes, seems to be. Use the Google.

Bob said...

Joaquin is going through his fat, bearded phase, just like Jim Morrison. He'll probably die in Paris in a bathtub and be buried in Pére Lachaise cemetery.

Hazy Dave said...

If he shaves his marbles, I don't want to know about it.

Original George said...

I'll guess the expression derives from a sense of losing one's way, one's mental brilliance, reason being an amazing thing that's perfect--like a shiny sphere--that holds mysteries within its cranial hardness.

Marble comes from the Greek 'marmaros,' which means shining stone. Perhaps marble is also related to the word 'marvel' from the Latin 'mira,' miraculous.

Tibore said...

Oh, man... that boy is all white!

This has to be a put-on. Nobody could be that bad unintentionally.

bearing said...

Beans. I have never heard "don't spill the marbles."

If that phrase had been in common usage, Milton Bradley could have just included stock marbles, rather than design an entirely new bit of molded plastic to spill, in this game.

Ann Althouse said...

Thanks for the video, Tibore. It's really hard to hear him though. Is he supposed to be good even after everyone is hooting at him?

Lem said...

I understand that in the old days whenever one gave testimony one held the testis a la Michael Jackson.

I don’t know if this is true but that's what I remember you honor .. I'm holding ...

Never mind ;)

traditionalguy said...

The phrase "lost your marbles" seems to say that you are losing parts of your intellect and the missing parts may be hard to find and put back into place again. All actors try to become the character they play, which means they intentionally lose some of their own marbles to do a part using the character's marbles. The trick is to get your own back into those places later. Joaquin seems to still have a Johnny Cash marble rolling around in his Soul somewhere. I hope our minds are not in our sexual organs, although it is said that sex is 90% in the mind. And young first-love does make one's mind do strange things, and the memories last forever.

bearing said...

Somewhat off topic. How the heck are English speakers supposed to pronounce the name family of Joaquin/Joachim/Joachin/etc?

I wouldn't mind giving a son one of those names, frankly, good Catholic saint name and all (and there's still time) but I'm afraid that teachers and doctor's office nurses and people like that will squint down at the page and call "HHHHHWAHKHEEEEM!"

"Joe-a-kim?" "Joe-a-quinn?" Help me out here.

Glen said...

I'd love to hear his rhymes. Maybe he can recite them for the next inaugural (you know, as a more relevant replacement for the usual poem).

Graham Powell said...

I find it hard to believe that the #1 euphemism for "marbles" is "testicles", as I have heard people refer to nuts, balls, stones, cojones, huevos, etc. etc., but NEVER marbles.

And yes, Lem, the very word "testimony" has the same root as testicle; Romans apparently swore on their marbles.

Tibore said...

"Ann Althouse said...
Thanks for the video, Tibore. It's really hard to hear him though. Is he supposed to be good even after everyone is hooting at him?"


You're welcome. And no, of course he's not supposed to magically get good after all the cheering (*ahem*) starts. Which is why I'm convinced it's a joke; he's obviously parodying not just rap performances, but ungenuine rap performances. In other words, it looks to me like he's making fun of rap poseurs, not legitimate rap artists.

Think of a cross between the '80's Vanilla Ice with a '90's grunge artist. Then add an element of insencerity (oh, wait... I already included that with my first element...). Then take that mash up and make fun of it. That's what I think Phoenix is doing there. Granted, I may be reading too much into it, but that's what I think he's getting at. It's sort of a combination joke on the audience (the hypothesis stated in the article you linked) as well as commentary on the insencerity of modern popular music. Assuming I've analyzed things correctly, that is. It's also possible that he's just doing an extreme bad performance, and the whole point is nothing more than an elaborate Andy Kaufman type prank. But I'm hanging my hat on the "critique" thesis, since I like the guy and I'd like to think of him as having a point behind this performance other than messing with the audience.

AllenS said...

Ann Althouse said...
"So have I lost my marbles?"

Maybe you just misplaced them.

EDH said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
k*thy said...

No, it's 'spill the beans', which is a different meaning that 'lose your marbles'. To spill the beans is to tell a secret. To lose your marbles is to let things get away from you - like marbles falling out of a leather pouch (my dad had one).

As for Joaquin, he comes from a family of free spirits - he's just doing what comes naturally. And as for Andy Kaufman, I think he actually did lose his marbles - if he had any to lose...

EDH said...

One day, when I have a gray beard and two or three marbles rollin' around upstairs, that's when they'll let me out.

He's talking about his testicles?

john said...

It's an obvious hoax. You can tell by his disguise.

JAL said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Lem said...

Romans apparently swore on their marbles.

You got to be nuts to buy Italian marble. With all the tricks we have to make something appear to be something else..

Joaquin.. the Spanish pronunciation to witch I've become accustomed is Jo as in Ho, a as in apple and quin as in berger king.

JAL said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Graham Powell said...

Interesting side note: The "testicles" tag brings up a truly shocking number of posts.

Lem said...

Joaquin is really a ho ;)

JAL said...

Marbles, marbles, where are the marbles?

In the movie Hook the right hand pirate, Smee, is played by Bob Hoskins. He also is a character in London at Granny Wendy's house (caretaker)?

A bag of marbles figures in the story with the Lost Boys, and -- my recollection is foggy and it isn't on Youtube -- Hoskins / Smee loses them in London at the climactic return of Peter?

It is part of the story that the character has lost marbles.

Nothing sexual. Just a fun sotry. But yes, if you were a kid and lost your marbles, where would you be? Like losing your iPod, these days.

Although I can't imagine "He lost his iPod" as signifying anything but typical teenager. At which point parent says "Get a job."

See where marbles can take one?

reader_iam said...

Online Etymology Dictionary

chickenlittle said...

I agree with AllenS, rhhardin and k*thy.
No such such thaing as spill your marbles.

I too remember the school yard game, carrying my pouch of marbles, and playing for "keeps."
The boys with real balls would whip out a "steelie", another name for a steel ball bearing about the size of a marble. Because of their weight and heft, a steelie could cause everyone to lose their marbles.

Lem said...

There is also "playing for all the marbles"..

Is it possible that at one time a dowry consisted of marbles?

john said...

Lem said - to witch I've become accustomed lol Lem, since your are adept at this, how do these pronunciations differ:

"McHine"
"MacHine"

Darcy said...

I do think he must be having fun with this. I just hope he's OK.

John Burgess said...

If there's a transition going on from "lose one's marbles" to "spill one's marbles" (I've never encountered the latter 'til this post), then it's because the passive voice is deprecated today.

Chris said...

On the oath business, cf. Genesis 24:2-4, where I think "thigh" might be a euphemism--the oath was related to the promise regarding Abraham's seed.

I also think it's "spill the beans."

Ann Althouse said...

bearing said... "How the heck are English speakers supposed to pronounce the name family of Joaquin/Joachim/Joachin/etc?"

"Wah-keen." Dustin Hoffman said it in "Midnight Cowboy": "I'm Joaquin here."

AllenS said...

I made a mistake on my first post, as other commenters have pointed out. You spill the beans.

Tibore said...

"Ann Althouse said...
bearing said... "How the heck are English speakers supposed to pronounce the name family of Joaquin/Joachim/Joachin/etc?"

"Wah-keen." Dustin Hoffman said it in "Midnight Cowboy": "I'm Joaquin here."


(*Groan*)

Ann Althouse said...

I agree. Keep your beans in your pants.

Howard said...

The box containing my new file cabinet proudly lists in Spanish it's most wonderful features:

"Con Dos Cajones"

This caused such hysterical laughter, my wife could no longer hold her water.

Ophir said...

How did people do things before the internet?
------------------------
From here:
4. Q&A: Losing one's marbles
Q. Can you tell me the origin of the expression, "He has lost his marbles", meaning gone mad or lost his reason or done something really stupid? Being a Londoner myself, I suspected it might be a Cockney expression but I recently heard it in Peter Pan where the uncle (who is not quite 'compos mentis') is said to have found his lost marbles. Is this the origin? [Mike Pataky]

A. There's no mention of marbles in J M Barrie's original 1904 play, Peter Pan. Might you have been confused by Hook, the film that was made from it in 1991? That includes the exchange:

Peter: Ha ha ha! He really did lose his marbles, didn't he?
Tub: Yeah, he lost them good!

which clangs discordantly on my British ear, since "lost them good" is a classic Americanism, not natively known this side of the big water, and therefore an expression that the Scottish Barrie could not have used. "To lose one's marbles" is equally American and the same comment applies.

It is, as it happens, pretty much contemporary with the play. The earliest example given in the standard references is from It's Up to You; A Story of Domestic Bliss, by George V Hobart, dated
1902: "I see-sawed back and forth between Clara J. and the smoke-
holder like a man who is shy some of his marbles."

That certainly sounds like the modern meaning of "marbles" which as you say refers to one's sanity. But in an earlier appearance, the writer used it to mean angry, not insane ("mad", that is, in the common US sense rather than the British one). It was printed in the Lima News of Ohio in July 1898: "He picked up the Right Honorable Mr Hughes on a technicality, and although that gentleman is reverential inappearance as Father Abraham and as patient as Job, he had, to use an expression of the street, lost his 'marbles' most beautifully and stomped on the irascible Harmon, very much à la Bull in the china shop."

The origin must surely come from the boys' game of marbles, which was very common at the time. To play was always to run the risk of losing all one's marbles and the result might easily be anger, frustration, and despair. That would account for the 1898 example and it's hardly a step from there to the wider meaning of "mad" - to do something senseless or stupid.
-------------------------
So there you have it. George Vere Hobart may be long forgotten (he doesn't even have a Wikipedia page!), but, like William Shakespeare before him, he has left his mark on the English language.

Graham Powell said...

"Apparently Graham is new around here."

Actually I've been reading for years, but the roads are frozen here in Fort Worth so I have nothing better to do than sit in front of the computer.

And I'm still surprised at all the testicle posts!

traditionalguy said...

Graham... It's simple: we are all only genetic mutants with the best adapted DNA, according to Darwin's creation myth. Where is your DNA stash kept safe? You got it, in your Testicles. AKA "the family jewels". You have now passed your test to enter the Althouse Seminar. Nuts,I have to go now and help witness a Testator's will so his Seed will inherit his land.

submandave said...

I'm on Graham's side in the great marbles/testicle debate. After having associated with sailors for over twenty years I have heard an assortment of colorful terms for the 'nads, but never have I heard "marbles" used in this context until today.

Skyler said...

Marbles do not refer to testes. Losing one's marbles has a different etymology.

Dumb people are said to have rocks in their heads. If you lose all your wits, then you are said to have lost your marbles.

Kansas City said...

Am I the only one who could not hear the penis joke. What did Ann say?

Ann Althouse said...

"What did Ann say?"

I said: "Hopefully."

Kansas City said...

The great thing about a woman making a penis joke is that it doesn't have to be very funny, or even easy to get, and it is still enjoyable.

Kansas City said...

Ann:

Since you are into photography and post a variety of photos of yourself (including the current very cute one -- and impressively, sometimes ones that are not so flattering), I'll give you and everyone a tip on taking flattering photographs.

The photographer should hold the camera above the head of the subject and take the picture with the camera looking down at the subject. As the photographer, I often extend my hand and the camera as high as I can. A camera with a light beam helps, but it can be done pretty easily with the LCD screen cameras even without the light beam.

I started doing it by accident, having to hold the camera up at a crowded wedding and getting a terrific shot of my wife and her sister. It makes the eyes look bigger, the nose smaller and the chin disappear.

After I started doing it, I read that Princess Diana learned the same trick early in her public career, although since she did not control the position of the photographer, she would put her head down and look up at the camera. You can find countless photos of Diana in that pose. Also, the photographer who told her the trick said that in person, Diana actually had small eyes and a big nose - the effect of each she largely eliminated from photos through her head down and look up pose.

Outis said...

Now, it must be said, that the #1 slang definition for "marbles" is "testicles."

This is hardly a surprise. When a boy reaches the age of twelve (or so) everything becomes a euphimism for some naughty bit or another. Even names. (Johnson, John Thomas, Peter, etc.) I imagine that the number one slang definition for most words is either testicles, penis, vagina or other assorted (naughty) whatnot.

Nichevo said...

Blogger AllenS said...

Ann Althouse said...
"So have I lost my marbles?"

Maybe you just misplaced them.



Dint she divorce um?