The Gate        Time Machine Is Our Foot
Jon Carroll
Friday, January 1, 1999
©2000 San Francisco Chronicle

THIS SPACE HAS noted before that particular subset of odd prose, originally from Japan but now an Asia-wide phenomenon, consisting of suggestive English words strung together to convey a message of . . . commercial cool? Image-building? Teen solidarity? Rebellion against authority? There are many explanations.

For years now, we have had on our refrigerator a small clothing tag sent to me by a reader. It says: ``Time Machine Is Our Foot! We Are Powerful Family! Talk! Sing! Try! GirlGirl''

One of my rules for living is an aphorism by writer Wendell Berry: ``Be like a fox that makes more tracks than necessary, some in the wrong direction.'' In pursuit of that goal, I have found that muttering ``time machine is our foot'' in a low, intense tone of voice while, say, speaking to an auto mechanic, suggests a salutary ``Don't mess with me'' attitude.

Anyway, Dan Kalikow, a beloved reader and the father of a beloved reader, has been collecting examples of these prose lumps on sundry foreign trips. He shared them with me; I share them with you (annotations his):

In Phuket, Thailand: ``I'm a Freak Touch.''

In Chiang Rai, Thailand: ``DESIGN USE a CONCEPT/FELINE FOR PLAY.''

In Antalya, Turkey (on a T-shirt): BOSTON CAPE CODE

In Kusadasi, Turkey (OK, this was on a restaurant menu, but we have tried in vain to order it ever since): ``SWEET PUMPKING EGGS WITH SQUEE.''

In Seoul, South Korea: ``Devote One's Life for Shoes. MissJ.''

And finally, the all-time Numero Uno gem from the Kalikow collection, printed here for the first time anywhere:


IN OTHER NEWS: After the annual Xmas Quiz and the Xmas Quiz Answers come the annual corrections and amplifications to the Xmas Quiz Answers.

First: During the time in which ``The Hobbit'' is set, Frodo was not born. Thus, Frodo and Bilbo could not have any relationship. Some readers gave me credit for devising a trick question. Alas, a mere mistake.

As to the exact relationship, reader Dublin YO (they pick their pseudonyms; I just use 'em) wrote: ``Frodo's mother, Primula Brandybuck-Baggins) was Bilbo's first cousin on his mother's side, and Frodo's father (Drogo Baggins) was Bilbo's second cousin on his father's side. Ergo, they are cousins, first on matriarchal side, second on the patriarchal side, once removed either way, or so the saying goes.'`

There was also an adoption event, but that came later. Don't go there.

Next, ``Ring Around the Rosie'' is not about the Black Plague or the Great Plague or any other damn plague. There is a pervasive myth that this is so, but all evidence points to the rhyme having been created far later than any famous bubonic epidemic.

Indeed, it's probably not about disease at all. For details, see and gape.

Next: Historians agree that Albert took the name of George when he became king not out of any respect for his grandmother Queen Victoria, but to emphasize continuity in the monarchy after that unfortunate business with the Simpson woman.

Also, the rose of Sharon is not really a rose at all but a hibiscus. Biblical botany is a tricky topic; I have been warned to tread lightly when I tread there at all.

And this just in: Kenny: still not a bird.

Other than that, darn fine quiz.

NOT ONLY THAT: On official state forms next-of-kin must fill out authorizing cremation, there is this warning: NOTICE: CREMATION IS IRREVERSIBLE AND FINAL. Like, duh.

Love, love ya darlin', come and go with

Love, love ya darlin', come and go with

©2000 San Francisco Chronicle   Page D20