Ephemeral, Evanescent and Fugacious

I remember one dinner table conversation years ago when all of us kids were challenged to present and defend our favorite word.   My father’s favorite word was “magnolia,” which I thought was a sissy word for a family patriarch, and wondered why he did not choose something more high-minded like peace, justice or equity.  His defense was that magnolia was a beautiful word, and he repeated it with great drama with a deep rolling voice.  My brother Tim weighed in with the word “bump,” for no particular reason that I can remember, but his presentation was so convincing that the next family dog was named Bump.  My word of the moment was “twig,” like my father, chosen for the sound of the word.  There was something pleasing about the soft “tw” sound, followed by the hard “g” at the end.  Twig also symbolized the very satisfying concept of great growth from very modest beginnings.  I think that I lobbied very hard to name the dog Twig but Tim’s Bump got the nod.  Tim was the youngest child and had to live with the burden that my parents had run out of family names by the time he came along, and thus selected his name based on a random recommendation from my father’s tennis partner.  Therefore, I think that my mother wanted to throw Tim a bone and, as a kindred spirit, let him pick a dog’s name at random.

 As much as I still like the word twig, if we played the game today, I would change my vote to the beautiful word “ephemeral.”  Ephemeral is directly derived from the Greek word, ephemeros, literally meaning “lasting only one day,” – describing something that is perfect for the moment and then predictably vanishes.  The word is often used in science or biology – for example ephemeral ponds exist only briefly after a rainstorm or snow melt; the placenta is known as an ephemeral organ, useless and discarded (or potentially recycled) immediately after birth.  But part of the word’s beauty is that ephemeral can be adapted to any object or concept.  A sandcastle or sidewalk drawing is ephemeral art, emotions are notoriously ephemeral, and depending on how cosmic your perspective is, ephemeral can describe an entire life, or a childhood, or a day’s experience.   If you wanted to flex your SAT-honed vocab, you might choose the Latin derived words “evanescent” or even “fugacious” to express the same concept, but it is so much better to luxuriate in the sound of the word ephemeral.  Unfortunately these words are a bit pretentious for everyday use, so go with the more pedestrian “fleeting” for conversational purposes. 

I was pondering these thoughts as I strolled through the grocery store, and suddenly realized that I had stumbled on a new category of ephemeralness – the ephemeral advertisement, those ads that are only apparent for a moment and then disappear.  The grocery cart contained an ad at the top part of the basket where you would put a small child; it immediately vanished when I put my purse there.  There was another ad pasted along the bottom part of the cart – bam! that ad instantly vanished, covered up by my leafy green vegetables.  As I loaded my groceries on the check-out counter, I noticed that the divider separating my groceries from the next customer also had an ad on it – instantly obscured by the bag of potatoes.  At home, when I opened the refrigerator door, I noticed that the milk jug had an ad for Nestle’s chocolate chips plastered on its side, which was quickly obscured as I piled other things into the fridge.  These ads are different than the sly product placement ads in movies or TV shows; those ads actually show the product in use – my ephemeral ads only appear for a moment and thus cannot convey any specific message other than an iconic logo, or something to create product awareness, perhaps to soften me up for a more elaborate ad with a specific message. 

These ads are also a bit different than the ads that are embedded in the ice at a hockey game, or plastered along the boards, or the sponsorship of specific segments of an athletic event, such as the “Toyota Half Time Show” or “Tostito’s” Fiesta bowl.  While these also lack a specific message other than product awareness, they are not ephemeral – whether I notice it or not, I am staring at the Toyota logo for the entire half time show here are the findings.  Even though my friend Maria works so hard in the marketing department of Allstate, I cannot say that messageless ads have ever had any impact on my purchases, but Allstate probably has astonishing research that proves otherwise.  Today, Nick had bought chocolate chips out of the blue, suggesting that the milk jug ad had done its job.

Now that I have my concept down pat, I spot ephemeral ads everywhere.  As I stood in line at airport security, I noticed ads in the bottom of the plastic bins, instantly obscured by my jacket and shoes.  I also realized that the ads could be ephemeral based on my movement.  As I walked out of the grocery store I passed through some sort of waist-high detectors that had been covered with a cardboard sleeve advertising something.  This was a complete failure, since only a small child would be eye to eye with the message.   If we assume that any smooth surface can be adorned with an ad, then perhaps I could have an alternate career selling ad space to dry cleaners, who have vast unadorned counter space that is briefly visible before you plop down your clothes.  I have very ample (but cluttered) counter space in our home that would be perfect for ephemeral ads.  Ads could include such desperate pleas as, “don’t leave your dishes in the sink” or “please fold your laundry.”  As a matter of fact my mother did this once, writing all over the washing machine with a magic marker announcing that she had officially quit as the family’s laundress.

I also don’t see why bankrupt state governments don’t take advantage of the millions of highway miles and start selling ephemeral ad space.  Clearly motorists are already distracted by unsightly billboards, so what would be so wrong about embedding ads in the pavement to keep their eyes on the road?  My fast food vendor of choice is Arby’s, so why not slap that logo right on the exit ramp to guide me on my way?  The true meaning of ephemeral – perfect for the moment and then gone. 

This fall I went to Traverse City to visit my friend Sallie in her new home, just completed after a year of meticulous planning.  As I walked in I was enraptured by the thousands of carefully weighed decisions that came together into the perfectly conceived and executed home that exuded Salliness.  But then I had to go to the bathroom.  In the brief moment between when I flipped up the toiled seat and parked my ass on the porcelain throne I noticed an ad on the underside of the toilet seat extolling the virtues of some super flush bowl.  Sallie said, “I don’t know what to do about that, I can’t figure out how to get it off.”  I envisioned the creative marketing minds at the toilet company who realized that they were in control of another smooth surface that could multi-task as advertising space.  Perhaps they sent their crack research team into the pooh-barn to time the ad exposure time to come up with an “ephemeral factor” that would justify the charge for the ad.  Of course the exposure time can be measured in milliseconds for women, but should be longer for men, who presumably have nothing better to do than stare at the toilet lid.  I sent my husband in and told him to count chimpanzees while he peed, and he came up with about 30, which in the world of ephemeral ads is like a lifetime – in fact might not even qualify for this status.

The missing words in the following poem are all anagrams (like post, spot, stop) and the number of dashes indicates the number of letters.  One angram will rhyme with either the previous or following line.  Your job is to solve the missing words based on the context of the poem.  Scroll down for answers.

The quest for advertising space will probably never be satisfied

If there is but one smooth surface that remains ——-.

Ephemeral ads ——- on my grocery store jaunt  

With carts and the check-out dividers telling me what I should want

That add on the underside of the toilet lid was the most unexpected spot, 

Glimpsed only briefly before – —— around to squat.







untried, intrude, I turned

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