A New Name for an Old Pastime

While strolling through fabulous Lincoln Square yesterday with my wife and daughter, we passed by one of the new gift shops springing up like mushrooms around here. (Sure signs that you can’t afford a new neighborhood: gift shops, baby clothes shops and real estate offices.) It was a beautiful day, and the streets were filled with young people and middle-aged pregnant women. (That seems to be another sign that the place is “hot”.) We passed by one shop that seems to specialize in crap that you’d buy for someone you don’t know anything about but who would expect a gift at some holiday or party. The store has a whole lot of crap for colleges, like ceramic chip and dip bowl sets with the Illinois or Notre Dame logo, and the Monopoly sets customized to display kooky landmarks on campus. “Oh-oh, you landed on McGreevy’s Grog Shop! You gonna buy it, or DRINK!?!?!?”

The store had put out a sandwich board to entice passersby to waste their money buying affection from people they don’t know. And yesterday in big letters, we got to see in bright letters the words: “Play CORNHOLE with Sox/Cubs/Bears.”

Now, I know what they mean by “cornhole”, that stupid beanbag toss that people play when they’re tailgating. But I’m also of a generation that thought that “cornhole” was something prison inmates did to each other to while away the lonely evenings. It made me sad to think that this fun-loving, homegrown euphemism for sodomy had been stripped of all its nastiness by a bunch of drunken sports fans. Now, when “gangbang” ceased meaning orgy and started meaning drive-by shootings, I wasn’t happy but I could accept it. Language evolves, and slang especially so, and after all, how can you argue with 20-year-olds who’ve already been in prison? Let ’em call it what they want. But “cornhole”? That’s the best name beanbag afficianados can come up with for their game?

And there in the window was a custom made Cornhole set. A plywood box with a hole cut in it, painted with the Chicago Bears logo. Price, $65. Talk about a cornholing.

Tossy-targetty games are all the rage, I guess. On our camping trip this month, we saw more than a couple families hanging around the RVs, sitting next to what appeared to be bull testicles hanging from a step ladder. This is of course the Bolo Game, and it doesn’t really use bull testicles (although if the set was made in China, it could contain anyone’s). You’re supposed to sling the faux testicles at the ladder and keep score over which rung your testicles hang from. And over the course of two weeks, I didn’t see a single person playing it.

A friend in St. Louis told me of a regional variant to Cornhole a few months ago. Down there, people toss heavy metal washers at a board, trying to land them in certain holes for points. Sounds exciting, right? “X-Treem Gamez” exciting, right? I asked Jim what they called the game. Surely, in a city as rich with history and ethnic influence as St. Louis, they’d come up with a name with flair and mystery.

Jim said, “It’s called ‘washers’.”

A few weeks later, my wife found the picture below in a mail-order catalog specializing in inflatable palm trees and funny napkins for your backyard parties. It proves that indeed the game of Washers doesn’t need a fancy name to be marketed. It also shows that marketers think Americans will buy anything, including a competition-level traveling kit made of two boxes, two frosting cans, and eight metal washers.

So maybe Cornhole isn’t such a bad name after all.

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