Thursday, May 22, 2008

His Tinkertoy Musings

If you're wondering exactly what the title of this post means, it doesn't mean anything in particular. The phrase just came to mind earlier this evening as I was heading home from work.

If it means anything, though, then it happens to be a descriptive reference. I figure that it can be used to refer to an inventive mind, or perhaps a series of thoughts that sound both creative and rickety at the same time. A lot depends on how you interpret the word "Tinkertoy."

I suppose that most people will take it as a made-up compound word nowadays. Putting the words "tinker" and "toy" together implies the creation of something for one's own amusement, perhaps for others as well. This is probably the reason why the phrase "tinkertoy musings" would have the impact that it does.

The irony is that "Tinkertoy" is the name of a real-world brand. Its products involve a set of varied components that you can use to build various structures, much like Lego did for kids in the 80s and 90s. The basic difference is that, instead of using bricks and other custom-crafted parts, Tinkertoys use circular spools and sticks of varying lengths. The result is a scaffolding-like product that can represent buildings, windmills, and basic machines.

Tinkertoys were popular before the advent of Lego -- I inherited one from my dad, who apparently had received a set when he was a kid. Half the pieces were missing, but it was complete enough for me and my brother to build the aforementioned windmills and basic machinery. So technically, if my chronal calculations are correct, I was playing with something that dated back to the 1960s. The fact that our components were wooden (whereas modern Tinkertoy sets are plastic) further supports my assumption here.

So when the phrase "his Tinkertoy musings" suddenly popped into my mind, there was a second set of questions in there: Would contemporary readers be able to understand the reference? Was it logical to present an outdated notion as part of modern descriptive style? And above all -- would anyone get the reference?

So far people seem to accept the phrase, which only partially assuages my concerns. The usual interpretation involves "inventiveness" or "reckless creativity" of some sort... but very little knowledge of the toy that inspired the phrase in the first place. I find this pretty ironic somehow; it means that further readers -- now or in the future -- will probably be able to understand and appreciate the description, even with no knowledge of the original reference. Imagine a future where people can read our modern l33tspeak or txtspeak, and you'll see why my thoughts are so confused at the moment. We might as well add "LOL" to the dictionary right now.

Now, the notion won't stop me from using similar references in my writing. It will, however, make me stop and think whenever I use something that's likely to age with the work. I have to admit that Tinkertoy probably lends itself well to contextual clues... but it could be more an exception than the norm.

Whatever the case, "his Tinkertoy musings" does roll off the tongue well, at least in my book. I don't know how I'll use it just yet, but I'll probably find a place for it somewhere.


Dominique said...

Can't wait for the book ;-) I promise to buy two copies.

Sean said...

Dominique: Now if only I had a book...

Dominique said...

But you said: " my book..." Just kidding. "His Tinkertoy Musings" sounds like a good title for an anthology, though.

Sean said...

Dominique: Agh, that's going to start me worrying all over again... :)