Guilty as Charged
As a kid, my tribe was the nerds and weirdos. Truth be told, it still is. Fortunately for me, the Granite State tends to attract such people. One of our features this month makes that case and awakened a few memories.
Both my parents were worldly and curious people. My dad came from rustic, French-speaking Cajun stock and my mom from a well-off northern Louisiana family. They met in college and shared a love of knowledge and words that they passed on to all of their four kids.
A rich and expansive vocabulary is certainly a gift to any child, but it comes with a downside. When you’re in grade school, there are a few acceptable ways to stand out from the crowd. Using words that other kids don’t understand is not one of them. During lunch table talks, I’d sometimes notice the other kids giggling until someone would say, “You use big words, Broussard.”
Knowing “big words” turned out to be an advantage in one popular arena of childhood: comic books. During the 1960s, when comics were in what fans call their “Silver Age,” topics of science and sociology were increasingly figuring into the world-saving antics of our costumed characters. More than once, a friend would ask me to define something shouted out by scientist Reed Richards (Mr. Fantastic from Marvel’s “Fantastic Four”) during a battle scene, like, “Hey, Broussard. What’s ‘critical mass’ mean?”
I’d often have to take these questions back to my folks for clarity, but only after I had confidently offered a bad but sufficient-for-the-occasion answer.
So comic books were my entry into the society of schoolyard peers, and they also offered an important life lesson. Characters like the X-Men and Spider-Man had abilities that caused problems for them in the world. The same powers they used for good were the cause of their outsider status. I realized my penchant for “big words” (like “penchant”) would always stand between me and complete acceptance from the other kids, but they might also be my super power. I would never have used the term to describe myself but I was a nerd, just like the crew we rounded up for this month’s feature story “Nerd Power.”
I was a word nerd.
I met a fellow word nerd back when I was editor of a weekly newspaper for the town of Bow. A gentleman named Richard Lederer lived in town and taught at the prestigious St. Paul’s School in Concord. He wrote dozens of books and coined the term “verbivore” for people like himself (and me) for whom vocabulary was a staff of life.
A similar passion for some subject of interest was exhibited in just about all of the most fascinating people I befriended in my beat as an aspiring journalist. Also living in Bow at that time was Eugene Mallove, an MIT professor and science writer who spent his last years promoting the defamed science of low-energy nuclear reactions (popularly dubbed “cold fusion”) as a potential cure for the world’s energy woes. He published Infinite Energy Magazine and established the New Energy Foundation before he was senselessly murdered while cleaning up a rental home he owned in Connecticut.
Finally, a confession.
Back in June, it was announced that the Segway, the iconic invention of our state’s premier nerd Dean Kamen, would no longer be made. It was a personal blow because I was a Segway believer. When Kamen revealed his two-wheeled, self-balancing people mover amid great hoopla back at the turn of the century, the rest of the world scratched their heads. I could clearly see a future of domed cities where people rolled to their destinations as swiftly as ball bearings on a track. I clung to the notion that Kamen’s invention would change the world right up until its floccinaucinihilipilification.