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Oct 13, 2005
This week's theme
Eponyms (words coined after people's names)

This week's words
Heath Robinson

Heath Robinson
Detail from a WWI Cartoon by Heath Robinson

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Heath Robinson

Pronunciation RealAudio

Heath Robinson (heeth ROB-in-suhn) adjective

Absurdly complex and fancifully impractical.

The term was coined after W. Heath Robinson (1872-1944), a British artist known for drawing ingeniously complicated devices.

It's not only mechanical devices that can be Heath Robinsonish. A few years back I came across a book titled How to Wash Your Face. I'm not kidding -- this 256-page tome was authored by a doctor and lists for $14. They say reality is stranger than fiction. The fiction that comes to mind here is a Heath Robinson contraption, or one devised by his US counterpart, Rube Goldberg.

Who knows, those illustrations might make you laugh, resulting in the coffee in your mug getting spilled on the tail of the pet cat on your lap, making the startled kitty jump and hit the ceiling, thus activating the fire-sprinkler and causing it to trigger the fire alarm, making you look up in curiosity, so that your face is splashed with the sprinkler water, thus saving you the $14 cost of the aforementioned book. Who said those devices were useless?

"The ancient church of St John the Baptist in Clayton, East Sussex, has a bat problem. Several devices of a Heath Robinson nature are suggested - boards to deflect the trajectory of urine and droppings, flashing lights, ultra-sound, unpleasant smells, stuffed owls, rustling aluminium foil and helium-filled balloons."
Bat Raves; The Economist (London, UK); Jan 23, 1999.


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