Wednesday, July 14, 2010


Today, I was reminded of a moment in my undergraduate education at Penn State Shenango Campus. It was in the introductory American Literature class. We were about to begin studying the transcendentalists. Dr. Leon, with a bit of a smile on his face, acknowledged that transcendentalism was a difficult concept to understand.

"But," he said, "perhaps we can understand it better if we break it down into its component parts." He wrote the word on the blackboard and proceeded to underline its component parts:

"We all know 'trans,'" he said. "It indicates something that goes across. And we know 'ism'--a belief in something. And, of course, we know that 'dental' refers to the teeth."

"So," he summarized, turning to the class, "We can hypothesize that 'transcendentalism' refers to a belief in something that goes across the teeth. What remains is this little part--'cen.' There's the mystery!"

I've remembered that bit of academic humor--it could have come from Twain--for more than 40 years. I wish I could thank Dr. Leon for giving me a gift that has lasted that long.