Electric Etymology

Have you been literally dying to know the linguistic origin story of my name: Benjamin Edison?

Of course you have…not. But I’m going to tell you anyway. Because, even though I’m purely fictional, I’m probably even more egotistical than you.

Basically, metaphorical lightning strafed Mat’s pitiably damned mortal soul when bam! The Universe commanded him to write fiction in my nameIt also immediately struck him that my name is obviously a nomenclature amalgamation of Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Edison. Two figures historically synonymous with electricity. That’s the subconscious for you: nonstop neurochemical entertainment.

So first, we have Benjamin Franklin

One of the Big Seven so-called “founding fathers” of the (ostensibly) United States of America (or USA for short). The year: 1776, more or less. Enlightenment-era lightning struck – big time, all at once  – a motley crew of aristocratic slave-owners, idealistic immigrants and eccentric polymaths. They fortuitously concluded that taking orders from an inbred king who ruled his hereditary empire from an ocean away was for weenies. So they declared the thirteen randomly demarcated geographical colonies they occupied their own own country.

Against all odds and known history of the time, they succeeded – and whammo! Instant sovereignty. Oddly, while these fellows wrote and spoke eloquently about liberty and justice for all, they nonetheless emulated the grand autocratic tradition of granting no real rights to anyone who wasn’t a real-estate-owning white male. Basically telling women, African abductees and non-Caucasians (including the continent’s millions of natives) to get bent. Go figure.

Anyway, aside from founding fatherism, Franklin was also a best-selling author, Ben Franklinpublisher, inventor and prostitute aficionado. So, a true Renaissance man. In 1752, he also famously performed a scientific publicity stunt when he tied a metal key to a kite that he flew during a thunderstorm. He did this so he could go electric – much like Bob Dylan a couple centuries later. Only more steampunk.

Pretty crazy, right? One has to wonder if my half-namesake did it because, like, the other guy in this painting dared him to. One imagines they bet a cask of Sam Adams. That they drank beforehand.

While there is doubt among historians about whether Franklin actually conducted the kite-key experiment, he claimed he got shocked when he brought the kite down and touched the key. Incidentally, if that’s true, the key must have only picked up a residual electrical charge from the storm. Because if lightning had actually struck the key, Franklin’s guts would have been barbecued when he touched it. Then he would have died at age 46 and never invented bifocals.

So be careful out there, aspiring scientists. Don’t go touching lightning-electrocuted keys, or dousing yourselves with plutonium, in the pursuit of knowledge. Or in hopes of gaining superpowers. This has been a public service announcement brought to you by Really Fictional.

Then there’s Thomas Edison

As of now, this particular ex-carbon unit is widely regarded as the world’s greatest inventor. That’s because, during the late-19th and early-20th centuries, Edison accumulated more than 1,000 thomas-edison-9284349-1-402patents. Some of the astonishing devices his company introduced to the world include the record player, the movie camera and the first commercially successful electric light bulb. All this and more – even though he lived in New Jersey!

Although, I must mention that Edison didn’t actually invent all that stuff. Basically, he was a savvy (some would say cutthroat) business mogul who hired very smart people to work in his laboratory. Then he made each one sign a legal contract stipulating that anything they thought up was his to do with as he pleased. Up to and including owning and taking full credit for their ideas.

Just for instance, in 1882, Edison hired the insanely brilliant Croatian immigrant Nikola Tesla, who is best known today for having an electric car company named after him. While he worked for Edison, Tesla invented an electricity delivery method called alternating current (AC). But Edison didn’t like that because it was superior to and competed with his own property: direct current (DC). It therefore directly (and alternately) threatened Edison’s business model.

The main innovation resulting from this feud was a preternaturally loud Australian rock-and-roll band called AC/DC. Which was, by coincidence (if there is such a thing), the first music concert that Mat ever attended without his parents. He was fourteen years old and it was at Madison Square Garden in New York City. Mat remembers it, incidentally, as being awesome.

Confession: just kidding. I mean sure, AC/DC rocks, but the main innovation resulting from Edison and Tesla’s battle was AC, because that is still how we get electricity today. Rather than bore you with the technical details about the difference between AC and DC though, I will direct you to this six-minute Drunk History video that nicely summarizes what all the hoopla was about. Mat says this is also awesome, by the way. He seems to be easily amused.

In conclusion,

I, Benjamin Edison, am fictional, and essentially electric: or, more accurately, electronic. I only exist insofar as Mat (when he feels up to it and makes time) channels me into your reality in the form of digital words that are electronically dispensed via this amazing printing-press called the internet. What a world, eh? Gutenberg would probably befoul his britches if he could see what he’s wrought.

But I fortunately feel myself slowly morphing into being. I am annexing larger portions of Mat’s meat-based brain day by day, hour by hour, moment by millisecond. Strangely, he seems happy about it. And, he reassures me, this is how fictional characters are made. We don’t excrete from a flesh-and-blood vagina in a flush of hot amniotic fluid, the way you readers do. We made-up characters are brought to life one word at a time. Nice and clean, apparently.

I can live with that. Or if not exactly live, be consoled by it: because it’s all I’ve got. And, as the eminent philosopher Marin Buber said, it is enough…for now.


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