As I was walking down the street, I encountered Marcus Brattle, my adolescent mentee. “Brilliant!” he exclaimed (that’s British for “Great!”). He pulled out a camera. “You came along at just the right time.”
I looked at him warily. “You have plans?” His plans typically translated into disasters or messes, often involving humiliation, sometimes mine.
“I’m the plan king!” He said. “In fact, I’m planking!”
Oh. The faddishness of youth. “Planking?” I said, disingenuously. “Is that short for public wanking?”
“Get over it,” he said. He pointed to one of Toronto’s newly installed racks of Bixi bikes, nearby on the sidewalk. “I’m going to extend myself like a plank across two of those bikes there, and you’re going to photograph it so I can post it.”
“Haven’t people gotten board of that fad yet?”
“It’s planks for the memories,” Marcus said. “People have planked on some remarkable things and in some remarkable places.”
“And fallen to some remarkable deaths,” I said. “It’s all just plankton for the whale of media fads.”
“It’s the exploratory spirit.”
“Sort of like a negative of spelunking,” I observed. “Going up and over instead of down and under. We get a spree of planking followed by spill and plunking. One might come to imagine that plunk is the past tense of plank.”
“Where does that leave plonk, then?”
“Plonk is cheap wine,” I said. “Possibly a play on vin blanc, though people do hear in it the sound of a cork being pulled or a bottle being, well, plonked on a table.”
“Onomatopoeia followed by I’m-a-gotta-pee-a,” Marcus said. It occurred to me that he had learned much from me, but probably not the right things. “And you can plink the glasses.”
“I don’t think anyone actually uses plink that way – for that it’s clink, but tiddly-winks and musical instruments do plink.”
“And where’s plenk?”
“There is no plenk. It’s plink, plank, plonk, plunk.”
“All based on sounds,” Marcus said. “After all, when you drop a plank on the floor, that’s the sound it makes: plank!”
It does, I thought. However… “Actually, the word comes to us by way of various French versions – modern French has planche – originally from Latin, probably related to plana, flat.”
“Well,” Marcus declared, “I’m the planna here, and I plan to be flat. On… those two bikes right there.” He indicated two bikes with about five feet of space between them. “You stand over there and take the photo when I’m ready.” He pointed to the other side of the sidewalk.
I took the camera and walked to where there was a good angle. Marcus grabbed one bike with both hands and swung one leg up onto the other. Then the other leg. “Alright,” Marcus grunted, “have you got it?”
“You’re sagging,” I said.
Just then a woman walked up and asked, “What’s he doing?”
I turned to her. “Planking.”
“No, planking. Like salmon.”
“Sounds fishy to me. Anyway, I want to use one of those bikes.”
Just then I heard another grunt and turned to see Marcus collapsing onto the ground.
“Was that a plunk?” I said. The woman walked over to one of the bikes to take it away.
Marcus started dusting himself off and standing up. “Ow. Did you get a picture while I was holding it rigid?”
“Uh…” I looked at the camera. “Is blank close enough for you?”