A hopper, of course, hops, just as a shopper shops and a chopper chops and a whopper… um, whops, I guess. And a bopper bops and a lopper lops and a popper pops and a topper tops and copper… oh. Whoops.

But then what does a whopper of a copper hopper do?

A hopper could, of course, be part of a rabbit response team. But in truth hoppers are not often seen to hop. A person who is a hopper is one who cutshops, as in the conical catkins that flavour beer, which have no relation (that we know of) to the action of hopping (aside from what you do while waiting for the washroom after a pint or two of IPA). And when they drop their plucked hops into a hopper that feeds into the machinery, that hopper probably doesn’t hop either.

There are quite a few people named Hopper too, generally of a Dutch or English heritage, sometimes Quakers. Some of them are famous.

There’s Dennis Hopper, who rode the roads with Peter Fonda in Easy Rider, a movie that seems such a paean to the free spirit that many people forget how it ends (I won’t spoil it altogether, but it is abrupt and not optimistic). He thereafter played a journalist in Apocalypse Now and a freestyle sadistic sociopath in Blue Velvet, plus various other characters, often villainous. And he was a photographer of note as well.

There’s Hedda Hopper, no relation, 1885 to 1966, first an actress, then a gossip columnist. She was, if I may blow right through my daily quota of understatement, not universally loved or universally lovable. Aw, hell, she was a hopper-full of hateful. For one thing, she was a driving force behind the Hollywood blacklist. But let’s focus on her name, which she was not born with. She landed on the planet as Elda Furry. She got her last name when she married DeWolf Hopper, an actor 27 years her senior. She was his fifth wife; his others had been Ella, Ida, Edna, and Nella, and he kept calling her the wrong name, so she switched to Hedda.

There’s DeWolf Hopper, born William D’Wolf Hopper, a six-foot-five stage presence who made the poem “Casey at the Bat” famous and otherwise had a perfectly fine career as an actor plus a hopper-full of wives, of which the sixth and last, by the way, was named Lillian.

And there’s Edward Hopper, who painted a hopper-full of paintings, though not hopeful ones. His most famous, Nighthawks, epitomizes his best-known art in showing the anomie of mid-century America. His canvases present cool, angular, empty spaces where, if there is more than one person present, they still do not talk to each other. That’s not to say he thought it a bad thing: as his wife once said (according to Sherry Maker’s biography of him), “Sometimes talking to Eddie is just like dropping a stone in a well, except that it doesn’t thump when it hits bottom.”

Like nearly all people, the above – and other well-known Hoppers – almost certainly hopped literally on occasion, and more figuratively from one event or engagement or oeuvre to another. They were also metaphorically hoppers of experience, as we all are, collecting at the top and draining through the funnel in the bottom.

But it does seem a bit strained, doesn’t it, to try to force the connection on them? I mean, a name is a name. Probably none of them ever picked hops, though some distant ancestor likely did. It’s just like hoppers, the collectors and drainers of particulate solids. They are typically fixed in place and unlikely to hop about. But the first ones, used in grinding-mills (for flour or cornmeal), did hop: they had a shaking motion, as reported by Chaucer (among others). Sort of as we do with salt and pepper shakers. Only these are not shakers, nor (unlike, for instance, DeWolf Hopper) are they Quakers; they are hoppers, even if they’ve stopped hopping.

One response to “hopper

  1. Indeed, Chaucer’s Reeve’s Miller’s “hopur wagges til and fra,” but not particularly because it was an early one. Millers’ hoppers still do wag, vibrate, or otherwise move about, to prevent their contents’ making a bridge over the opening and cutting off the flow down the chute. My surname being Miller, I have an atavistic interest in mills.

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