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David Bouchier: A Few Well Chosen Words

Are we having fon yet?

It's the first day of July, and the big holiday weekend is coming up. We will be expected and indeed required to set aside our regular activities, and have fun. The question is: how shall we do this?

It's a good question, but hard to answer because nobody is exactly sure how or where "fun" is to be had. It seems to be a relatively modern concept. The characters in the novels of Jane Austen or Dickens, let alone Dostoevsky or Tolstoy, never had "fun," or worried about not having it. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, "fun" derives from an ancient dialect word "fon," meaning a trick, a cheat or a hoax. That is to say, "fon" was something you did to other people, or that other people did to you, like a practical joke. This is interesting because it suggests that fun may not be quite as straightforward or even quite as innocent as it seems.

A gigantic international fun industry has grown up: resorts, gambling casinos, movies, video games, vacation adventures, and so on, so we can be sure that fun will be available when the designated moment arrives, and experts will be on hand to tell us what fun is, how to have it, and which credit cards will be accepted. A great many things are sold as "fun" – from fast food to fast cars - and even those so-called amusement parks where you may be whirled around by giant machines, unnerved by fake ghosts, harassed by teenagers dressed as mice, and generally made thoroughly uncomfortable. Such places are humorously described as "fun for the whole family" although there really is no such thing as fun for the whole family unless the adults are unusually childish or, or the children unusually mature.

Kids don't need any of this stuff, not even the video games. If the whole apparatus of industrialized fun vanished overnight, kids would continue to have plenty of fun with bicycles and rubber balls, chalk, and tasteless jokes, just as they always have.

But there has been a kind of fun inflation, like grade inflation in the schools. A bike ride or a fishing trip to the local pond is no longer exciting enough to provide fun for the whole family. Serious fun requires the right location and the proper clothing and equipment. This time of year you see families setting out on vacation with a mountain of fun stuff, towing pleasure boats only slightly smaller than the USS Constitution. Generally speaking, the more the equipment costs, the more fun is promised and expected from it. And since nobody knows exactly what fun is, or how it feels, the search for it is very much like the search for happiness, namely long, expensive, and probably doomed to disappointment.

The truth is that it's even possible to have fun in your own home while wearing your regular clothes – or not. Anything creative is fun, learning is fun, conversation is fun. I've had a lot of fun in my life, but almost never on the correct date, in the right place, or with the proper equipment. Fun, like happiness, tends to fall out of a clear sky without elaborate preparations, and it should be free. When fun comes with a price tag attached let the buyer beware. It may be yet another example of that sly old trick called "fon."

Copyright: David Bouchier