Now, the average American male lives for 76 years; the average female, around 80, and then slowly we tiptoe out of life and memory until one day nobody knows our name. Unless, says our science correspondent Robert Krulwich, unless we do something so unusual that we become a noun.

ROBERT KRULWICH: All kinds of people become nouns. There's Mr. Zamboni, Mr. Kalashnikov, Mr. Watt. There was a Mr. Silhouette. There's also Mr. Guillotine.

Once upon a time, these were all real people with troubles and families and dreams. But now they live on, not exactly as people, more as nouns - common nouns. Now, it's hard to say if this is a step up or a step down, 'cause when you're a noun you're kind of immortal, but you're also sort of biographically missing.

What I do know is my colleague here at NPR, Adam Cole, loves the idea of being a noun, so much so he's written a song about it.


ADAM COLE: (Singing) I always dreamed my name would go down in history. But that sweet path to fame still remains a mystery. Like inventors, kings and sages, I don't want to be forgot. And so I'll search these pages for people who were not.

(Singing) Well, from August down to Zeppelin, the world is full of eponyms. People die but names live on. Lamborghini made a car. Mason made a Mason jar. And Henry Shrapnel was the bomb. There's Volta, Watt and Newton, energetically disputing whose contribution most deserves top prize. For each scientific unit there's a genius attached to it. And when they get together they harmonize.

CHORUS: (Singing) When I'm six feet underground, when I up and die, I hope my name becomes a noun. I hope I'm objectified.

COLE: (Singing) Leotard has reached new heights. He has to wear his clothing tight or he'll get tangled up in his trapeze. General Burnside isn't skilled. He often gets his soldiers killed but his sideburns can't be beat. The Earl of Sandwich ups the ante with a snack that's nothing fancy; he'll never have to leave his poker game. Silhouette's a penny pincher. He won't pay for painted pictures so the cheapest kind of portraits bears his name.

CHORUS: (Singing) When I'm six feet underground, when I up and die, I hope my name becomes a noun. I hope I'm objectified.

KRULWICH: (Singing) Wait a second. Wait just a second.

CHORUS: (Singing) Robert Krulwich.

KRULWICH: (Singing) Yeah, it's me. Has it ever occurred to you that becoming a noun, it's just - it can be a little embarrassing?

COLE: (Singing) What do you mean?

KRULWICH: (Singing) Well, let's say your name is Cardigan and you're a man of many parts. But once you become a noun, then all you are is a sweater with buttons, forever.

CHORUS: (Singing) Oh.

KRULWICH: (Singing) Or you're a guy named Guillotine and your wife likes you. Your kids like you. But once you become a noun...


KRULWICH: (Singing) ...nobody likes you.

(Singing) Are you familiar with a man named Dunce?

COLE: (Singing) My name is Jon Duns and I was well-respected once for my brilliant meditations on theology. But my rivals took offense and they said Dunce means someone dense, and those perverse reverse on entomology.

KRULWICH: (Singing) Now you know what I'm talking about.

CHORUS: (Singing) Now when I'm six feet underground, when I've up and died, I hope my name is not a noun and I'm never objectified. You know that, that would hurt my pride. I hope I'm never, ever objectified.

INSKEEP: There it is, the kind of report we like to think of as a Krulwich. Now, you can hear this ballad online and you can also see all these nouns: Mr. Leotard, Mr. Zeppelin, Mr. Mason, Mr. Shrapnel, all of them dancing to Adam's tune. It's a chorus line you'll find nowhere else, except on our Web site, - Adam Cole and the animating and the singing.

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.


And I'm David Greene.

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