I’ll second that emotion!

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Corn capital in the U.S. Capitol. (Architect of the Capitol)

The collection of parents who wait for their kids’ school bus every morning and afternoon at our corner on Hope Street testifies to the greatness of the Vartan Gregorian Elementary School in Fox Point. This afternoon the line “I’ll second that emotion” was heard, and a reference to its origin followed as day follows the night. Technically, “second that emotion” is a pun on “second that motion.” I drop it into every conversation I have. By now more people are familiar with Smokey Robinson and the Miracles’ “second that emotion” than the “second that motion” of Robert’s Rules of Order – how many folks nowadays attend committee meetings, after all!

So what does that have to do with architecture? Well, glad you asked that. A pun is sort of like a visual twist on a conventional detail of ornament. Benjamin Henry Latrobe’s corn capital atop columns inside the U.S. Capitol – with corn replacing the Corinthian capital’s acanthus leaves – is one of the most famous architectural puns. The first person to substitute “motion” with “emotion” – Smokey Robinson, I suppose, or his lyricist – was using a supple sensibility to add ornamental humor to the language, just like a great architect occasionally does in designing a building.

About David Brussat

For a living, I edit the writing of some of the nation's leading architects, urbanists and design theorists. This blog was begun in 2009 as a feature of the Providence Journal, where I was on the editorial board and wrote a weekly column of architecture criticism for three decades. Architecture Here and There fights the style wars for classical architecture and against modern architecture, no holds barred. My freelance writing and editing on that topic and others addresses issues of design and culture locally and globally. I am a fellow of the Royal Society of the Arts, and a member of the board of the New England chapter of the Institute of Classical Architecture & Art, which bestowed an Arthur Ross Award on me in 2002. I work from Providence, R.I., where I live with my wife Victoria, my son Billy and our cat Gato. If you would like to invest your prose with even more style and clarity, please email me at my consultancy, dbrussat@gmail.com, or call 401.351.0457. Testimonial: "Your work is so wonderful - you now enter my mind and write what I would have written." - Nikos Salingaros, mathematician at the University of Texas, architectural theorist and author of many books.
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5 Responses to I’ll second that emotion!

  1. Raymond Finelli says:

    It was great to have your comments in person today at the Netopian Club meeting. I hear emotion in all your writings.

    Raymond Finelli

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    • Thanks, Ray. Boy, that was fast! I had a great time. Warren has quite a collection. I expect to post on the South Water/Transit sketch soon, maybe today. I could have gone on about that one, too, but it slipped by me.

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  2. Steven Semes says:

    Sometimes you can make a pun by reversing the key words in a stock phrase, a form that Dorothy Parker mastered in the 1920s. As when she described the writers quitting a literary magazine after a series of disputes with the editor as being “like ships jumping off a sinking rat.”

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    • Ha ha! A good one. But sometimes, Steve, I wonder whether it is a stretch to refer to a physical shift in architectural ornament – such as corn for acanthus leaves – as a pun. If anyone has any thoughts on the validity of considering something not having to do with words a pun, feel free to comment!

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  3. Stephen Wallace says:

    Good comment David.-Steve Wallace

    Like

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