ADS-L discussion drifted recently to the topic of Bobo as a name (personal or family), and I was reminded of two notable people with the family name Bobo: Lawrence D. Bobo and Roger Bobo. And Roger Bobo led me to a wonderful piece of light verse by John Updike.

Digressions: (1) the coinage bobo as a sociocultural category:

Bobos in Paradise: The New Upper Class and How They Got There is a book by David Brooks, first published in 2000. The word bobo, Brooks’s most famous coinage, is a portmanteau of the words bourgeois and bohemian. The term is used by Brooks to describe the 1990s descendants of the yuppies. Often of the corporate upper class, they claim highly tolerant views of others, purchase expensive and exotic items, and believe American society to be meritocratic. (link)

and (2) the Spanish slang term bobo ‘fool’; also a nickname in Spanish for someone with a speech defect (especially a stutter).

Then Bobo as a restaurant name, with various derivations: Bobo (or bobo) restaurant in NYC; Boboquivari’s steak restaurant in San Francisco (Bobo’s for short); Bobo’s breakfast restaurant in Tucson AZ; Miss Mary Bobo’s Boarding House & Restaurant in Lynchburg VA, Bobo Chinese restaurant in Murfreesboro TN.

On to Bobo as a personal name. A fair number of African-American men, but also some whites and Hispanics. Plus Bobo or BoBo as a nickname, sometimes even for a woman (Christiane “Bobo(lina)” Hebold, the German singer of Bobo in White Wooden Houses).

Then the family name. There’s a large Southern family named Bobo, traceable back to early 19-century settlers, but also a sizable number of African-American and Hispanic families of that name.

Which brings me to Lawrence D. Bobo, W. E. B. Du Bois Professor of the Social Sciences at Harvard (and before that, professor at Stanford), distinguished sociologist; Roger Bobo, tuba virtuoso and pedagogue, and subject of John Updike’s playful poem “Recital” (from Telephone Poles, 1963):

Note the remarkable word-splitting between lines: extreme enjambment.

(The poem has been set to music; you can watch performances on YouTube, here and here. You can also find tuba performances by Roger Bobo and videos of his teaching.)

While I had my copy of Telephone Poles out, I went on to copy another of my favorites:

“My tie is made of terylene; / Eternally I wear it” (with its repeated /t/s and with the /t r l n/ of terylene repeated with variation in the /t r n l/ of eternally) is fabulous all on its own. In fact I wrote a course paper on this poem for Roman Jakobson long long ago; Roman liked the paper and later encouraged me to publish it, but I never did.

6 Responses to “Bobos”

  1. Denis Paperno Says:

    My first association with Bobo is name of an African language spoken mainly in Burkina Faso.

  2. chrishansenhome Says:

    I have framed on my wall an unpublished Updike poem praising his poker club, of whom my late uncle was a member. He gets a mention (apparently he was very lucky), and the poem is inscribed to him from Updike.

    I’ll transcribe it someday if I get a round tuit.

  3. bee & jay Says:

    Re: your brief digression, we first heard the term “bobo” used well before Mr. Brooks is said to have “coined” it, probably in the early ’90’s in Paris. Of course, that city has been a bobo mecca for many decades.

    Bee & Jay

  4. Eleanor Houck Says:

    I have heard Converse, Chuck Taylor sneakers called bobos. Possibly from Bozo The Clown wearing them.

  5. The Twelve Terrors of Christmas « Arnold Zwicky's Blog Says:

    […] Terrors of Christmas, with drawings by Edward Gorey (most recent posting on Updike on this blog here; on Gorey, […]

  6. YouTube wrapup « Arnold Zwicky's Blog Says:

    […] avoidance”, here) back to the Roger Bobo song from last October’s “Bobos”, here. Each has a link to the associated posting. You can pick any posting or any video, or you can click […]

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