The other day I was driving along, listening to a classic rock station on the radio. The Joker, by Steve Miller was playing. I was about to click it off (I’ve never been particularly fond of the song), but before I could do so, this familiar line caught my ear:
"Some people call me the space cowboy…Yeah! Some call me the gangster of love…Some people call me Maurice…Cause I speak of the Pompatus of love."
Pomatus? I hadn’t thought about that word in years. I am old enough to remember when The Joker first hit the airwaves. It was 1973. In fact, I was old enough then to really care about music. Steve Miller wasn’t a musician from my parent’s generation. Glenn Miller was! Steve Miller was on the bandstand of my ge-ge-neration!
Pomatus? Well, frankly, when I first heard the song, I didn’t know what the word meant. And being fifteen, I guess I was a bit too self-conscious about my vocabulary to ask someone. So I let it go. Quickly, I grew tired of the song and stopped caring that I didn’t know.
Fast forward to 2006. It struck me listening to The Joker again that I still didn’t know the meaning of a pompatus of love. How ridiculous was that? I went home that night and did a search on the internet. Turns out the word doesn’t exist in any legitimate dictionary. Steve Miller made it up, based loosely on an R&B song from the 1950s. It’s kind of an interesting story. There’s a good write-up about it here.
More interesting to me, though, is that I could wait 33 years before I cared enough to look this up. Thirty-three years! You’d think I’d be pissed off after all that time, that I’d been duped into believing a word was real when it wasn’t, a word made up by an artist I never really cared for. But I’m not. The sum total of my reaction was: “Huh, interesting, well, I wonder what the weather is supposed to be tomorrow…better head over to weather.com.”
Here’s the best part. In another 33 years I’ll be old and senile. I’ll probably forget that I ever looked up the meaning of pompatus. So I’ll do another search. And buried in those search results will be a link to this story – that I wrote! Won’t I be surprised.