Week 3 | Prizes | Contents
Atrophy is a decrease in size of an organ caused by disease or disuse. A trophy is a prize or memento, such as a cup or plaque, received as a symbol of victory.
In life there are winners and losers – the difference between the two can be slight. In our winners we find new rules and in our losers will find eternal comedy & tragedy.
There are many tongue-in-cheek awards out there; The Darwin awards, The Golden Raspberry Awards, A.K.A ‘The Razzies’, The Bidone d’Oro, The Ig Nobel Prize etc. They vary in 'prestige' but generally, you don’t want one- they mock-celebrate failure.
However, failure is one thing and coming last is another. Last place has awards and rewards of its own; those worthy of prime mantelpiece real estate.
‘The Wooden Spoon’ originates from the Cambridge University Mathematical Tripos – a prize given to the student who ranked lowest in their final exams. The custom dates back at least to the early 19th century, possibly even earlier, and continued until 1909. Subsequently results were listed in alphabetical order; a great shame as 'the wooden spoon' was an award of fantastic last place ceremony. Tolerated by the vice-chancellor, the ‘spoon’ (literally a wooden spoon) was suspended by two pieces of string held by two students in the gallery above the graduation ceremony – as the recipient graduand came forward to accept their degree the spoon was lowered and from up high bestowed upon them. In later years the spoon measured up to 1.5m long.
The last wooden spoon was awarded to Cuthbert Lempriere Holthouse, an oarsman of the Lady Margaret Boat Club of St. John's College, the handle shaped like an oar was inscribed with the epigram:
In Honours Mathematical
This is the very last of all
The Wooden Spoons which you see here
O you who see it, shed a tear.
It was an honour for those who came last - The Wooden Spoon is a celebration of making it, nonetheless.
The idea is demonstrated more clearly in ‘The Lanterne Rouge’- the competitor in last place in a cycling race such as the Tour de France. The term derives from the French "Red Lantern" which rather poetically refers to the light hung from the last carriage of a train, which conductors would look for in the night to ensure none of the couplings had become disconnected.
Far from a disgrace, ‘The Lanterne Rouge’ is a distinction – to finish last rather than drop out along the way. It is to bring up the rear and to lead in some kind of spirit from the back.
This week we will mostly be talking about prizes.