Yo-Yo and the Heart

Things are rarely simple. Even those simplest will be found complex in (at least) three ways. They have origins, precursors, stories of generation, a history; they can be broken down into parts, or certain aspects can be put in focus or privileged; if different cultures have it, it will vary in form and function – you can count on that.

So the yo-yo. I’ll tell you in a moment what prompted me to look this up, but right off the bat, the Wikipedia article on the yo-yo will complicate this simplest of toys. Certainly ancient, we don’t know how old it is exactly, but it dates at least back to 500 BC. One theory for the origin of its name is a language in northern Philippines, but this is disputed. Actually, even its names are multiple: yo-yo, bandalore, quiz, emigrette, joujou…

The other thing that struck me on the Wiki entry on yo-yos is that the toy has engendered its own jargon. There are tricks called ‘sleeper’ and ‘walk the dog.’ There is such a thing as off-string play (“in which the yo-yo is not attached to the string at all.” How does that work?), looping and freehand. And owing to the recent technical innovations, the engineering that goes into making various types of yo-yos is simply staggering.

There is a website dedicated to the history of the yo-yo: Lucky’s History of the Yo-Yo, by one Lucky Meisenheimer, M.D. There we read that “[d]ue largely to the efforts of Dale Oliver, the first modern  world yo-yo championships were held in 1992 and his leadership also resulted in the formation of the American Yo-Yo Association in 1993.” (We truly are the pinnacle of human civilization!)

yo-yo or bandalore in 1791

On the same website, we also find out that “[d]uring the late 18th century the yo-yo became very popular in France amongst the nobility.” And Lucky continues that “[b]eing a very fashionable toy of the French nobility during the time of the guillotine, when the heads of the nobility started being loped off [an image not unlike the yo-yo, I must interject here], many of the nobles wisely emigrated along with their yo-yos.”

This connection with the French Revolution brings me to the impetus of my inquiry into the yo-yo. I am reading Johann Wolfgang Goethe’s Erotic Poems, which is a bunch of filthy (if deliciously so) love poems. The Venetian Epigram No. 37 goes like this:

“What an agreeable toy! A disc on a string, I unwind it, 
Casting it out of my hand, and it rewinds in a trice.
That’s how I seem to be casting my heart at this and that beauty:
But it is never long gone, bounces straight back, as you see.”

The yo-yo: a simple toy and metaphor for a fickle heart.

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