101 Doozies I've Met
by Paul Niquette
The Internet Version 
With revisions incorporated since April 2005
Copyright ©1996 Paul Niquette All rights reserved.
ISBN 1-58922-206-7
Table of Contents

 
The last time I saw the man was in 1955 at a small graduation party thrown in my honor by staff members of UCLA's Institute of Transportation and Traffic Engineering (ITTE).  He shook my hand and gave me a grim smile. I could not tell whether he had forgiven me yet.  The late Derwyn M. Severy was my idol, if for no other reason than that he piloted the F6F Hellcat during WWII.  In the fifties, he was a commander in the U.S. Navy Reserve.  A solemn man of modest stature ("maximum height for Naval aviators," he told me) and exceptionally fit. Professor Severy was a heart-throb for mid-20th Century ladies -- this, despite his Brylcreemed toupé, made conspicuous by a celluloid mat glued to his forehead. 

By 1955, Professor Severy, 32, already enjoyed worldwide fame for his pioneering work in motor vehicle safety research.  He held the distinguished post of Project Engineer for ITTE's historic first automobile crash tests.  For two years at ITTE, my assignments included setting up the instrumentation on crash-cars and anthropomorphic dummies, operating the high-speed motion picture cameras, writing computer programs for data reduction, and drafting figures for technical papers -- always working behind the scenes.  Well, almost always...

A year before that party, I was invited by California Engineer, an undergraduate monthly, to write an article about the research.  I dutifully requested permission from Professor Severy.  He shrugged and gave me a dismissive wave-of-the-hand.  A week later, my article entitled Engineered Automobile Crashes came out.  I rushed to deliver copies to all staff members at ITTE, grinning with teenage pride. 

Professor Severy gripped the magazine in both hands and grimaced.  He lifted his eyes to meet mine.  "This is a 'slick'!" he exclaimed. 

The term was not familiar to me, but I nodded anyway, still grinning. 

"You never told me that California Engineer is a goddam slick magazine!" 

University professors don't read student publications, apparently. 

Severy slumped into a chair and lowered his voice.  "Congratulations, Paul, you have scooped the world."

At the graduation party a year later, fellow staffers stood around reminiscing about my penchant for jocularity.  They guffawed when my two most famous pranks came up.  To my surprise, Professor Severy, who was the victim in both cases, joined in the laughter. When the room got quiet, he announced that he was planning to write a book entitled Some Doozies I've Met.  He raised his glass and said, "Paul Niquette will be featured in Chapter 1."

It was the first time I had ever heard  the word doozy.  At first, I took it to be slang for a comical character.  No worse than eccentric, certainly.  Over the years, I have come to realize that doozy enjoys a wide range of meanings.  An especially close baseball game, for example, might be called a doozy -- or a particular inning or even a series of games.  Then too, I have heard a hurricane described as a real doozy, and there is nothing comical about a hurricane.  By the way, doozy is most often preceeded by the word 'real', even though there seems to be no such thing as an unreal doozy

Dictionaries are not much help. Some give "complicated" and "difficult" as synonyms for doozy, others depict doozy as "something wonderful" or "of great value."  The most prevalent common attribute, I came to realize, may be memorability. Nevertheless, for a number of years I happily anticipated my appearance in the first chapter of Severy's book, having glommed on to the meaning of doozy as a high compliment from references like this one...

The word comes from Duesenberg, an eminently desirable motor car of the 1920ís and 30ís. The Duesenberg featured a chromed radiator shell, gold-plated emblem, hinged louvered hood, stainless-steel running boards, beveled crystal lenses on the instrument panel, Wilton wool carpet, and twin bugle horns. Magazine ads for the luxury car carried the slogan: "Itís a Duesie.Ē Footnote
-- The Secret Lives of Words, by Paul West

Nota bene, recent etymologies do not support the Duesenberg model.  Several references argue for an early American origin, as dozy from the flower daisy, which is English slang from the 18th century for something that was particularly appealing or excellent. I sure like that idea. The word moved into North American English in the early 19th century and, for example, turned up in the following passage published in 1836:
 

I raised a four year old colt once, half blood, a perfect picture of a horse, and a genuine clipper, could gallop like the wind; a real daisy, a perfect doll, had an eye like a weasel, and nostrils like Commodore Rodgersís speakiní trumpet
-- The Clockmaker, by Thomas Chandler Haliburton

Thus the fond folk etymology from the nickname for a 20th-Century American luxury car may be false, inasmuch as doozy apparently predates the automobile.  Nevertheless, "doozy" from "daisy" works just fine for me as a complimentary attribute and will be adopted for this memoir, with memorability as the selection criterion.

In the introduction to 101 Words I Don't Use, I wrote, "You can tell quite a lot about yourself from the words you don't use."  An ironic assertion like that would be downright silly in other realms: courses not taken, jobs not done, places not lived, persons not met.  A title of the form "101 Doozies I've never Met" would make no sense at all.  Indeed, courses, jobs, places, persons -- these are what might be called 'influences', which, along with our genes, shape who we are.  Unlike genes, however, influences accumulate over a lifetime and depend upon human memory.  Left unrefreshed, memories fade away. That puts quite a premium on memorability. 

The Internet version of 101 Doozies I've Met applies memorability as a filter for collecting anecdotes about persons met over a lifetime by merely one person, me.  These are persons I've met and in many cases more than met -- like, persons I've known.  For example, my own father was a real doozy as described in a couple of entries.{*1*}{*2*}  My son{*3*} is a doozy and so is my daughter.{*4*}   Acquaintances show up in anecdotes with various amounts of dooziness.  Durations range from a brief encounter{*5*} to a long-term friendship.{*6*}

Meeting a famous person can be memorable and thus filled with dooziality.{*7*} Admiring the life-work of an historic figure assures doozihood for that person.{*8*}  One narrative features a group of doozies{*9*} devoted to a common cause, another is a collection of stories{*10*} featuring memorable strangers.  A composite doozy will be found in more than one story.{*11*} A favorite instructor{*12*} plays the role of a real doozy, as did a business mentor.{*13*}  In work settings, a boss{*14*} might be a doozy, so too, a subordinate.{*15*}  Likewise either an interviewer{*16*} or an interviewee.{*17*}  A doozy can be talkative{*18*} or taciturn,{*19*} nonchalant{*20*} or strict,{*21*} young{*22*} or old,{*23*} humorous{*24*} or solemn,{*25*} bureaucrat{*26*} or technocrat{*27*}, snobbish{*28*} or know-it-all{*29*}.  One doozy I've met was an amateur parapsychologist{*30*}, another keeps trying to get a gig as a stand-up comedian.{*31*}{*32*}  I have allowed my dog{*33*} to appear as a doozy in one narrative, and myself{*34*} in another.  Why not?  At my age, I am often influenced as if by a real doozy, with words I forgot I wrote as recently as the day before.{*35*}

To me, Derwyn M. Severy was himself a real doozy.  Fifty years after that graduation party, I googled up listings for two dozen publications that he authored, all of them on transportation  safety (the earliest in 1954, the same year as my unfortunate "scoop").  None pertain to doozies.  Apparently he never got around to writing Some Doozies I've Met.  I have always liked that title, but my efforts to obtain permission for its use began in 1999, ten years too late.  So I have taken the liberty of appropriating it with only a slight modification.  My hope is that Derwyn Severy, wherever he is, will enjoy reading my stories.  And that you will, too.
 

101 Doozies
Table of Contents
Home


Pronunciation: "duesy" vs "doozy"
A skeptic might object on the basis that the proper pronunciation of "duesy" would not be "doozy" but instead resemble the nickname of that Cuban bandleader who was married to Lucille Ball.  In an effort to reinforce the luxury-car formulation, I have assumed something like The Great Vowel Shift to move the sound from eh to oo, the latter being an utterance that seems to be more fun to make.

Americans evidently do enjoy saying doo-words: doobee, doober, doobism, doobop, doodad, doodle, doodlebug, doodler, doodah, doodoo,  doofus, doogie, doogle, doohickey, dooky, doolally, doolish, doomsday, doorag, dooshbag, doowop, doozer, and, oh right, doozy.