Essay: Lost Causes

Jul 24, 2020

My first husband called himself a “box salesman” and started his own company, selling corrugated packaging.  Some of my savings helped launch this enterprise and I very much wanted it to do well.  Thus, as a supportive partner, I learned to call the product “corrugated,” not “cardboard.”


“Cardboard is for shoe boxes,” he often said and I understood the difference.  Corrugated packaging is much stronger and probably transports most of the things we use every day.   But while the business turned out to be very successful, the marriage did not—and we were divorced some years later.

Strangely enough, however, I never stopped trying to educate people to say “corrugated, not cardboard.”  Without very good results, I might add.

I knew a college professor who used to hand out a sheet to his composition students on the first day of class.  On one side, he listed what he called “barbarisms,” which were usages he considered unacceptable.  On the other side, he listed “lost causes” which were barbarisms that he’d given up trying to change.

I haven’t given up on corrugated yet—and I wonder if we all wander around with our personal lost causes, things we want to change and can’t quite give up on.  Not yet.