Josiah S. Carberry

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Josiah Stinkney Carberry is a fictional professor, created as a joke in 1929. He is said to still teach at Brown University, and to be known for his work in "psychoceramics", the supposed study of "cracked pots".

History[edit]

The joke originated when John William Spaeth, Jr. posted a false notice for a Carberry lecture on a bulletin board at Brown in 1929. The lecture, on "Archaic Greek Architectural Revetments in Connection with Ionian Philology" was, of course, never given, and when asked, Spaeth obligingly provided false details about the professor's (fictional) family and (non-existent) academic interests. Professor Carberry is quoted in a serious way as a cunning rival in the preface of Professor Joel Feinberg's four famous books on the Moral Limits of the Criminal Law. The joke has been embraced since that time, at least at Brown, and Carberry has traditionally been scheduled to lecture every Friday the 13th and February 29 (he of course "misses" all of them), and a general mythology has grown around him and his family. Jars, many of them cracked pots, are placed in many of the administrative buildings as well as the libraries and students can donate change to Professor Carberry on these days. Students have taken great delight in inserting references to him in otherwise serious journals, as any such reference which fails to point out his non-existence seriously undercuts the reputation of those works. The prominent legal philosopher Joel Feinberg, whose teaching career began with a two-year stint at Brown, carried on a long and apparently furious feud with Carberry in the acknowledgement sections of his many books. Carberry was also known at Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut from about 1930, when Spaeth moved from Brown University to join the Wesleyan faculty. Carberry's career there closely paralleled the Brown experience, which continued in Providence, raising the suspicion that Carberry had mastered the art of bilocation.

Traditions[edit]

Each Friday the 13th and leap day is "Josiah Carberry Day" at Brown. The year of Brown's founding, 1764, was a leap year starting on Sunday. Only these years and common years beginning on Thursday have three occurrences of Friday the 13th, in January, April and July.

Often lectures are scheduled where Carberry fails to show up, and cracked pots are put outside the libraries for donations to the Josiah S. Carberry Fund, which Carberry set up "in memory of my future late wife, Laura," for the purchase of books "of which I might or might not approve." The bookplate bears a calendar with Friday, February 13th and Sunday, February 29th printed in red. This (presumably very special) month only occurs in a leap year starting on Thursday, such as 1976, 2004, and 2032 (but not 1764). Below this is the Latin motto "Dulce et Decorum Est Desipere in Loco", which translates as "It is pleasant and proper to be foolish once in a while."

Bookplate for Brown University Library books purchased by the Josiah S. Carberry Fund.

Those "in" on the joke, however, also enjoy the use of his name: a snack bar at Brown (Josiah's or Jo's for short) where they serve sandwiches known as "carberrys" and the library's card catalog (Josiah) are named for him. Professor Carberry also writes letters to The Brown Daily Herald, Brown's student newspaper, that are published in the April Fool's Day issue.[1] A Brown-affiliated student housing cooperative (Carberry House) also shared his name from 1970 until its closure in 1998. Professor Carberry also appeared in an American Express commercial in the 1970s.[2] Additionally, the documentation for logging into password-protected areas of the Brown University website often uses "jcarberr" as the example username.

On October 3, 1991, at the First Annual Ig Nobel Prize Ceremony, Carberry was awarded an Ig Nobel Prize for Interdisciplinary Research,[3] making him one of only three fictional people to have won the award. He was commended as a "bold explorer and eclectic seeker of knowledge, for his pioneering work in the field of psychoceramics, the study of cracked pots."

According to Martha Mitchell's Encyclopedia Brunoniana, "On Friday, May 13, 1955, an anonymous gift of $101.01 was received by the University from Professor Carberry to establish the Josiah S. Carberry Fund in memory of his 'future late wife.' A condition of the gift was that, henceforth, every Friday the 13th would be designated 'Carberry Day,' and on that day friends of the University would deposit their loose change in brown jugs to augment the fund, which is used to purchase 'such books as Professor Carberry might or might not approve of.' ... Professor Carberry has been the subject of articles in a number of periodicals, including The New York Times, which proclaimed him 'The World's Greatest Traveler' on the front page of its Sunday travel section in 1974, and in Yankee magazine, where he was 'The Absent-Bodied Professor' in 1975."[4] Students have followed this tradition ever since, and the fund currently has over $10,000 in it.[5]

Family and friends[edit]

Carberry's fictional family originally included his wife Laura, and two daughters, Lois and Patricia. Later, a full-grown son, Zedediah Josiah Carberry, was added, and it was explained that Josiah and Laura were so busy raising the girls that they didn't notice the boy.

Prof. Carberry's assistant is a man referred to as Truman Grayson, who has the unfortunate habit, wherever he and Carberry travel, of being bitten by something that begins with the letter "A".[6]

Publication record[edit]

  • Carberry, Josiah. "The only thing worse than yet one more bad trilogy". In Di Filippo, Paul. Plumage from Pegasus. Wildside Press. pp. 75–82. ISBN 978-0-8095-5610-6 ; his position and institutional affiliation are given as "Professor of English, Brown University at San Diego", and the paper is claimed to be a reprint from The Journal of Popular Culture. The editor, Paul Di Filippo, is a resident of Providence, Rhode Island, where Brown University is located.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Josiah Carberry shares family recipes". The Brown Daily Herald. April 3, 2006. Retrieved 2009-12-15. 
  2. ^ "American Express Magazine Ad". New York Magazine (New York). Dec 29, 1975. p. 13. 
  3. ^ "Recap of 1991 Ig Nobel Prizewinners" (– Scholar search). Annals of Improbable Research: mini-AIR. June 1994. 1076-500X. [dead link]
  4. ^ Mitchell, Martha. (1993). "Carberry, Josiah S.." Encyclopedia Brunoniana
  5. ^ "Brown Admission: Brown Traditions". 
  6. ^ "John Hay Library -- Who is Josiah Carberry?". Retrieved 2011-02-17. 

External links[edit]