FEATURED COLUMN by John McDonald: Ah yes, the foot thingy

By John McDonald

We haven’t done any stretching exercises lately by reaching across the desk and into our neat, but not overly ostentatious, mailbag. So I thought I’d do that this morning to limber up a bit and also to see what’s been stuffed in there.

Chris from South Harpswell writes: “John, I’ve read your column for years now but have never written before. I just had to write when the following question popped into my head. My wife, Becky, and I were at the mall the other day (but our other habits are good) and I found myself in a shoe department. While waiting for Becky to find the shoes she wanted — assuming they exist — I heard a customer ask the salesman if she could have her foot measured with the ‘foot thingy.’
“Although I knew, and the salesman knew, exactly what she was talking about, I also knew that the strange metal gizmo she was asking for more than likely had a more formal name than ‘foot thingy.’ When I had a chance, I asked the salesman what ‘the foot thingy’ was really called. He said he had no clue because he usually worked in hardware and was only helping out in shoes because of the Christmas rush.
Right then, John, I thought I finally had a reason to write you. I’ve always figured you to be something of a word guy, and I also figured if anyone could tell me what the real name for the ‘foot thingy’ was, it would be you. So my question this morning is simple but important. What’s the ‘foot thingy’ really called, John?”
Thanks for the letter, Chris.
Some people with a thinner hide than mine might feel a tad insulted being asked such a seemingly numb question, but most people are aware that as a WGAN radio talk show host, I’m required to know everything, and I’m also supposed to stock my head with some of the most little known and useless information that ever the mind of man or woman collected.
The fact is, Chris, I DO know what the “foot thingy” is called, and I’m not ashamed to admit I know a lot more.
I was once in a shoe store waiting to be served when I head a salesman ask a colleague: “Mike, where’s the Brannock Device?” A few minutes later, the colleague appeared holding a foot thingy. Later, when I asked the salesman about the device’s name, he said he had no idea where the name came from and then asked if he could get me a pair of shoes.
While being fitted for a pair of hiking boots, I noticed the name was printed right there on the thingy – Brannock Device. Like you said, Chris, I am something of a word guy, so I took out my low-tech Palm Pilot (a pad and pencil) and wrote down the name. Then I decided to do a little research. I figured the name was probably that of the inventor, like the Maine-made peavy device, used by loggers. That clever tool was named after its inventor, Joseph Peavey of Bangor.
Turns out the Brannock Device was patented in 1927 by Charles F. Brannock who was a student at Syracuse University. As you might expect, Charles’ folks were “foot people” and owned a shoe store in Syracuse. They say his prototype device was made from metal parts from his boyhood erector set. Brannock’s clever device has changed little in almost 90 years, but the company is thinking of coming out with a digital Brannock Device. The “foot thingy” goes digital. Is this a great country, or what?
I hope you appreciate the fact, Chris, that I answered your question without using any lame phrases like, “if the shoe fits,” or ‘starting off on the right foot.” But there I go, putting my foot in my mouth, sort of.

Humorist and storyteller John McDonald is ready to entertain at your next banquet or convention. Call 207-240-8324 or email maineauthorjohn.mcdonald@yahoo.com.