Sponge-worthy is the second example of a hyphenated “Word of the Week” (after Eye-watering from last December). The word will resonate with fans of the US sitcom “Seinfeld”. I have written elsewhere (in my 9,000 words about watching every Shakespeare play in 2003/4) that the UK is probably the only English-speaking territory where the show was a minority interest rather than a mainstream hit. It was shown on BBC2 after 11pm on Tuesday nights, unless there was a darts or snooker competition at the time, in which case it got bumped, and we were usually 3 or 4 series behind the rest of the world. The last episode was broadcast in the US in May 1998, over 18 years ago.
“The Sponge” is from Series 7 of the show (originally broadcast in December 1995) and features Elaine learning that the Today Sponge (her contraceptive of choice) has been withdrawn from the market. She tries numerous pharmacies before tracking down the last remaining supplies, and buys whatever she can find. Subsequently (with only a limited supply of sponges, and no prospect of replenishing her stocks) she has to work out if someone is “sponge-worthy” before having sex with him. It changes her whole approach to dating. Is the guy she’s with sponge-worthy? And if he is, how many sponges is he worth?
I think about the word a lot, not in its original context, but in the more general sense of conserving a limited amount of resources. Stephen R Covey’s 4th Habit (of his “7 Habits of Highly Effective People”) is to “Think Win-Win”, and as part of this he advises you to develop an “Abundance Mentality” rather than a “Scarcity Mentality”. It’s a good idea but some resources, and some of the things that we love, are not as abundant as we would like. I have various items of clothing that I cherish for different reasons and which cannot be replaced. There are favourite t-shirts, from bands and bars that no longer exist, or featuring sports logos that have changed. I have a New York Celtic Supporters Club t-shirt, given to me by a cousin in Ireland, and one from the Fiddlers Elbow chain of Irish bars in Italy (Rome, Florence, Venice: we visited all three). It was the last one left in the Venice bar: I asked them to take it down from the wall to sell it to me, and wish that I had done the same thing on my first trip to Rocky Sullivan’s in Lexington Avenue. They also had just one t-shirt left, pinned to the wall above the bar, and on subsequent visits over the years they never had any more for sale. The bar has now relocated to Brooklyn; if there is Rocky Sullivan’s merchandise these days it’s from a different place.
I have a favourite tie that my mother gave me 20 years ago, less than a year before she died, and a grey checked shirt that she gave me about the same time. I think about her even more than usual when wearing either item. If I had worn them once a week they would not have lasted for 20 years. The time may come when the shirt collar has frayed or the tie has met with some unfortunate spillage but I have conserved these limited resources so that they’re still wearable now. Like Elaine in “Seinfeld” (but in a very different context) I am trying to ration how much use I make of something that won’t last forever.