It’s a fairly safe bet that no one’s drinking game for last night’s presidential debate included “horses and bayonets.” Yet that phrase, with its antique echoes of the Charge of the Light Brigade, was the evening’s surprise zinger, inspiring hundreds of tweets and an instant Horses and Bayonets Tumblr.
The line was President Obama’s, part of his response to Republican challenger Mitt Romney’s familiar charge that the US Navy has fewer ships than it did in 1916:
Governor, we also have fewer horses and bayonets because the nature of our military's changed. We have these things called aircraft carriers where planes land on them. We have these ships that go underwater, nuclear submarines. And so the question is not a game of Battleship where we're counting ships. It's — it's what are our capabilities.
By amazing coincidence, I’d been preparing my own bayonet zinger, and I thank the president for giving me such a high-profile introduction to a little naming oddity: the Bayonet Sofa, brought to you by a company called – no joke – Handy Living.
The sofa is available (cheap!) from Amazon and Walmart, where a customer complains that “it’s not super comfortable.” With a name like Bayonet, what did she expect? Ouch!
A bayonet, for the record, is “a steel stabbing weapon fitted to the muzzle of a firearm.” According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, the word comes from French baïonnette. That may or may not be because the weapons were made in the French city of Bayonne. Yes, it’s another case of “uncertain origin.”
Equally uncertain: why anyone would want to name a piece of upholstered furniture after a sharp steel weapon. Maybe the folks at Handy Living thought Bayonet just sounded fancy and special, like baronet or coronet. Or maybe they hoped the suggestion of bristling bayonets would inspire shoppers to, you know, charge.
Bonus link #1: “Bayonet Charge,” by Ted Hughes.
Bonus link #3: A Canadian take on the bayonet reference, by Dennis Van Staalduinen at Beg to Differ: 10 Reasons Mitt Romney Likes 1916 So Much.