I do have a terrific memory for events of my early childhood, but even I can’t remember back to age two when I first started jabbering words and phrases (yes, yes, I know — I have yet to stop since then). How I would love to remember the glee I must have felt when I first mastered that early magical double-word with its own cool gesture: “Bye-bye!” — complete with the accompanying funny, energetic wave.
Those other early double syllables that we all utter — Ma-Ma, Da-Da — might make our parents swoon with pride, but "Bye-Bye" gives us wee ones our own jaunty personality. I do remember as a toddler loving to go to family social gatherings just to await my favorite part of the event which was "bye-bye-ing" and waving a smiley farewell when the boring thing finally ended. Come to think of it, I felt the same way thirty years later at the occasional ghastly English Department faculty party.
And that same excitement returned when we owned our two adorable yellow lab litter-mates, Mr. Kit and Ms Kaboodle. Yes, Kaboodle knew her name should technically begin with a "C," but honestly she loved the affectation of sharing the same initial with her brother. Anyway, all I had to do was gaze at them wide-eyed, flash my Ford key, and shout out "GO BYE-BYE???" and you'd have thought they had just won the Beef Bones For A Lifetime sweepstakes.They flew out the back door and leapt up into my Explorer faster than you could scream “RIDE!!!!” Yes, "Bye-Bye" has always had a joyous connotation for me.
And then, twenty years ago a homonym for "Bye" — BY — took on a similarly happy meaning for me. Whereas BYE means "So long!", BY, as you know, is a preposition and usually means "an indication of achieving something," as in "This important work was done BY the committee."
To set the context for my attachment to BY, in 2001 Simon and Schuster was about to publish my first (OK, my only) mass-market paperback book — A DAB OF DICKENS AND A TOUCH OF TWAIN. I’ll never forget my thrill when they sent me a mockup of an advertisement that they were planning to place in the Sunday book sections of major newspapers: "Coming from Simon and Schuster in October! A DAB OF DICKENS AND A TOUCH OF TWAIN BY ELLIOT ENGEL"
There it was — a book BY li'l ol' ME — MY creation. By golly, that BY indicated that I had "achieved something." I began thinking that proud parents everywhere should start introducing their darling creations by proclaiming: "This is Kevin (or Emily) — By ME!" I was not fortunate to have my own children so this book will always be my child, by me.
What the "Bye-Bye" of my childhood and the "BY Elliot Engel" byline of my “professorhood” have in common is, I confess, my love of the limelight. First I tried to entertain my family members as a toddler with a funny word and gesture, and much later as a professor I tried to entertain and educate my readers — and students — with books and lectures BY me. And for the last thirty years I've tried to charm and engage all of you when you've heard me lecture in your hometown or at a conference. I loved teaching and research too much ever to consider being in the ultimate limelight of a performing comedian, but I admit that I was not offended when a colleague once jokingly suggested that I add “stand-up scholar” to my résumé.
You may think it’s kind of sad that I still haven’t outgrown my love of such minor celebrity, and perhaps others would agree with you. But my opinion? Well, folks, I am just not by-bye-bye-buyin’ it!