Friday, November 19th, 2010

Comic-book geeks may know excelsior! as Stan Lee’s sign-off. Without already knowing its exact meaning, you might get the basic idea. It means ever higher.

What I didn’t realize was that it was the catchphrase of Dr. Samuel Ferguson, the main character in Jules Verne’s Five Weeks in a Balloon.

I only learned that when I looked the word up because of this totally unexpected use in Jack Dempsey’s Championship Fighting:

If you can go into a gymnasium, swell; for in a gym you’ll find an inflated, pear-shaped, light, leather striking bag (Figure 9), and a large, heavy, cylindrical canvas or leather “dummy bag” — sometimes known as the “heavy bag” (Figure 10). The latter is packed with cotton waste, and it is solid enough for you to accustom your fists, wrists and arms to withstanding considerable punching shock.

One can practice both body and head blows on the heavy bag. On the fast, light bag — which is about the height of an opponent’s head — one can sharpen his speed and timing for “head-hunting”; and one also can practice the important back-hand, warding-off stroke until it becomes automatic.

If no gymnasium is available, and if you are unable to buy bags from an athletic-goods store, you’ll have to carry on without a light bag and make your own heavy bag. To make the dummy bag, get two empty gunny sacks. Put one sack inside the other to give your bag double strength.

Then fill the inside sack with old rags, excelsior, old furniture-filling, or the like. Sawdust mixed with the above makes an excellent filler. Make certain there are no solid objects in the stuffing of your bag. Leave enough space at the top so that you can wrap the necks of both bags securely with a rope. Suspend the bag on the rope from a strong girder in your basement, barn or woodshed — or even from the limb of a tree. Do not attempt to use the heavy bag in your living quarters; the pounding vibrations will loosen the plaster in walls and ceiling.

Excelsior also refers to wood wool, a wood sliver material used for packaging.

Leave a Reply