Once upon a time, people genuflected – in church, while proposing, when receiving a medal from the Queen of England. Genuflecting is an expression of respect and humility, and one of those words whose meaning is embedded in its Latin DNA: genu “knee” + flectere “to bend.”
Today, people are tebowing – dropping to one knee on sidewalks, in school hallways, and in end zones after successful scrambles. We owe this phenomenon, of course, to Tim Tebow, the earnest quarterback of the Denver Broncos, who genuflects in gratitude after a score. Tebow is a lightning rod – you either love him or hate him. But either way, you have to admit that he has accomplished something remarkable and it goes far beyond the football field. Tebow’s name has become part of the national vocabulary, as in “Hey, look at that guy tebowing over by the water cooler.” If linguistics were a sport, this would be the equivalent of winning the Super Bowl.
Just ask marketing professionals. They drool at the prospect of having a brand name become part of everyday parlance. Google is glad we google, Rollerblade is delighted we rollerblade. With every mention, their brand is inscribed deeper into our consciousness. Once upon a time, Xerox spent a lot of time and money trying to squash the use of “xerox” as a verb, insisting that we use the term “photocopy” instead. We listened, and then went to the copy machine to xerox something. In the game of marketing today, what was once seen as damaging to a brand name is now coveted as a way to become part of the public vernacular.
That tebowing has entered our national lexicon is no small feat. It reflects how organic our language is, evolving every day to describe the ever-surprising world around us. But even more striking is the fact that the word “tebow” suggests an exquisite etymology: te is Latin for “you” and bow comes from the Old English bugan, “to bend, to bow down.” Tim Tebow’s last name literally means “you bow down.”
Just a coincidence? No doubt. But I like to think of it as a gift from the word gods.