A cool idea for a hot season makes a splash

'Water features' trace their origin – etymologically and literally – back to ancient Babylon and Rome.

John Hart/Wisconsin State Journal/AP
Isaac Howard, 5, plays in a water feature during a visit with his family to the splash pad at Elver Park in Madison, Wis. on July 21, 2016.

Dana Park, about three minutes’ walk from my house, is usually full of people. But it was nearly empty as I walked by the other day.

A man on a small riding mower was cutting the lawn in that back-and-forth pattern that is sometimes referred to as boustrophredonic, from Greek words meaning “ox turning.” 

Some early writing systems, notably ancient Greek, followed this pattern, rather than going simply left to right or right to left with each new line. But as I took a seat to follow the progress of the mowing, I was drawn more by the smell of the fresh air and the freshly cut grass than anything else.

It had been a long, hot, sticky morning at my desk.

Just a few other people were there in the park, on benches at the edge of the main lawn. Off in the distance, at the most remote corner from where I sat, I saw a refreshing sight: a couple of young children, under grandmotherly (I assume) supervision, cavorting under a couple of jets of water shooting up from the ground.

Oh, yes, I thought, a water feature. 

Dictionaries define water feature as a landscaping term: a fountain or pond or stream in a garden or park, or occasionally in the backyard of a middle-class home, especially one whose owners have, shall we say, aspirations. 

The Hanging Gardens of Babylon, said to have been watered by a type of Archimedean screw, were a water feature – if indeed, they ever really existed, about which there seems to be some doubt. 

But “water feature” has another life as a catch-all term for anything that provides, especially in an urban setting, an experience roughly equivalent to letting the kids run under the sprinklers – or even of splashing in the streams of an (illegally?) opened fire hydrant. 

If you’re a municipal director of parks and recreation, a water feature, I imagine, must look like a very cost-effective substitute for a swimming pool. 

What a hardworking word feature is, by the way. It’s a verbal descendant of the Latin facere, meaning to make or do or perform. It shows up in factory, manufacturing (etymologically “making things by hand”), satisfactory (referring to that which “does enough” to please the customer or the professor or the boss. It shows up, in fact, even in the word fact itself. Feat, a thing that is done, is a close cousin that came into English via French.

Feature came into English in the 14th century to refer to something made or fashioned, often a human body or body part. The human sense of the word soon narrowed to refer more specifically to facial features. 

The Online Etymology Dictionary reports that by 1690, feature had come to mean “any distinctive part.” Hence, the features of a landscape, or a water feature in a park.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.
Real news can be honest, hopeful, credible, constructive.
What is the Monitor difference? Tackling the tough headlines – with humanity. Listening to sources – with respect. Seeing the story that others are missing by reporting what so often gets overlooked: the values that connect us. That’s Monitor reporting – news that changes how you see the world.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.

QR Code to A cool idea for a hot season makes a splash
Read this article in
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today