Anything

German-born GUNTHER L. EICHHORN was educated at the University of Louisville and took his doctorate at the University of Illinois. He is now on leave of absence as associate professor of chemistry at Louisiana State University for a stay with the National Institute of Mental Health in Bethesda, Maryland.

by GUNTHER L. EICHHORN

IT IS surprising that so little has been written about Anything. It is a very popular subject. I am a chemist. Yet, when I am requested to speak on a subject, I am not generally asked to talk about chemistry, but rather about Anything.

Actually Anything is a very interesting topic. My interest in it goes back to those innocent days when I didn’t know what it meant. I didn’t know how to say Anything in English. I knew how to say many things in English, but I couldn’t say Anything in English. I did know how to say Anything in German. Anything in German is etwas. I looked up etwas in a German-English dictionary. According to the dictionary, etwas meant Something or Anything. Obviously it was not a good dictionary. But in my paradisiacal innocence I used a bad dictionary as if it were a good one, and began to say either Something or Anything when I meant either Something or Anything. I was willing to cooperate and said, “I will do anything.” Anything began to take on importance, because it became for me a very dangerous word.

Gradually I came to realize that something was wrong. At the same time I discovered that there wasn’t really anything wrong — that there wasn’t anything to fear but Anything itself — and I thought my troubles were over. I would never again say Anything when I meant Something.

With knowledge came further confusion and disillusion. I discovered that people will frequently say anything when they ought to be saying something. This was especially true at cocktail parties, political rallies, and club meetings. When people were asked what they liked, they said, “Anything.” When they were asked what they preferred, they said, “Nothing.” I began to think that perhaps Anything and Nothing were identical. They said Anything when they meant Nothing. And it sounded like Everything.

Thereupon I began to use Anything to mean Nothing and to sound like Everything. It seemed that I had found the key to success. “I can do anything,” I said. I didn’t do anything, I just said Anything, and it sounded like Everything.

Finally I met my match. “I can do anything,” I said. “What means Anything?” he said, and he consulted his English-German dictionary. It wasn’t a good dictionary, either, but it informed him that Anything meant etwas, and he asked me, “What can you do?”

Then I studied chemistry.