Wikipedia / The Internet Archive
Wikipedia / The Internet Archive

30 Things Turning 30 This Year

Wikipedia / The Internet Archive
Wikipedia / The Internet Archive

Happy 30th birthday, 1984! Prince turned the silver screen purple, the first Mac hit our living rooms, and Kevin Bacon helped a small town get its groove back. If you're turning 30 this year, you're in good company—here are 30 things that share your birth year.

1. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (TMNT)

The first TMNT comic book went on sale in 1984. The pizza-eating, crime-fighting ninjas were the brainturtles of artists Peter Laird and Kevin Eastman, who began a tiny publishing company out of Laird's living room. The duo relied on mail-order to sell their comic book. Although originally intended to be a one-shot story, the book sold so well that more issues were created in 1985, ultimately leading to a cartoon, movie, video game, pizza, and comic book empire worth millions. See also: Turtlepedia, a 2,893-page wiki.


2. Tetris

Wikipedia /

Russian programmer Alexey Pajitnov released the first version of Tetris (Те́трис in Russian) on June 6, 1984. The game featured seven tetrominos descending from the top of the screen, to form a sort of jigsaw-puzzle stack at the bottom. The game became insanely popular, spreading across the globe in a variety of versions, many of them unauthorized, on all sorts of computer hardware.

Today, the NES (Nintendo Entertainment System) version of Tetris is used in the Classic Tetris World Championships, and attracts top players from around the world—many of whom are roughly the same age as the game itself.


3. The Cosby Show

On September 20, 1984, America tuned in to see the Huxtable family in Brooklyn. The Cosby Show was a massive hit, revitalizing the sitcom genre and introducing all of us to Cosby sweaters. The show ran through 1992, and spawned the spinoff A Different World in 1987. Here are five minutes of Cosby Show bloopers, in case you've forgotten what a Cosby sweater looked like:


4. Scarlett Johansson & LeBron James

Happy 30th birthday to the following famous and/or infamous people: Kid Cudi (Jan 30), Olivia Wilde (Mar 10), Sarah Jean Underwood (Mar 26), Mandy Moore (Apr 10), America Ferrera (Apr 18), Mark Zuckerberg (May 14), Aubrey Plaza (Jun 26), Prince Harry (Sep 15), Randall Munroe (Oct 17), Katy Perry (Oct 25), Scarlett Johansson (Nov 22), Trey Songz (Nov 24), and LeBron James (Dec 30). (Whew.)


5. "Where's the Beef?"

The most memorable fast food ad of the year was created by Wendy's to emphasize the size of its hamburger patties. In the commercial, actress Clara Peller is presented with a burger from a rival chain, but finds that the bun is comically large and the hamburger patty ridiculously undersized, leading her to exclaim, "Where's the beef?!" The slogan was so catchy it was turned into a song, and appeared throughout American culture, even modestly influencing the Democratic presidential primary that year.

The ad campaign ended in 1985, though Wendy's brought it back in 2011 with the obvious tagline, "Here's the beef."


6. Ronald Reagan's Bombing Gaffe (Plus National Ice Cream Month)

Reagan Library

During a mic check for his weekly radio address, President Reagan joked, "My fellow Americans, I'm pleased to tell you today that I've signed legislation that will outlaw Russia forever. We begin bombing in five minutes." While the clip wasn't broadcast at the time, the recording was leaked. Oops.

On a lighter note, in July of 1984, President Reagan declared that July is National Ice Cream Month, with National Ice Cream Day on the third Sunday of that month. According to the International Dairy Foods Association (which, we promise, is totally a thing):

[Reagan] recognized ice cream as a fun and nutritious food that is enjoyed by a full 90 percent of the nation's population. In the proclamation, President Reagan called for all people of the United States to observe these events with "appropriate ceremonies and activities."

Get your ice cream party started, people. But keep it appropriate.


7. The Mac


Apple unveiled the Mac on January 24, 1984. At a demo event, Steve Jobs removed the Mac from a bag, inserted a 3.5" floppy disk, and booted the machine. The Chariots of Fire theme played, the Mac ran an impressive A/V demo, and finally said, "Hello, I'm Macintosh. It sure is great to get out of that bag. Unaccustomed as I am to public speaking, I'd like to share with you a maxim I thought of the first time I met an IBM mainframe: Never trust a computer that you can't lift!"

The original Mac cost $2,495, which pencils out to more than $5,600 in today's dollars. It had one floppy drive and a measly 128k of RAM, but it caused a revolution in personal computing; its designers were so proud of their creation, they signed the inside of the computer's case. Later the same year, a version with four times the memory debuted, and was promptly nicknamed Fat Mac.


8. MAC

After years of home-cooking lip gloss in their kitchen and selling eyeshadow from their salon, Frank Toskan and Frank Angelo launched a different kind of MAC from a single counter in a Toronto department store. The Makeup Art Cosmetics brand was born out of necessity: most commercially-available cosmetics at the time didn't hold up well under harsh lighting during photography, colors were limited, and stage makeup was fussy and difficult to work with. Originally intended just for makeup artists, MAC quickly grew popular through a perfect storm of word-of-mouth advertising, a good balance of novelty and usefulness, and a mid-range price point that made the brand accessible. (There was also a little help from Madonna, who paired the brand's Russian Red lipstick with various cone-shaped bras throughout her Blond Ambition tour a few years later.)

Today the company is a subsidiary of the $3.7 billion Estée Lauder juggernaut and one of the most popular brands of cosmetics for both professional and personal use. And they're still making those amazing lipsticks, which currently come in more than 160 shades.


9. Doug Flutie's Hail Mary

In what may be college football's most famous play (at least until Auburn's improbable last-second win over Alabama in 2013), Doug Flutie's miracle heave lifted Boston College over powerhouse Miami 47-45. Flutie went on to win the Heisman Trophy. The play has been credited with a rise in applications to Boston College, though the "Flutie Factor" may be overblown.


10. This is Spinal Tap

Image via cinemasquid

Rob Reiner directed the watershed mockumentary This is Spinal Tap, released on March 2, 1984. Chronicling the fictional comeback tour of British heavy metal rockers Spinal Tap, the film became a cult classic. It proudly bore the tagline: "Does for rock and roll what 'The Sound of Music' did for hills." Here's a clip:

But of course, this list goes to 11...and beyond. Moving right along....


11. Legal Taping of TV

Wikimedia Commons / Tomasz Sienicki

The Supreme Court decided a crucial case in January, 1984. Known as the "Betamax case," the court considered whether home VCR users could legally record TV shows for the purpose of watching them later, a practice known as "time-shifting." The court decided that recording episodes of The Cosby Show was just fine, and use of VCRs continued to take off. In an ironic twist, movie studios (who had brought the case in the first place) raked in tons of money selling home video copies of movies using the same technology they had tried to kill.


12. The Video Music Awards

The VMAs began in 1984. Cyndi Lauper won "Best Female Video" for "Girls Just Want to Have Fun"; Madonna performed "Like a Virgin" while crawling around on the floor, wearing a provocative pseudo-wedding gown; and Michael Jackson took home a pile of awards for Thriller. The VMAs were just as scandalous then as they are now.

The full two-and-a-half-hour show is on YouTube. At least for now.


13. The Print Shop

The Internet Archive

Brøderbund's desktop publishing package The Print Shop epitomized 80s-era computing. It allowed users to make cards, signs, and banners. Before printing, it showed a colorful "THINKING" screen as it computed the graphics necessary to print. According to the Internet Archive, "In 1988 Brøderbund announced that it had sold more than one million copies, and that sales of The Print Shop comprised 4% of the entire United States software market in 1987." You can run The Print Shop online in your browser...but you'll need a classic PC and dot-matrix printer to get the full experience.


14. The Trebek Era of Jeopardy!

"Who is an awesome game show host?" Canadian quizmaster Alex Trebek ushered in a new era of Jeopardy! in 1984. Although the show had run with Art Fleming in the 1960s and 70s, Trebek brought Jeopardy! firmly into the 80s. Trebek plans to retire in 2016, thus marking a 32-year run on the show.


15. The "Press Your Luck" Incident

In 1984, ice cream truck driver Michael Larson set a record by winning $110,237 (a combined total of cash and non-cash prizes) in one appearance on the game show Press Your Luck—and he did it by gaming the system. (His appearance aired in June, one month before Reagan's National Ice Cream Month could have sent his day job's income soaring...slightly.)

Larson recorded episodes of the show on his VCR (thank you, Supreme Court!) and noticed that the patterns on the board repeated. So he memorized them, went on the show, and won a pile of money. You can read more about his feat here on mental_floss.


16. Law on the Moon (Sort Of)


The Agreement Governing the Activities of States on the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies, better known as the "Moon Treaty," took effect in July 1984, though it had been grinding through international legal processes since the early 1970s. The idea was to have all the Earth's countries agree that the Moon and other such places would be used for peaceful purposes, and not, say, to create a Death Star.

Although the treaty went into effect and 15 countries ultimately ratified it, none of those countries are actively involved in manned space exploration. So hey, while you're on the Moon, go nuts! (Within the limits of the Outer Space Treaty, that is.)


17. The "Death Star" Hypothesis

Image via Wookieepedia

Seven years after a different Death Star destroyed Alderaan on the silver screen, the journal Nature published a pair of hypotheses from two teams of astronomers who posited that mass extinctions on Earth are caused by an undetected companion star to our Sun. According to the hypothesis, Nemesis, a brown dwarf star, orbits the Sun outside of the Oort cloud, disrupting the paths of comets and asteroids to send them pummeling toward the planets. One such object could have wiped out the dinosaurs, and other events are believed to happen on a roughly regular timeframe of 26-28 million years. The hypothesis was enormously popular in the 80s and early 90s, but Nemesis's existence has been largely discredited; we haven't seen it with any instruments or methods despite its apparent proximity. Nearly 2000 brown dwarf stars have been discovered, but none inside our solar system.


18. Canadians in Space


Marc Garneau is currently a Member of Parliament in Canada. But 30 years ago, he was aboard the space shuttle Challenger, becoming the first Canadian in outer space. After the initial mission, he flew two more, logging over 677 hours in space.

Garneau paved the way for future Canadians in space, including our favorite, Commander Chris Hadfield.


19. TED

While technology, entertainment, and design are everlasting, the first TED conference was a one-off event held in Monterey, California, organized by graphic designer Richard Saul Wurman. Features included Sony's new-but-unreleased "compact disc," an early demo of Apple's Macintosh computer, presentations from Nicholas Negroponte (future founder of One Laptop Per Child) and mathematician Benoît Mandlebrot (discoverer of the Mandelbrot set), and exciting new 3D graphics from LucasFilm. Despite the awesomeness of 1984's event, TED lost a lot of money—so much that another conference wouldn't be held until 1990. Since then, TED has been an annual event.

Today, those of us who aren't in possession of TED invites can watch the presentations via TEDTalks, free online videos, and podcasts launched in 2006, which are arguably one of the most fascinating and binge-able series of videos on the Internet. Speakers include all the people you'd expect—Al Gore, Jane Goodall, Elon Musk, Bill Gates, Bono—but the best moments seem to come from unexpected sources. Take, for instance, neuroanatomist Jill Bolte Taylor's talk, which details the experience of having a massive stroke when you just happen to be a brain scientist.


20. Transformers

Transformers rolled out in the U.S. 30 years ago, after Hasbro bought distribution rights for the Diaclone and Microman toy molds from Japanese company Takara. Generation One (Series 1) launched with 28 figures—18 Autobots, 10 Decepticons—including the infamous Megatron figure that transformed into a gun ("more than meets the eye," indeed).

In September 1984, a three-episode miniseries introduced American children to the classic Autobots and Decepticons and their ongoing battle for the resources necessary to return to their home planet of Cybertron, as well as the Tranformers' human allies, Spike and Sparkplug Witwicky. The series launched soon after, with the first season running through December. During this time, the Dinobots, Insecticons, and Constructicons were introduced, as well as Chip Chase, new Decepticons, new Autobots, and all in time for 1985, when 76 new Transformers toys were released in Series 2.


21. Movies: The Karate Kid, Footloose, Purple Rain, Revenge of the Nerds, and More

It was a banner year for movies. With box-office hits like Footloose, Splash, Revenge of the Nerds, and Ghostbusters we saw a clear theme of underdog heroes overcoming the odds in often bizarre circumstances.

Other notables from that year: Beverly Hills Cop, Police Academy, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, Gremlins, The Karate Kid, Dune, and Purple Rain. In a feat of rapid movie-making, both Breakin' and Breakin' 2: Electric Boogaloo were released in the same year. We were also treated to the Coen brothers' first film, Blood Simple...and Joel Coen married leading lady Frances McDormand in 1984 (they're still together).

Despite all that action in popular movies, 1984's Amadeus pretty much swept the Academy Awards the following year, taking home awards for Best Actor, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Picture, Best Director, and a pile of others. Prince took home the Oscar for Best Original Song for "Purple Rain."


22. BOOKS! (Other Than 1984)

While the world was discussing the dystopian present portrayed in Winston Smith's fictional journal, which began 30 years ago on a cold bright day in April, actual books were being published in the real 1984, including: The Hunt for Red October by Tom Clancy, The Talisman by Stephen King and Peter Straub, Pulitzer-winning Glengarry Glen Ross by David Mamet, Dr. Seuss's The Butter Battle Book, Hackers: Heroes of the Computer Revolution by Steven Levy, King's Thinner, The House on Mango Street (which was almost instantly placed on the AP Readers list; if you were in high school in the 90s, you've probably read it), the 1984 Nebula Award-winning Neuromancerby William Gibson, John Updike's The Witches of Eastwick, and Milan Kundera's The Unbearable Lightness of Being.


23. Born in the U.S.A.

Bruce Springsteen released his best-selling album, a twelve-track masterpiece in which seven songs were released as singles, including the mega-hits "Dancing in the Dark," "Born in the U.S.A.," "I'm on Fire," and "Glory Days." Rolling Stone called Springsteen the "voice of a decade," and wrote, "It's as if Springsteen were saying that life is made to endure and that we all make peace with private suffering and shared sorrow as best we can."

Although the song "Born in the U.S.A." had a cultural impact, the most lasting legacy of the album might be "Dancing in the Dark," an upbeat pop song with oddly grim lyrics, and a classic video featuring a young Courteney Cox dancing onstage. Yes, in 1984 we all danced that way—at least those of us who were born in the U.S.A.

While the pop landscape of 1984 featured bands like Springsteen, Prince, and Wham!, 1984 also saw the formation of Primus, Warrant, Gwar, Soundgarden, Big Audio Dynamite, Fine Young Cannibals, and...wait for it...New Kids on the Block.


24. George Michael Started Being a Big Deal

Singer George Michael had a huge year. As part of the band Wham!, the infectious dance single "Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go" became a #1 hit in the United States and the UK. Then came the sultry, saxophone-driven "Careless Whisper," which was technically a George Michael solo effort, but was credited to Wham! in some countries. Michael rounded out the year with two more hits: "Freedom" and "Everything She Wants"; and he performed with the supergroup Band Aid on "Do They Know It's Christmas?"


25. Band Aid

After BBC aired a report by Michael Buerk about the devastating and ongoing famine in Ethiopia, singers Bob Geldof and Midge Ure (pictured) teamed up to raise relief funds. Together, the pair wrote "Do They Know It's Christmas?" then rallied members for the supergroup Band Aid. The final lineup included the members of Duran Duran, Spandau Ballet, Bananarama, Culture Club, Kool and the Gang, U2, Chris Cross, Paul Young, George Michael, Glenn Gregory, Martyn Ware, Phil Collins, Paul Weller, Status Quo, Jody Watley of Shalamar, Marilyn, and the Boomtown Rats.

The single sold a million copies in the first week, and went on to become the UK's highest-selling single of all time... until Elton John's "Candle in the Wind 1997" tribute to the late Princess Diana.

In all, Band Aid raised £5 million for famine relief. The following year's Live Aid, 1989's Band Aid II, 2004's Band Aid 20, and Live 8 in 2005 raised a total of £150 million, and still earns around £2 million per year through the Band Aid Trust, which spends that money for relief efforts in Ethiopia, Uganda, Sudan, and other impoverished African countries.


26. The Quagga's Second Life (Sort of)

Once upon a time, there was an animal called the quagga. It was something of an animal kingdom reverse-mullet, which is to say it was zebra in the front, regular-looking horse in the back. The last captive specimen died in 1883, but it was gone from the wild for nearly a decade before that, thanks to being easy to hunt, having an interesting hide, and not being very good at competing with domesticated livestock for areas to forage.

Aside from its weird appearance, the interesting thing about the quagga came after it was wiped from the planet. In 1984, a team of scientists at the University of California at Berkely cloned fragments of the quagga's DNA taken from a 140-year-old sample. It was the first successful attempt to clone DNA from an extinct species, and the first step in the ongoing pursuit of technology that will give the world wooly mammoths and velociraptors again.

We may not have to wait for that technology, though: As it turns out, the mitochondrial DNA used in that quagga-cloning project revealed that the species was actually a subspecies of the still-living plains zebra. Through selective breeding, the Quagga Project hopes to create a living population of quaggas. In 2005, the first quagga-like foal was born; she was considered a successful first step toward quagganess because her striping was visibly fainter than that of her parents.


27. Dude, You're Getting a Dell

Michael Dell started his computing empire while studying at the University of Texas. He made low-cost PCs from off-the-shelf components, though his company was initially called PC's Limited. One early customer told The Smithsonian, "[The computer] always sounded as if it were coming apart. I never did figure out why."

Thirty years later, Dell is still selling customizable PCs. Need tons of RAM? Looking for a student discount? Want a keyboard but not a mouse? Dude, you're getting a Dell!


28. Muppet Babies

In 1984, Jim Henson gave us a window into the animated childhoods of our favorite Muppets. The Muppet Babies debuted in a fantasy sequence in The Muppets Take Manhattan, and their own TV series premiered in the fall. Kermit, Miss Piggy, and the gang gave us their interpretations of Star Wars, Star Trek, Indiana Jones, The Twilight Zone, The Jetsons, I Love Lucy, and more.


29. The "Baby Bell" Telephone System

Wikimedia Commons / Badmachine

On January 1, 1984, AT&T was broken into seven independent "Regional Holding Companies," which became known popularly as the "Baby Bells." This was the end of a long saga of anti-trust litigation against AT&T, which had held a monopoly on the U.S. telephone market before then. The birth of the Baby Bells led to competition in the phone market, which drove down long-distance pricing and generally shook up the phone system through the 80s and 90s. Today, three big phone carriers can trace their roots to those Baby Bells: AT&T Inc., CenturyLink, and Verizon.

In 2008, Network World asked Does the AT&T breakup still matter 25 years on? The answer is complex, and boils down to "maybe."


30. Ghostbusters

The first Ghostbusters movie introduced us to a trio of failed Columbia University professors whose post-collegiate careers involved clearing New York City of various paranormal infestations. Bill Murray stole the show as Dr. Peter Venkman, a character originally intended for the (then-deceased) John Belushi. Film critic Roger Ebert gave the movie 3.5 out of 4 stars, writing "Ghostbusters is one of those rare movies where the original, fragile comic vision has survived a multimillion-dollar production."

Ghostbusters launched a second film, two TV shows, various video games and comic books, and of course this epic single by Ray Parker, Jr.:

Images via Getty unless noted.

Images: iStock
25 Words That Are Their Own Opposites
Images: iStock
Images: iStock

Here’s an ambiguous sentence for you: “Because of the agency’s oversight, the corporation’s behavior was sanctioned.” Does that mean, "Because the agency oversaw the company’s behavior, they imposed a penalty for some transgression," or does it mean, "Because the agency was inattentive, they overlooked the misbehavior and gave it their approval by default"? We’ve stumbled into the looking-glass world of contronyms—words that are their own antonyms.

1. Sanction (via French, from Latin sanctio(n-), from sancire ‘ratify,’) can mean "give official permission or approval for (an action)" or conversely, "impose a penalty on."

2. Oversight is the noun form of two verbs with contrary meanings, “oversee” and “overlook.” Oversee, from Old English ofersēon ("look at from above") means "supervise" (medieval Latin for the same thing: super-, "over" plus videre, "to see.") Overlook usually means the opposite: "to fail to see or observe; to pass over without noticing; to disregard, ignore."

3. Left can mean either remaining or departed. If the gentlemen have withdrawn to the drawing room for after-dinner cigars, who’s left? (The gentlemen have left and the ladies are left.)

4. Dust, along with the next two words, is a noun turned into a verb meaning either to add or to remove the thing in question. Only the context will tell you which it is. When you dust are you applying dust or removing it? It depends whether you’re dusting the crops or the furniture.

5. Seed can also go either way. If you seed the lawn you add seeds, but if you seed a tomato you remove them.

6. Stone is another verb to use with caution. You can stone some peaches, but please don’t stone your neighbor (even if he says he likes to get stoned).

7. Trim as a verb predates the noun, but it can also mean either adding or taking away. Arising from an Old English word meaning "to make firm or strong; to settle, arrange," trim came to mean "to prepare, make ready." Depending on who or what was being readied, it could mean either of two contradictory things: "to decorate something with ribbons, laces, or the like to give it a finished appearance" or "to cut off the outgrowths or irregularities of." And the context doesn’t always make it clear. If you’re trimming the tree are you using tinsel or a chain saw?

8. Cleave can be cleaved into two homographs, words with different origins that end up spelled the same. Cleave, meaning "to cling to or adhere," comes from an Old English word that took the forms cleofian, clifian, or clīfan. Cleave, with the contrary meaning "to split or sever (something)"—as you might do with a cleaver—comes from a different Old English word, clēofan. The past participle has taken various forms: cloven, which survives in the phrase “cloven hoof,” “cleft,” as in a “cleft palate” or “cleaved.”

9. Resign works as a contronym in writing. This time we have homographs, but not homophones. Resign, meaning "to quit," is spelled the same as resign, meaning "to sign up again," but it’s pronounced differently.

10. Fast can mean "moving rapidly," as in running fast, or "fixed, unmoving," as in holding fast. If colors are fast they will not run. The meaning "firm, steadfast" came first; the adverb took on the sense "strongly, vigorously," which evolved into "quickly," a meaning that spread to the adjective.

11. Off means "deactivated," as in to turn off, but also "activated," as in the alarm went off.

12. Weather can mean "to withstand or come safely through" (as in the company weathered the recession) or it can mean "to be worn away" (the rock was weathered).

13. Screen can mean to show (a movie) or to hide (an unsightly view).

14. Help means "assist," unless you can’t help doing something, when it means "prevent."

15. Clip can mean "to bind together" or "to separate." You clip sheets of paper to together or separate part of a page by clipping something out. Clip is a pair of homographs, words with different origins spelled the same. Old English clyppan, which means "to clasp with the arms, embrace, hug," led to our current meaning, "to hold together with a clasp." The other clip, "to cut or snip (a part) away," is from Old Norse klippa, which may come from the sound of a shears.

16. Continue usually means to persist in doing something, but as a legal term it means stop a proceeding temporarily.

17. Fight with can be interpreted three ways. “He fought with his mother-in-law” could mean "They argued," "They served together in the war," or "He used the old battle-ax as a weapon." (Thanks to linguistics professor Robert Hertz for this idea.)

18. Flog, meaning "to punish by caning or whipping," shows up in school slang of the 17th century, but now it can have the contrary meaning, "to promote persistently," as in “flogging a new book.” Perhaps that meaning arose from the sense "to urge (a horse, etc.) forward by whipping," which grew out of the earliest meaning.

19. Go means "to proceed," but also "give out or fail," i.e., “This car could really go until it started to go.”

20. Hold up can mean "to support" or "to hinder": “What a friend! When I’m struggling to get on my feet, he’s always there to hold me up.”

21. Out can mean "visible" or "invisible." For example, “It’s a good thing the full moon was out when the lights went out.”

22. Out of means "outside" or "inside": “I hardly get out of the house because I work out of my home.”

23. B**ch can derisively refer to a woman who is considered overly aggressive or domineering, or it can refer to someone passive or submissive.

24. Peer is a person of equal status (as in a jury of one’s peers), but some peers are more equal than others, like the members of the peerage, the British or Irish nobility.

25. Toss out could be either "to suggest" or "to discard": “I decided to toss out the idea.”

The contronym (also spelled “contranym”) goes by many names, including auto-antonym, antagonym, enantiodrome, self-antonym, antilogy and Janus word (from the Roman god of beginnings and endings, often depicted with two faces looking in opposite directions). Can’t get enough of them? The folks at Daily Writing Tips have rounded up even more.

This piece originally ran in 2015.

Hulton Archive/Getty Images
12 Facts About James Joyce
Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

June 16, 1904 is the day that James Joyce, the Irish author of Modernist masterpieces like Dubliners and A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, and who was described as “a curious mixture of sinister genius and uncertain talent,” set his seminal work, Ulysses. It also thought to be the day that he had his first date with his future wife, Nora Barnacle.

He was as mythical as the myths he used as the foundations for his own work. So in honor of that June day in 1904—known to fans worldwide as “Bloomsday,” after one of the book’s protagonists, Leopold Bloom—here are 12 facts about James Joyce.


In 1891, shortly after he had to leave Clongowes Wood College when his father lost his job, 9-year-old Joyce wrote a poem called “Et Tu Healy?” It was published by his father John and distributed to friends; the elder Joyce thought so highly of it, he allegedly sent copies to the Pope.

No known complete copies of the poem exist, but the precocious student’s verse allegedly denounced a politician named Tim Healy for abandoning 19th century Irish nationalist politician Charles Stewart Parnell after a sex scandal. Fragments of the ending of the poem, later remembered by James’s brother Stanislaus, showed Parnell looking down on Irish politicians:

His quaint-perched aerie on the crags of Time
Where the rude din of this century
Can trouble him no more

While the poem was seemingly quaint, young Joyce equating Healy as Brutus and Parnell as Caesar marked the first time he’d use old archetypes in a modern context, much in the same way Ulysses is a unique retelling of The Odyssey.

As an adult, Joyce would publish his first book, a collection of poems called Chamber Music, in 1907. It was followed by Dubliners, a collection of short stories, in 1914, and the semi-autobiographical A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (in which Clongowes Wood College is prominently featured) in 1916.


While attending University College Dublin, Joyce attempted to publish a negative review—titled “The Day of the Rabblement”—of a new local playhouse called the Irish Literary Theatre in the school’s paper, St. Stephen’s. Joyce’s condemnation of the theater’s “parochialism” was allegedly so scathing that the paper’s editors, after seeking consultation from one of the school’s priests, refused to print it.

Incensed about possible censorship, Joyce appealed to the school’s president, who sided with the editors—which prompted Joyce to put up his own money to publish 85 copies to be distributed across campus.

The pamphlet, published alongside a friend’s essay to beef up the page-count, came with the preface: “These two essays were commissioned by the editor of St. Stephen’s for that paper, but were subsequently refused insertion by the censor.” It wouldn’t be the last time Joyce would fight censorship.


By the time Nora Barnacle and Joyce finally married in 1931, they had lived together for 27 years, traveled the continent and had two children. The couple first met in Dublin in 1904 when Joyce struck up a conversation with her near the hotel where Nora worked as a chambermaid. She initially mistook him for a Swedish sailor because of his blue eyes and the yachting cap he wore that day, and he charmed her so much that they set a date for June 14—but she didn’t show.

He then wrote her a letter, saying, “I looked for a long time at a head of reddish-brown hair and decided it was not yours. I went home quite dejected. I would like to make an appointment but it might not suit you. I hope you will be kind enough to make one with me—if you have not forgotten me!” This led to their first date, which supposedly took place on June 16, 1904.

She would continue to be his muse throughout their life together in both his published work (the character Molly Bloom in Ulysses is based on her) and their fruitful personal correspondence. Their notably dirty love letters to each other—featuring him saying their love-making reminded him of “a hog riding a sow” and signing off one by saying “Goodnight, my little farting Nora, my dirty littlef**kbird!"—have highlighted the NSFW nature of their relationship. In fact, one of Joyce’s signed erotic letters to Nora fetched a record £240,800 ($446,422) at a London auction in 2004.


While Joyce’s persistent money problems caused him to lead a life of what could be categorized as creative discomfort, he had to deal with a near lifetime of medical discomfort as well. Joyce suffered from anterior uveitis, which led to a series of around 12 eye surgeries over his lifetime. (Due to the relatively unsophisticated state of ophthalmology at the time, and his decision not to listen to contemporary medical advice, scholars speculate that his iritis, glaucoma, and cataracts could have been caused by sarcoidosis, syphilis, tuberculosis, or any number of congenital problems.) His vision issues caused Joyce to wear an eye patch for years and forced him to do his writing on large white sheets of paper using only red crayon. The persistent eye struggles even inspired him to name his daughter Lucia, after St. Lucia, patron saint of the blind.


In 1904, Joyce—eager to get out of Ireland—responded to an ad for a teaching position in Europe. Evelyn Gilford, a job agent based in the British town of Market Rasen, Lincolnshire, notified Joyce that a job was reserved for him and, for two guineas, he would be told exactly where the position was. Joyce sent the money, and by the end of 1904, he and his future wife, Nora, had left Dublin for the job at a Berlitz language school in Zurich, Switzerland—but when they got there, the pair learned there was no open position. But they did hear a position was open at a Berlitz school in Trieste, Italy. The pair packed up and moved on to Italy only to find out they’d been swindled again.

Joyce eventually found a Berlitz teaching job in Pola in Austria-Hungary (now Pula, Croatia). English was one of 17 languages Joyce could speak; others included Arabic, Sanskrit, Greek, and Italian (which eventually became his preferred language, and one that he exclusively spoke at home with his family). He also loved playwright Henrik Ibsen so much that he learned Norwegian so that he could read Ibsen's works in their original form—and send the writer a fan letter in his native tongue.


There are about 400 movie theaters in Ireland today, but they trace their history back to 1909, when Joyce helped open the Volta Cinematograph, which is considered “the first full-time, continuous, dedicated cinema” in Ireland.

More a money-making scheme than a product of a love of cinema, Joyce first got the idea when he was having trouble getting Dubliners published and noticed the abundance of cinemas while living in Trieste. When his sister, Eva, told him Ireland didn’t have any movie theaters, Joyce joined up with four Italian investors (he’d get 10 percent of the profits) to open up the Volta on Dublin’s Mary Street.

The venture fizzled as quickly as Joyce’s involvement. After not attracting audiences due to mostly showing only Italian and European movies unpopular with everyday Dubliners, Joyce cut his losses and pulled out of the venture after only seven months.

The cinema itself didn’t close until 1919, during the time Joyce was hard at work on Ulysses. (It reopened with a different name in 1921 and didn’t fully close until 1948.)


The publishing history of Ulysses is itself its own odyssey. Joyce began writing the work in 1914, and by 1918 he had begun serializing the novel in the American magazine Little Review with the help of poet Ezra Pound.

But by 1921, Little Review was in financial trouble. The published version of Episode 13 of Ulysses, “Nausicaa,” resulted in a costly obscenity lawsuit against its publishers, Margaret Anderson and Jane Heap, and the book was banned in the United States. Joyce appealed to different publishers for help—including Leonard and Virginia Woolf’s Hogarth Press—but none agreed to take on a project with such legal implications (and in Virginia Woolf’s case, length), no matter how supposedly groundbreaking it was.

Joyce, then based in Paris, made friends with Sylvia Beach, whose bookstore, Shakespeare and Company, was a gathering hub for the post-war expatriate creative community. In her autobiography, Beach wrote:

All hope of publication in the English-speaking countries, at least for a long time to come, was gone. And here in my little bookshop sat James Joyce, sighing deeply.

It occurred to me that something might be done, and I asked : “Would you let Shakespeare and Company have the honour of bringing out your Ulysses?”

He accepted my offer immediately and joyfully. I thought it rash of him to entrust his great Ulysses to such a funny little publisher. But he seemed delighted, and so was I. ... Undeterred by lack of capital, experience, and all the other requisites of a publisher, I went right ahead with Ulysses.

Beach planned a first edition of 1000 copies (with 100 signed by the author), while the book would continue to be banned in a number of countries throughout the 1920s and 1930s. Eventually it was allowed to be published in the United States in 1933 after the case United States v. One Book Called Ulysses deemed the book not obscene and allowed it in the United States.


Ernest Hemingway—who was major champion of Ulysses—met Joyce at Shakespeare and Company, and was later a frequent companion among the bars of Paris with writers like Wyndham Lewis and Valery Larbaud.

Hemingway recalled the Irish writer would start to get into drunken fights and leave Hemingway to deal with the consequences. "Once, in one of those casual conversations you have when you're drinking," Hemingway said, "Joyce said to me he was afraid his writing was too suburban and that maybe he should get around a bit and see the world. He was afraid of some things, lightning and things, but a wonderful man. He was under great discipline—his wife, his work and his bad eyes. His wife was there and she said, yes, his work was too suburban--'Jim could do with a spot of that lion hunting.' We would go out to drink and Joyce would fall into a fight. He couldn't even see the man so he'd say, 'Deal with him, Hemingway! Deal with him!'"


Marcel Proust’s gargantuan, seven-volume masterpiece, À la recherche du temps perdu, is perhaps the other most important Modernist work of the early 20th century besides Ulysses. In May 1922, the authors met at a party for composer Igor Stravinsky and ballet impresario Sergei Diaghilev in Paris. The Dubliners author arrived late, was drunk, and wasn’t wearing formal clothes because he was too poor to afford them. Proust arrived even later than Joyce, and though there are varying accounts of what was actually said between the two, every known version points to a very anticlimactic meeting of the minds.

According to author William Carlos Williams, Joyce said, “I’ve headaches every day. My eyes are terrible,” to which the ailing Proust replied, “My poor stomach. What am I going to do? It’s killing me. In fact, I must leave at once.”

Publisher Margaret Anderson claimed that Proust admitted, “I regret that I don’t know Mr. Joyce’s work,” while Joyce replied, “I have never read Mr. Proust.”

Art reviewer Arthur Power said both writers simply talked about liking truffles. Joyce later told painter Frank Budgen, “Our talk consisted solely of the word ‘No.’”


Joyce had a childhood fear of thunder and lightning, which sprang from his Catholic governess’s pious warnings that such meteorological occurrences were actually God manifesting his anger at him. The fear haunted the writer all his life, though Joyce recognized the beginnings of his phobia. When asked by a friend why he was so afraid of rough weather, Joyce responded, “You were not brought up in Catholic Ireland.”

The fear also manifested itself in Joyce’s writing. In Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, the autobiographical protagonist Stephen Dedalus says he fears “dogs, horses, firearms, the sea, thunderstorms, [and] machinery.”

But the most fascinating manifestation of his astraphobia is in his stream of consciousness swan song, Finnegans Wake, where he created the 100-letter word Bababadalgharaghtaka-mminarronnkonnbronntonnerronntuonnthunntrovarrhounawnskawntoohoohoordenenthurnuk to represent a symbolic biblical thunderclap. The mouthful is actually made up of different words for “thunder” in French (tonnerre), Italian (tuono), Greek (bronte), and Japanese (kaminari).


Fellow Modernist Virginia Woolf didn't much care for Joyce or his work. She compared his writing to "a queasy undergraduate scratching his pimples," and said that "one hopes he’ll grow out of it; but as Joyce is 40 this scarcely seems likely."

She wasn't the only one. In a letter, D.H. Lawrence—who wrote such classics as Women in Love and Lady Chatterley’s Loversaid of Joyce: “My God, what a clumsy olla putrida James Joyce is! Nothing but old fags and cabbage stumps of quotations from the Bible and the rest stewed in the juice of deliberate, journalistic dirty-mindedness.”

“Do I get much pleasure from this work? No," author H.G. Wells wrote in his review of Finnegans Wake. “ ... Who the hell is this Joyce who demands so many waking hours of the few thousand I have still to live for a proper appreciation of his quirks and fancies and flashes of rendering?”

Even his partner Nora had a difficult time with his work, saying after the publication of Ulysses, “Why don’t you write sensible books that people can understand?”


Joyce was admitted to a Zurich hospital in January 1941 for a perforated duodenal ulcer, but slipped into a coma after surgery and died on January 13. His last words were befitting his notoriously difficult works—they're said to have been, "Does nobody understand?"

Additional Source: James Joyce


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