On language, Princeton style: The history of 'Beirut'
The capital of Lebanon is the second thing that comes to mind when the college student hears "Beirut." Images of beer-soaked chins and recollections of that unmistakable ping-pong tang first flood our memories. But why is this great American pastime called Beirut?
After doing lots of research and sifting through tons of websites about the rules of Beirut and beer pong — not the same game, my dear friends, not the same — I finally stumbled upon Anoop Rathod's Sept.15, 2004, "Without a Paddle" article in The Dartmouth Independent. Incidentally, in Hanover, N.H., the kids have even less to do than we do, so thankfully we can all benefit from the time they have taken to investigate beer lore. Much contention still surrounds the details of the founding and naming of Beirut, but there are two main stories that seem the most likely. Apparently, the rich tradition began when most of us were still watching "Fraggle Rock" and "David the Gnome." (Insert Wayne's World dream-sequence "doodoodoo" noises and ghetto wavy screen effect here).
One version of the story begins in October 1983, when a Hezbollah suicide bomber dropped on an American camp in Beirut, killing 241 U.S. Marines. Duane Kotsen, president of Lehigh's Theta Delta Chi frat in 1985, said he thinks the drinking game's name drew an "analogy between the ping-pong balls flying across the table and landing on the opponent's side and an idea that the U.S. should bomb Beirut as a result of the casualties in the area."
The name "reflects respect for the Marine and U.S. losses in the region at that point in history," he added. In Kotsen's version of the story of Beirut's creation, Theta Delta Chi brothers at Lehigh University started playing shortly after this attack, and Brian "Stubby" Poulton was the head honcho of the fledgling Beirut tourney world. Stubby, however, supposedly admitted that he adapted the game in 1983 from a form he observed at Bucknell. So according to B-Stubs — sorry, his name is awesome and I wanted to repeat it — Bucknell University kids were the original creators of Beirut.
The other Beirut creation legend asserts that the game was first played at Lehigh, but it was not until 1986 that the brothers of Sigma Nu, not Theta Delta Chi, first conceived the sport. The frat boys were apparently playing a rowdy game of beer pong and broke all the paddles, but they were so determined to keep playing that they decided to free throw the ping pong balls. Not satisfied with the level of intoxication that resulted from the one-cup-on-each-side setup, they decided to cover each end of the table with beer-filled cups. The game "Libya," named after Reagan's 1986 air attacks on Quaddaffi's Libya, was born. "Libya" didn't quite roll off the tongue, especially the soused tongue, the way they'd hoped, so following a terrorist truck-bomb attack on a Marine barracks in Lebanon's capital in 1986, "Libya" became "Beirut."
Perhaps we will never know the true story of Beirut's roots. We do know, though, that it was the brainchild of foreign-affairs-conscious frat brothers who felt the need to link current events with a sport of drunken debauchery. As they put it, whether you win or lose, you get bombed. Laura Berner is a sophomore from Rye, N.Y. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.