This week, a Massachusetts seafarer made headlines when news broke that he had caught a bright blue lobster along with his regular, gross-looking haul off the coast of Cape Cod. The seafarer, Wayne Nickerson, has been fishing lobster for more than 35 years, and the last time he caught such a rare specimen was in 1990. According to the statistics everyone is sharing—which are not accurate, because no one really knows how common blue lobsters are—the chances of catching a blue lobster are about one in two million. Social media users connected with this statistic, as well as the blue lobster's captivating appearance, and the story began trending on Facebook.
I can see where they are coming from—the lobster looks cool. It looks like a fake lobster, or a lobster to which a Tumblr user has applied Photo Booth effects. But what I am asking you to do in this article is to look beyond this, and instead focus on the man who made it happen, the man whose profession involves sailing to sea, on a boat and some hopes, to garner a coveted and difficult-to-eat type of seafood. I am asking you to consider the lobsterman.
Did you know this was a word? I did not. My boyfriend says he did, but I think he is lying. If you google "lobsterman," you get a mixture of results: images of men in lobster costumes (all red); a sad page about a "monster" human with "ectrodactyly," or "Lobster Claw Syndrome"; and some articles about the most recent blue lobster and his captor's happiness. "He let out a loud exclamation of excitement," the lobsterman's wife, Jan, told ABC News. "He was very clear about how excited he was." The definition of lobsterman is fairly self-explanatory—according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, it refers to "one whose business is lobstering," and its first known use was in 1881. While it does appear in David Foster Wallace's essay, "Consider the Lobster," it is a passing reference, and I do not believe I would have really thought about the niceness of the term—or the verb "to lobster," for that matter—for some time had Facebook's trending algorithm not existed.
If you are still thinking about the lobster and how it is blue, please stop. That is not as interesting as the fact that this word, lobsterman, exists. The lobster is blue because of a genetic abnormality that causes it to produce an excess of a certain protein. Most European lobsters are actually a little bit blue. Blue crabs are basically everywhere. The color is nice, but it's also the same color as many things: the sky, the ocean, poisonous tree frogs, the Walmart logo. Newsflash: There are weirder and rarer types of lobsters. Yellow lobsters and "crystal," or albino, lobsters are but two examples. This pamphlet, titled "One in a Million? Perspective Is Everything," by the University of Maine Lobster Institute is about to blow your fucking mind.
Also, why do you care that a man in Massachusetts caught a blue lobster? It is nice for him to have unlocked a personal career achievement, but how does that affect your life? Blue lobsters are not available at most restaurants; when they are, they taste a little better, sure, but they cost at least double what normal lobsters cost, and their glamorous rarity creates a sense of urgency and competition among people who might feel, for some reason, that they must eat a blue lobster before they die.
They also turn red when you cook them. Who cares?
By contrast, the joys of compound words are limitless, and free. Such constructions, particularly those involving professions, harken back to the great English language's German roots—they are really a type of living history, in a way. While lobsters themselves are also very old, they are nevertheless not endangered, as quaint compound-word jobs are. Not only do they create delightful opportunities for pronunciation—is it "LOBster-min"? "Lobster-MAN"?—but they also remind us of a time when things were simple, and straightforward: when a man who dealt with lobsters was just a lobsterman, lobstering.
In conclusion, the blue lobster is not crazy. Language is crazy.
The Massachusetts Lobstermen's Association, which owns and operates the domain name lobstermen.com, did not return my request for comment.