The Enigma of the Missing Lids

It is common knowledge throughout Europe and North America (most likely in other continents as well), that there are pots and pans in the kitchen cupboards throughout this immense expanse of geography, that have missing lids. I believe that it is entirely plausible that this missing lids anomaly is a world wide problem. I further believe that the term “missing lid” is proper usage, not “misplaced lid” or “lost lid,” because I see a correlation between “missing lid” usage and “missing person” usage. The police designate a person as “missing” when the circumstances indicate that the disappearance was not voluntary. I submit that this is the precise circumstance that pertains in the case of the missing lids. Pots and pans appear innocuous enough, but what do we know of goings-on when we are sleeping and the cupboard doors are closed . . .? ?

To illustrate my point I cite the following incident. My wife and I went on vacation and when we came home we noticed that we were missing the lids from two tea pots. It’s very strange because we both recall seeing them in the cupboard on their appropriate pots not too long before leaving town. And neither of us remembers removing them.

My wife called her friend Jocelyn and she said that there wasn’t anything strange happening around the house while we were gone. This is all too weird! No one could have possibly misplaced these items because Jocelyn would have noticed any lid stealing strangers around our house?

Of course I anticipate the objection to what I am suggesting on the grounds that my reasoning is an example of Pathetic or Anthropomorphic Fallacy. The definition of pathetic fallacy is the treatment of inanimate objects as if they had human feelings, thought, or sensations. To refute this objection I would argue that to be accused of advancing an idea through the use of pathetic fallacy is not necessarily a pejorative attribution. In support I submit the following examples:

Pathetic fallacy in legend:

According to legend, when Xerxes was crossing the Hellespont in the midst of the first Greco-Persian War, he built two bridges that were quickly destroyed. Feeling personally offended, he let his paranoia lead him to believe that the sea was consciously acting against him as though it were an enemy. As such, Herodotus quotes him as saying, “You salt and bitter stream, your master lays his punishment upon you for injuring him, who never injured you. Xerxes will cross you, with or without your permission.” He subsequently threw chains into the river, gave it three hundred lashes and “branded it with red-hot irons”.

Pathetic fallacy in literature:

Literary critics after Ruskin have generally not followed him in regarding the pathetic fallacy as an artistic mistake, instead assuming that attribution of sentient, humanizing traits to inanimate things is a centrally human way of understanding the world, and that it does have a useful and important role in art and literature. Indeed, to reject the use of pathetic fallacy would mean dismissing most Romantic poetry and many of Shakespeare’s most memorable images. The use of pathetic fallacy occurs in any number of accomplished twentieth-century writers, including William Carlos Williams, Theodore Roethke, Mary Oliver, Eavan Boland, and John Ashbery.

Examples of literary use of pathetic fallacy:

  • “The stars will awaken / Though the moon sleep a full hour later”—Percy Bysshe Shelley
  • “The fruitful field / Laughs with abundance”—William Cowper
  • “Nature must be gladsome when I was so happy”—Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Bronte

Pathetic fallacy in science:

Historically, the properties and interactions of classical elements were described as if they were animate. For example, the fact that fire and smoke tend to rise was explained so that because fire belongs to the sphere located above the air, fire wants to go there. Another famous example is the phrase “Nature abhors a vacuum.”

Even in modern science it is difficult to speak about the physical world without personifying it. The philosopher Owen Barfield points out we say that two masses are gravitationally “attracted,” or that an object “tends” to stay still and not accelerate unless a force “acts” on it. The use of pathetic fallacy can be a good way to quickly explain complex scientific concepts in an easily understood form.

* * *

In conclusion, let me offer a pathetically fallacious hypothesis to explain this most annoying, pandemic, missing lid phenomenon. I submit that during the dark of night, when the cupboard doors are closed, when the members of the household are sleeping, the pots and pans assemble in a secluded corner of the cabinetry and conspire. And having come to an agreement they then murder certain of the lid congregation and hide the remains behind the wall between the studding. And I challenge anyone to come up with a more reasonable, more analytical, or more balanced theory.


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