Normal, Illinois

Effington by Ben Folds

I could change my name
Grow a beard, start a family
Or I could just keep on moving on
We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal and are endowed to inalienable rights, such as life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. The First Amendment – freedom of speech – from the Bill of Rights also enables us to say just about whatever we want, whenever we want, to whomever we want... and give things really stupid names.

Don't believe me? Check the tabloids in the check-out line at your local grocery store or supermarket. You'll read countless examples of celebrities naming their children the most ridiculous things: Pilot-Inspector, Apple, North West. Unfortunately, it isn't only the children who suffer. Many cities and towns from sea to shining sea share the same fate.

North Street, downtown Normal, Illinois<br>Photo: <a href=",_Illinois.jpg">Willjay</a>, <a href="">CC BY 3.0</a>, via Wikimedia CommonsNorth Street, downtown Normal, Illinois
Photo: Willjay, CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons
New Mexicans aren't the only people familiar with Truth or Consequences, NM (pop. 6,500), whose namesake was the popular NBC game show that aired from 1940-1957. Pennsylvanians reading this now are nodding their heads and smiling with the knowledge that Mars, Pennsylvania, is a small town just north of Pittsburgh, and Intercourse, Pennsylvania, lies due-west of Philadelphia.

While we're at it, let's not forget:
Hooker, Oklahoma
Hell, Michigan
Pussy Creek, Ohio
Boring, Oregon
Poopoo, Hawaii
Plain City, Utah

There's even a town in Colorado called No Name. It appears that Americans aren't without a sense of humor or are victims of embarrassment (especially the citizens of Embarrass, Minnesota). Ben Folds is no exception and he utilizes this sense of humor in much of his music.

His song, "Effington," from the 2009 album Way to Normal, tells the story of a man on a road trip who's driving through the Midwest and spots a sign for a town called Effington. The narrator tries to imagine what life would be like in this small town with such an unfortunate moniker. The word play and double entendre come flying forth from the first lyric to the last. Blending fact with fiction, Folds names the real-life Illinois town of Normal for the purposes of comparison and a couple good laughs.

"Effington could be a wonderful, effing place...
I can see it from the highway; and I'm wondering...
Are they effing in their yards?
Effing in their cars?
Effing in their trailers and the back roads and the parking lots...
In Effington?
Making my way to Normal, Illinois."

Normal is a central Illinois town (McLean County) with a population of over 50,000 people. Originally called North Bloomington, the name was changed in 1865 in reference to the original name of the college calling the city home: Illinois State Normal University, where 'normal people' could go to obtain a 'normal education.' Interestingly enough, the town is adjacent to Bloomington, so close that the locals have affectionately begun referring to their own twin cities as Blo-No.

The humor here, if you haven't managed to grasp it yet, is in the double meaning of the word effing. explains the word effing as "derivative of the word f*cking" (asterisk, ours), and "used where derogatory words are not allowed." Folds uses this to his advantage as he paints a humorous portrait of the citizens in Effington engaging in sexual congress everywhere they physically can... all over town.

By contrast, the listener assumes that the populace of Normal, Illinois, is at the opposing extreme and more like the average American. In fact, more conservative listeners may imagine themselves or specific people they know (friends, family, neighbors) living a tame existence in Normal. These people would be appalled to live in and witness the debauchery taking place every day in Effington.

"That's what Normal people do.
Normal people do it, too.
I want to live
In Effington..."

By the end of the song, the narrator has convinced himself that he'd rather live and die in a judgment-free place of fun and excitement than a boring, average, Normal town. We all know, as he additionally points out, that normal people do it too. You don't have to live in Effington to have yourself a good effing.

Of course, it's all in good fun and Folds knows it. He knows his audience well and, except for the residents of Normal, knows they can all take a joke, even one as effed up as this.

Justin Novelli
May 11, 2016

Comments: 1

  • Dennis Stuempfle from Philadelphia, PaGreat article and very funny, esp about Intercourse. For those who read this humorous story and don't know anything about PA, Intercourse is a great little town near Blue Ball and Bird-in-Hand. My personal preference would be Intercourse over either Blue Ball or Bird-in-Hand but I guess it's a matter of choice
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