The NonVerbal Dictionary of Gestures, Signs & Body Language Cues

Lawn Display

The poetry of earth is ceasing never. --Keats, On the Grasshopper and Cricket

Damn, I poured my whole life into this lawn, my heart, my soul, the tender feelings I've held back from my family . . . . Look, some people hoist a flag to show they love their country. Well, my lawn is my flag. --Hank Hill, King of the Hill (quoted in The Spokesman-Review, May 28, 2000, F1) 

Spatial cue. A plot of carefully groomed grass, and any of several decorative artifacts (e.g., white pickets or plastic pink flamingos) placed upon its surface.

Usage: Lawns mark territory and betoken status. Each year, Americans buy an estimated 500,000 plastic pink flamingo ornaments to mark their yard space--and to provide tangible evidence that, "This land is mine."
Evolution. Two m.y.a. the first humans lived in eastern Africa on hot, flat, open countryside with scattered trees and bushes and little shade, known as savannah grasslands. (N.B.: At this time, the human brain was expanding faster than any brain ever had in animal history, and in the growing process seemingly locked in a fondness for level grassland spaces.)
Verbal prehistory. The word lawn itself may be traced to the ancient Indo-European root, lendh-, "open land."

Today I. To make earth more to our liking, we flatten and smooth its surface to resemble the original rolling plains our ancestors walked upon during the critical Pleistocene epoch two m.y.a. Neo-Savannah Grassland--with its scattered bushes, trees, and lawns--is the dominant theme of housing tracts, campuses, cemeteries, entertainment parks, and shopping malls in almost every city today.

Today II. So important are lawns as consumer products that, at the University of Florida, a $700,000 campus laboratory--known as the TurfGrass Envirotron--was fabricated so horticulturalists could watch grass grow.

Today III. "Despite the view in some circles that lawns are a symbol of suburban conformity and repressed individualism, Americans traditionally have equated a green space around the home with freedom and power, said Washington State University horticulturalist Ken Struckmeyer" (Turner 2000:F8). 

Flatland, China. In 1999, Chinese leaders planted a few hundred square yards of grass from seed (shipped from USA's Inland Northwest) on Tiananmen Square. "Across China, cities are planting thousands of acres of lawns, parks and golf courses ['to reverse decades of environmental ruin and make drab cities more livable'] . . ." (McDonald 1999). (N.B.: On Tiananmen square, knee-high metal signs warn visitors: "Please don't enter the grass.")

Flatland, USA. Taking the U.S. as a whole, 40 square feet of perfectly level shopping-center space has been constructed for every child born since 1986. Due to our prehistory on grasslands, we prefer to conduct our lives on plane-paved surfaces. In Los Angeles, ". . . 70 percent of the land area is devoted to the use of cars . . ." (Mathews 1974). Some 100,000 acres of land are now occupied, e.g., by vast, table-terraced superstores. (N.B.: Inside air temperatures average 72 degrees F., the warmth of the primeval savannah.) And spreading in front of houses and apartment buildings are closely cropped micro-savannahs, occupying an estimated 7.7 million acres of level, home-lawn plots.

Interior design. "Grass green [in the home environment] is not particularly popular in rural areas, where presumably people see a lot of it. But for those from inner city areas, green ranks high on their list of favorites" (Vargas 1986:142).

Media. "Like the interstate highway system, fast food chains, telephones, televisions, and malls, the lawn occupies a central, and often unconsidered, place in America's cultural landscape." --Georges Teyssot ("The American Lawn," quoted in Spokesman-Review, May 28, 2000:F1)

Neuro-notes. Like the cylindrical, filamentous projections covering our scalp, we respond to grass blades as we do to our own hair. The compulsion to feed, clip, and groom our yard space is prompted by the same preadapted modules of the mammalian brain which motivate personal grooming and hair care (see CINGULATE GYRUS). Like thick, healthy locks, well-groomed lawns bespeak health, vigor, and high status.

See also GOLF.