The fourth line of the last stanza (stanza 6) in the poem "Confessions of a Born Spectator" by Ogden Nash is:

Buy tickets worth their radium

What does 'radium' mean here?

What does the phrase 'worth their radium' mean?

What would the meaning be if 'their' were not there?

What does it mean with 'their'?

  • 1
    Maybe: worth their weight in radium, allowing for poetic license?
    – Peter Shor
    Commented Aug 15, 2020 at 13:59
  • The poet has only mentioned 'worth'. Then, how does 'weight' come into it? Commented Aug 16, 2020 at 4:48
  • 2
    @tum_ As a native speaker I have never heard the expression "worth their gold". There is an unrelated expression "worth their salt" but the expression with "worth . . . gold" is invariably "worth their weight in gold". Ogden Nash did not abbreviate that common expression (and thereby ruin the scansion of that line). Incredible as it may seem, he has been misquoted – on the internet of all places! See my answer.
    – user14111
    Commented Aug 16, 2020 at 22:51
  • @user14111 Oh, these misquotations on the internet... They are the curse of our time. Upvoted your answer. Apparently, as a non-native speaker, I googled for the "worth their gold" and found a few hits - this, for example. :) "These revolutionary new ear phones are totally worth their gold in terms of sound quality and fit.", and more...
    – tum_
    Commented Aug 16, 2020 at 23:07
  • @tum_ Thanks! I wonder what "worth their gold" means in that link ("worth their weight in gold" doesn't really make sense, does it?) and I wonder if it was written by a native speaker. As for me, i am an old native speaker, and I've heard a lot of different words and expressions in my time, but I'm not up to date on all the new ones. Ogden Nash of course is even older than I am. (I attended a reading of his sometime around 1953.)
    – user14111
    Commented Aug 16, 2020 at 23:27

2 Answers 2


You have quoted from a slightly garbled version of Ogden Nash's poem which can be found in many places on the internet. You might have guessed there was something wrong with the quotation from the failure of scansion. (Nash wrote many prose-like verses with no pretense of scansion, but this was not one of them.) Here is the last stanza as it appears in Nash's 1941 collection The Face Is Familiar (emphasis added):

Athletes, I'll drink to you or eat with you,
Or anything except compete with you;
Buy tickets worth their weight in radium
To watch you gambol in a stadium,
And reassure myself anew
That you're not me and I'm not you.

The reasons for putting "radium" here have been explained in another answer:
(1) "worth one's weight in gold" is a popular idiom;
(2) radium is rarer and costlier than gold;
(3) and mainly, "radium" rhymes with "stadium" whereas "gold" does not.

  • 1
    The rhyme is certainly the most important aspect of it. One of the features of Nash is his use of unexpected/unusual rhymes. He could have easily substituted "gold/fold" for "radium/stadium" but it would not have been Nashian in the least. Commented Aug 17, 2020 at 3:27
  • There are actually a bunch more mistakes in the version of the poem that's common on the Internet.
    – Peter Shor
    Commented Aug 17, 2020 at 10:39
  • @PeterShor Is there a correct text or a scan available for free on the web? I thought about copying the whole poem into my answer — it must be in the public domain by now — not sure if that would be good netiquette on this site, seeing as the question was only about the last stanza.
    – user14111
    Commented Aug 17, 2020 at 10:53
  • The poem is probably not in the public domain (it depends on whether the copyright was renewed, and Ogden Nash renewed a bunch of his copyrights). The correct text is available by subscription to the New Yorker (it was first published in the January 16, 1937, issue). But a version appears online here with different and fewer typos (e.g., it should be This one and not This is one).
    – Peter Shor
    Commented Aug 17, 2020 at 11:29

According to this source:

Why does the poet prefer to buy tickets worth their weight in radium?
Bring out the significance of the metal referred to here.

Radium is more expensive than diamonds. It is a rare metal discovered by Madam Curie. The poet was ready to buy tickets as expensive as radium just to stay as a spectator.

So, it looks like @PeterShor nailed it in his comment.

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