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Hey, Matt:

I saw in the newspaper there is a car-o-rama for the latest new cars. Where does this o-rama business originate?

-- Pat N. Paul, the net

Mankind has always been a sucker for the wow factor. Wow-o-rama is just an 18th-century logical extension. At that time, all the lucky ducks were out seeing new sights, exploring new worlds, while the rest of us huddled around the fire, eating gruel and darning damp socks. What we needed was some entertainment that would bring the world to our doorstep. Comes along Robert Barker, Irish painter, and his panoramas-- reeeeely wide paintings that captured a 360-degree view of famous cities and landmarks. Stand in the middle of the display and it's almost like being in London or Paris, or at any rate, it's better than darning socks. The enterprising Barker copyrighted the painting technique and the name "panorama" (Greek: pan = all; horama = sight) in the 1780s. Special rooms and buildings were constructed to show them off, and they were a bona fide craze. Cycloramas and dioramas were spinoffs of the panorama idea. Even in the 1830s, when photography displaced painting, some of the most popular shots were city and landscape panoramas. Basically, any "-orama" was something pretty big and spectacular. Our French connection confirms that there is currently a mattress chain in France called Conforama (confort, French, "comfort" + -rama), so the word ending lives on.

Visionary American industrial and theatrical designer Norman Bel Geddes revived "-orama" interest at the 1939 New York Worlds Fair. He designed the very famous General Motors pavilion and called it Futurama, his concept of the ideal city just over the technological horizon. Once again, the populace was stunned.

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