Thursday, July 10, 1997

The Pterodactyl Wing Fribble
by TMF Selena

It was only a few weeks ago that the Fool scooped The Wall Street Journal, by being the first to discover and report on the link between hippopotamus feet and the Dow Dividend Approach. After this expose, I invited anyone to challenge me to relate any other unusual topic to investing. I only received one taker. My new mission? Pterodactyl wings.

So off I went, on an expedition through the tangled World Wide Web, searching for information on these magnificent beasts. The first thing I learned was how to spell the word correctly. There's an "o" in it. I paused to consider even this seemingly insignificant piece of information and was startled to notice that the letter "o" appears in many words and phrases important to the Foolish world of investing: "stOck," "MOtley FOOl," "empOwered investOr," and "dO yOur Own hOmewOrk." (Heck, even AOl and IOmega, for that matter.)

That wasn't enough, though, so I kept digging. (And digging is an apt word here, since pterodactyls lived some 160 to 65 million years ago and they're more under the ground than above it now.) I stumbled onto the website of Miss Phillips's second-grade class at Gates Elementary School in Davison, Michigan. Students there have apparently also been studying dinosaurs, and the research of a young scholar named Bryan helped me immensely. As he eloquently put it, "The pterodactyl flies. He uses his wings to fly. He is a reptile. He came from an egg. He flies like a bird, but he is not a bird. He is a reptile." (Bryan also added that, "It was really, really, really, really fun to write the story and draw the picture.")

I thought about his findings and realized that the pterodactyl is kind of like an El Camino -- part car, part truck. It flies, and yet it isn't a bird. That's kind of like Foolish investors. We haven't all got MBAs, or wingtips and suspenders, or jobs on Wall Street, but our portfolios can soar high above the ground anyway. They sometimes soar in a small way, on wingspans one-foot wide, as in the case of the sparrow-sized pterodactyl -- or in a big way, as in the case of its cousin, the Quetzalcoatlus, with an estimated 51-foot wingspan.

As reptiles, pterodactyls laid eggs and coddled them, so to speak. Similarly, investors can be thought of as laying eggs in the nests of their portfolios. Some of these unfortunately just remain laid eggs, while others grow robustly and take to flight. Really, how different is it whether you're sitting on a warm egg for a bunch of days, or sitting on a promising undervalued stock for a few months or longer? (Okay, it's a little different.) In either case, you're waiting for your patience to be rewarded with growth -- which is by no means guaranteed, but is very possible, given the work you've put into the endeavor.

Pterodactyls appear to have been comfortable on both land and water. Just as Foolish investors take the time to tend to their nest eggs on land, toiling at workplaces and spending time researching stocks, they also soar over the water, relaxing with friends and family.

Let's take a close look at the wings themselves. They were supported by a long fourth finger. The other fingers were more like claws with hooks. Why? Presumably so that when the pterodactyl saw something it liked and wanted, it could grab onto it and not let it slip away. In the same manner, Fools aim to hold tight to the stocks they've invested in and believe in, to their principles and honor, to their sense of humor, and to their loved ones.

Pterodactyl wings were made of skin, not feathers. Hmmm... can I find an apt analogy here? Are we Fools made of skin? I think so. Are we clad in feathers? Do we run, chicken-like, when we hear a loud noise in the market? I think not.

The case linking pterodactyl wings to Foolish investing, then, appears to be a strong one. But wait -- we've forgotten one tiny detail. Extinction! Should we fret that perhaps Fooldom is going to be short-lived, and that it will only be around for a mere 100 million years? No, no, no. We're not exactly like pterodactyls, you see. There are a few differences.

We've got a vibrant electronic community, for one thing, spanning the whole globe. If some of us begin to see ice caps encroaching in our neighborhoods, we can alert the rest of Fooldom and begin to plan accordingly. Remember, Dinosaurs didn't have Gore-tex or parkas and boots capable of withstanding days and nights in Antarctica. They never had the advantage of a 24-hour weather channel on TV or prosthetic wings to replace those lost to frostbite. We've also got education on our side. As Fools, we look forward to learning all kinds of nifty things to enrich our lives. Pterodactyls, meanwhile, mainly just ate and flew, nested and slept, and so on. Little thought was ever given to investing for their own future or those of their progeny. They weren't long-term thinkers, their brains were considerably more modest in size than our own, and they ended up as fossils.

Fear not, though -- we're not the Motley Fossil!

[Note: If anyone would like to challenge me to write a Fribble on any seemingly difficult or bizarre topic, please send the idea to me at:

Selena Maranjian

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