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Kirby vacuum cleaners

A Kirby Avalir vacuum cleaner

Sorry again, non-nerds. This is another nerd post. Though we’ll also talk about Kirby’s business practices.

I had not been inside a pawn shop in probably 50 years. Nice people don’t go into pawn shops. But I was waiting for the oil to be changed in my car, with a one-hour wait on my hands. I got in 2.5 miles of walking, checking out the businesses in the neighborhood of the car place. One of those businesses was a pawn shop. When I went in, a nice young man told me that if I saw anything I liked, he’d make me a good deal on it.

Only one thing caught my eye. That was a Kirby Avalir vacuum cleaner, model G10D, that looked like new. The sticker said that it came with a box of tools. The sticker price was $199. After wandering around the store for a while, I told the young man that I had some time to kill while my car was being serviced, and that I was interested in the vacuum cleaner. I asked what kind of deal he’d make me. He went behind the counter and looked up something in a computer. He’d sell it for $140, he said. I went out and walked some more, and I Googled for that model of Kirby. The price he’d offered me was a total steal. I resolved that I’d go back, and, if the box of tools (which was in the back, he said), was complete, then I’d buy the vacuum cleaner. After visiting an ATM machine and withdrawing enough cash, I went back to the pawn shop. Most of the tools in the box appeared to have never been used. There even was a shampoo attachment (which I will never use and probably ought to sell on eBay).

Kirby vacuum cleaners are an American icon, with about 85 years of history. Their build quality is superb, and they’re very high-powered. The mechanical beauty of a Kirby vacuum cleaner is so appealing to men that it seems that most of the YouTube videos on Kirby vacuum cleaners are done by men. Kirby’s marketing, though, has often gotten the company into trouble. They’re sold by “direct sales” only, door to door. Though they’re great vacuum cleaners, they cost twice as much as comparable products, like every product that is sold door to door. Poor people and old people are often targeted by Kirby salesmen, people who can’t afford Kirby’s prices. I would assume that Kirby must also make money through financing, because it seems very unlikely that many customers are in a position to write a $2,000 check for a vacuum cleaner.

And so the value of a Kirby vacuum cleaner drops by about half as soon as the salesman walks out the door. After that, Kirby vacuum cleaners hold their value very well, as you’ll see if you shop for one on eBay.

Driving home with the vacuum cleaner in the front seat and the box of tools in the back, I had a good chuckle at the model name “Avalir.” As a word nerd, I knew that it’s clearly taken from the French avaler, which means to swallow or to inhale. It was a bit of work, Googling in French, to trace the root of the French avaler back to Latin. The Latin root is valles, or valley. The French avaler, it seems, originally meant “to descend,” but later the word acquired the meaning of swallowing. An English cognate is avalanche.

I haven’t used the vacuum cleaner yet because I’m waiting for some new vacuum cleaner bags from Amazon. But Lily (the cat), though she has never heard the thing run, recognized it instantly as a vacuum cleaner. She turned and fled upstairs.


  1. Chenda wrote:

    Do people ‘kirby’ their carpets as we over here hoover them ? :))

    Monday, November 19, 2018 at 6:30 pm | Permalink
  2. daltoni wrote:

    Chenda: Ha! I have never heard “Kirby” used as a verb. But, as in the U.K., we Americans do sometimes speak of Hoovering. 🙂

    Monday, November 19, 2018 at 6:35 pm | Permalink
  3. frigast wrote:

    As a curiosum I can tell, that we in France ‘Aspirer’ our carpets – hilarious, eh ??

    Tuesday, November 20, 2018 at 7:09 am | Permalink
  4. daltoni wrote:

    Frigast: Ha! (For those who may have forgotten their French, the verb aspirer is usually translated as to breathe, to suck, or to draw.)

    The English cognate aspire clearly relates to the spire part of the word, since in Latin spiritus means both “breath” and “spirit.”

    In English we also have the cognate to aspirate, which is pretty much the same as the French infinitive aspirer.

    Hereafter, I shall aspirate my rugs. 🙂

    Tuesday, November 20, 2018 at 8:25 am | Permalink
  5. frigast wrote:

    When we ‘respirer’, we breath/respire.
    consisting of ‘inspirer’ = inhale,
    and ‘expirer’ = exhale.
    But when ‘aspirer’, we vacuum 🙂
    Just remember that the ‘i’ is pronounced as ‘ee’, and the accent is on the last syllabel.
    May be that was more than you bargained for – but comparative linguistics can be rather interesting … at least to us nerds – lol

    Tuesday, November 20, 2018 at 9:47 am | Permalink
  6. Jo wrote:

    Sometimes the planets just line up and we find ourselves “in the right place at the right time.” You certainly hit the jackpot with the Kirby. My son-in-law has a favorite jacket which is all but worn out. My daughter has been looking for a replacement for quite a long while. Last week she visited Etsy for the first time and VOILA, there it was and in his size.
    Already wrapped for Christmas.

    Tuesday, November 20, 2018 at 6:55 pm | Permalink

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