Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Gored by bull

Ghost word:

Algorism, n.: A statement, easily disproved, claiming credit for something.

Today is Al Gore's 62nd birthday. At one time or another, to some degree or another, the Nobel Prize-winner has said that he was instrumental in the creation of the Internet, and in coining the terms "nanotechnology" and "the Information Superhighway."

Wait around long enough, and Gore will claim he discovered global warming.

Anagram of the day:

Albert Arnold Gore = blander rot galore

This is also the 62nd birthday, by the way, of Rhea Perlman, who played Carla on Cheers. She coined a word of her own: Birdzilla, the oversized turkey that Norm stuck in her oven on Thanksgiving Day.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Do you clerihew?

Edmund Clerihew Bentley died today in 1956. He invented the verse form named after him, the clerihew. Here is one of his famous ones:

Sir Humphrey Davy
Abominated gravy.
He lived in the odium
Of having discovered sodium

Bentley's first collection of verse in this vein, Biography for Beginners, was published in 1905. The name clerihew was bestowed on the form soon after.

There are no rigid rules to creating a clerihew, but basically it should be a humorous quatrain about someone well-known, rhymed as two couplets with lines of unequal length. The name of the subject usually ends the first or second line.

Here are some clerihews by the Master:

The people of Spain think Cervantes
Equal to half-a-dozen Dantes;
An opinion resented most bitterly
By the people of Italy

The meaning of the poet Gay
Was always as clear as day,
While that of the poet Blake
Was often practically opaque

I doubt if King John
Was a sine qua non.
I could rather imagine it
Of any other Plantagenet

Dante Alighieri
Seldom troubled a dairy.
He wrote the Inferno
On a bottle of Pernod

Nicholas Bentley followed in his father's footsteps with this admirable clerihew:

Cecil B. De Mille,
Rather against his will,
Was persuaded to leave Moses
Out of 'The Wars of the Roses'

Here’s my attempt:

The playwright Moliere
Could be quite a holy terror.
While telling audiences they were vile,
He had them rolling in the aisle

Monday, March 29, 2010


Ghost word (one that appears in the language for a time, but may just as quickly disappear):

Tipperware, n.: The means, methods, or technology of labeling items, in order to apprise consumers of the content within.

Originally applied to record albums, the systemology has since been extended to other categories of items, such as alcoholic spirits, tobacco and food.

On this day in 1990, record companies agreed to carry warning labels on the albums they produced. That innovation came about largely through the efforts of Mary Elizabeth "Tipper" Gore, wife of the future Nobel Prize winner.

As a teenager and college student back in the heyday of vinyl, I would certainly have appreciated warning labels on record albums. Buying one was often a hit-or-miss proposition, and a label along the lines of "Warning: There's only one decent song on this entire album -- the one you heard on the radio," or "Warning: There are some dirty words on this album but the music is so loud you can't understand them" would have been helpful.

I don't know why Tipper Gore didn't go after books, which can be just as seditious and corrupting as music.

Someone could have done an inestimable service to adolescents everywhere by labeling books. I remember spending a couple of feverish hours paging through my mom's copy of Lolita, searching for the titillating stuff. A label like "Warning: Kids should not expect to find any tawdry sex or filthy language in this book, as it is literature" would have saved me, and many others like me, I'm sure, a lot of disappointment.

And what about labels like this: "Warning: This book may induce headaches or extreme drowsiness in underage persons; read at your own risk." They might even have made our teachers think twice about administering too-heavy doses of the classics.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

It's a pleasure to present...

Today is the birthdate of author Flannery O'Connor. Here are some excerpts from her great short story, "A Good Man Is Hard to Find."

"A young woman in slacks, whose face was as broad and innocent as a cabbage..."

"She had her big black valise that looked like the head of a hippopotamus..."

"In case of an accident, anyone seeing her dead on the highway would know at once that she was a lady."

"The trees were full of silver-white sunlight and the meanest of them sparkled."

"His jaw was as rigid as a horseshoe."

"Behind them the woods gaped like a dark open mouth."

"She could hear the wind move through the tree tops like a long satisfied insuck of breath."

"'Lady', the Misfit said, looking beyond her far into the woods, 'there never was a body that give the undertaker a tip.'"

And the last, stunning, musical line:

"'Shut up, Bobby Lee,' the Misfit said. "It's no real pleasure in life.'"

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Happy (and lucky) EASTER!

What is EASTER?

One of the best of all combinations of letters to have on your rack in Scrabble.

You can form all of these Scrabble-acceptable six-letter anagrams of EASTER: ARETES, EATERS, RESEAT, SEATER, TEASER.

EASTER is also an acceptable Scrabble word. It means a wind or a storm from the east.

You can also combine the letters in EASTER with 20 of the 25 other letters of the alphabet to make seven-letter words, or bingos, worth a bonus of 50 points. Using these 20 other letters, you can make a total of 49 seven-letter bingos.

The Scrabble word geeks who compute such things rate EASTER as the 10th-best (bingo-prone) six-letter combination of letters.