Tuesday, June 29, 2010

A heads-up to the baggage handlers

“60 severed heads were discovered on a Southwest Airlines flight to Fort Worth, Texas.” -- Harper’s Magazine.

Today's Perverse Verse:

Were they all in one trunk?
Don’t you think it would flunk
Pre-boarding inspection?
Did Economy section
Lose their heads when they learned
That these riders had earned
Discounts that were moreso?
(Flying without torso.)

Saturday, June 26, 2010

He didn't hit a homerun as far as everyone is concerned

Today is the birth date of Abner Doubleday (born 1819), the purported inventor of baseball.

Abner Doubleday is an anagram of bored and blue, ay?

Today's ghost word: abnermal, adj. Exceedingly boring, tedious, slow and overblown.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Just as the clock was striking thirteen

George Orwell was born on this day in 1903. Because of his novels 1984 and Animal Farm and other works, his name became an adjective (Orwellian) describing a state of society antithetical and inimical to freedom, and buttressed by the misuse of language.

In 1984 Orwell invented an ultra-fascist state which kept an iron grip on the reins of language. WAR IS PEACE is one of it slogans.

Orwell also invented the terms doublespeak and doublethink. Today, some of the most successful politicians are those who have mastered both of those arts.

"If thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought," Orwell said.

The use of the word "fascist" itself is an example of how language can corrupt political thought. Those who label Barack Obama a fascist are surely igorant of the real conditions of a fascist state.

"It would seem that, as used, the word 'Fascism' is almost entirely meaningless," Orwell wrote. "In conversation, of course, it is used even more wildly than in print. I have heard it applied to farmers, shopkeepers, Social Credit, corporal punishment, fox-hunting, bull-fighting, the 1922 Committee, the 1941 Committee, Kipling, Gandhi, Chiang Kai-Shek, homosexuality, Priestley's broadcasts, youth hostels, astrology, women, dogs and I don't know what else."

For more about Orwell

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Quackle snap pop

Quackle is the name of a Scrabble software program that allows you to play against a computer. The other day is scored 320 points against Quackle with "FANZINES," an idiotic word recently added to the Scrabble dictionary. Today Quackle retaliated with "WHEEZING" against me for 356 points. Still, I won't duck Quackle, ever.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Collectively speaking

Comedian George Carlin died on this day in 2008.  Carlin, who called himself a "cunning linguist," loved words and all the ways we use and misuse and dance around them. A lot of his jokes were about how inadequate words could be.  "What's the plural of hell of a guy?" he asked. "Would it be hells of guys?" 

How about hellows?  Not great, but we'll try to do better with these suggestions for collective nouns, in Carlin's honor:

A slew of gladiators
A herd of sounds
An order of skunks
A brood of beers
A band of books
A drove of cars
A knot of zeroes
A muster of hotdogs
A rash of diapers
A horde of prostitutes

Sunday, June 20, 2010

My meal ticket

Thinking of starting a new business, offering specialty placemats for diners and cafeterias. They would feature pithy quotations, riddles, jokes, et al.

The name: Place Mots.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Just banning "Trees" would have saved a million trees

Kay Ryan was named poet laureate of the United States. "I might take it upon myself," she said, "to prevent all bad poetry from being published."

She's a poet,
And boy, does she know it.
Just because she's the Laureate,
She feels entitled to excoriate
The poetasters among us?
As if we were fungus,
To be scraped away.
But how can she say
What's superior in verse
Without preserving what's worse

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Dickens, as dead as a door-nail, still lives

Charles Dickens died on this day in 1870.

He gave his name to idioms in this vein -- A "dickens" of a time, the "dickens" you say, what the "dickens," et al.

Dickens also created many characters whose names have entered the lexicon, or instantly suggest an image of a certain type of person -- Scrooge, Uriah Heep, Micawber, Pickwick, Fagin.

Some characters, only Dickens could have named: Sweedlepipe, Honeythunder, Bumble, Pumblechook, M'Choakumchild, Podsnap, Gradgrind.

The word Dickensian, of course, conjures up a whole slew of images.

One scientist of onomastics (the study of names) has declared that Dickens created 989 distinct characters, which inspires us to coin a word of our own to describe this fastidious scholar:


For more about Dickens, visit Farewells, June 9

Monday, June 7, 2010

Noisy Parker

Writer and wit Dorothy Parker died on this day in 1967. She was a member of the Algonquin Round Table, a group of writers, journalists, raconteurs and general idlers and time wasters that regularly met at the Algonquin Hotel in New York City to drink and insult everyone including each other, and to exchange the barbs and one-liners they'd saved up for the occasion.

Parker was probably the most talented of the group. She wrote several short stories that have stood the test of time, notably "Big Blonde," and her poems ("Men seldom make passes/At girls who wear glasses.") are still quoted.

She apparently coined the phrases "what the hell," "one-night stand," and "ball of fire."

"Maybe it is only I," Parker wrote, "but conditions are such these days, that if you use studiously correct grammar, people suspect you of homosexual tendencies."

For more about Dorothy Parker, visit Today in Farewells

Friday, June 4, 2010

A Bentley of an insult

Today is the birthday of George III of England, born in 1738.

George the Third
Ought never to have occurred.
One can only wonder
At so grotesque a blunder

-- Edmund Clerihew Bentley

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Of cribbages and kings

Sir John Suckling, the English Cavalier poet, died on this day in 1842. He invented the game -- and apparently the word -- cribbage.

I met a lady last year who played in a cribbage group every week. Each time she left home to attend, her husband would ask her:

"Going to play that cabbage game again?"