CRAIG CONLEY (Prof. Oddfellow) is recognized by Encarta as “America’s most creative and diligent scholar of letters, words and punctuation.” He has been called a “language fanatic” by Page Six gossip columnist Cindy Adams, a “cult hero” by Publisher’s Weekly, and “a true Renaissance man of the modern era, diving headfirst into comprehensive, open-minded study of realms obscured or merely obscure” by Clint Marsh. An eccentric scholar, Conley’s ideas are often decades ahead of their time. He invented the concept of the “virtual pet” in 1980, fifteen years before the debut of the popular “Tamagotchi” in Japan. His virtual pet, actually a rare flower, still thrives and has reached an incomprehensible size. Conley’s website is OneLetterWords.com.
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A Turkish Delight of musings on languages, deflations of metaphysics, vauntings of arcana, and great visual humor.

Today — January 20, 2019 (permalink)


Jonathan Caws-Elwitt

unearths some literary gems.

From A Condensed Interminable Novel, by Stephen Leacock:

***

During all this time women were calling to him. He knew

  and came to be friends with—

     Margaret Jones,

        Elizabeth Smith,

           Arabella Thompson,

              Jane Williams,

                 Maud Taylor.

 

And he also got to know pretty well,

  Louise Quelquechose,

     Antoinette Alphabetic,

        Estelle Etcetera.

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January 18, 2019 (permalink)


Jonathan Caws-Elwitt

unearths some literary gems.

From The Case of the Mythical Monkeys, by Erle Stanley Gardner:

***

"Mauvis Meade and murder," Mason said. Carlisle blinked his eyes as though chopping the information into separate statements by using his eyelids as punctuation marks.

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January 15, 2019 (permalink)


Jonathan Caws-Elwitt

unearths some literary gems.

From Death in Fancy Dress, by Jefferson Farjeon

[Note: Though this is catalogued, like his other books, under J. Jefferson Farjeon--in fact, the lending library adds "Joseph Jefferson" in parens--the title page merely says Jefferson Farjeon.]

***

And above all, in every sense, a mammoth beret. Not the happy beret of a Borotra, but an endless expanse of dark ribbed stuff that flowed over the side of your head almost down to your neck, giving you the feeling that you were in deep mourning for a pancake.

***

He had put on his overcoat, but the loud slacks were not obliterated. They shouted for nine inches below where the overcoat ended.

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January 13, 2019 (permalink)


Jonathan Caws-Elwitt

unearths some literary gems.

From The Old Firm, by Joan Butler:

***

"Very nicely put!" said Guinevere. "I must make a note of that for my new book."

Elizabeth had pinched these lofty sentiments, almost word for word, from one of Guinevere's novels, but she hesitated to confess the theft.

***

"A loving heart never errs," Guinevere replied gently. "Even when it's dancing like a daffodil in the breeze," she added as a footnote.

Elizabeth, whose heart, far from dancing like a daffodil in the breeze, had sunk heavily until its descent was arrested by her suspender-belt, greeted this beautiful sentiment with a sniff.

***

She saw Sir Archibald as through a mist--which was perhaps the best way to see him.

***

Peake, the butler, warned by some sixth or seventh sense of the master's arrival, had appeared in the doorway.

***

"Did you follow me here?"

"Certainly not! I don't know where you get your ideas, but you should try some other place."

***

[Wodehouse Emulation dept.]

"You wouldn't believe how glad I am you're not an otter."

"Or a water-vole," Miss Laughton suggested.

"Or, as you say, a water-vole."

***

An extraordinary spectacle met his gaze, and one which made him raise his eyebrows to the limit of their travel.

***

She went red and white by turns, and modestly dropped her gaze to the floor, or possibly even lower.

***

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January 11, 2019 (permalink)


Jonathan Caws-Elwitt

unearths some literary gems.

From The Black Iris, by Constance and Gwenyth Little:

***

"You look silly with a hat on--you know it?" Mrs. Balron observed.

"Naturally. Since I feel silly, and am silly."

[Good answer!]

***

[Again with metaphorial bandboxes! Not the same author as before, either.]

This lousy little bandbox of a house was full of odd noises.

[And a little more research shows that calling a small building a bandbox is not unique, either.]

***

[And meanwhile in the Eyewear Business dept....]

He did not bother with the kitchen since he knew that his aunts considered it an apartment to be viewed through a lorgnette--if at all.

***

"People as a whole," said Mrs. Balron, "are entirely too touchy."

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January 8, 2019 (permalink)


Jonathan Caws-Elwitt

unearths some literary gems.

From The View from the Sixties, by George Oppenheimer:

***

For a long time [Harpo Marx] called me Benson. It was no special distinction; he called everybody whose name he could not remember by this label. Nights in his dressing room... you could hear him introduce his hordes of visitors to one another as Mr. or Miss or Mrs. Benson.

[Tangent: When I read Groucho and Me as a kid, one of my favorite details was how Groucho repeatedly used "Delaney" as the name of minor personages whose real names didn't matter or which he couldn't recall or didn't want to reveal or whatever.]

***

Also assigned to the screenplay... were Arthur Sheekman and Nat Perrin.... Goldwyn never referred to them by name, but only as "de boys." This created considerable confusion since William Du Bois was also working for Goldwyn.... Time and again Goldwyn would buzz me on the dictagraph, order me to bring in de boys, and hastily buzz off, leaving me to figure out whether he wanted William or Sheekman and Perrin. Inevitably I guessed wrong, whereupon Goldwyn would scream at me, "I said de boys, not Du Bois" or vice versa.

***

"Damn it," I said irascibly after losing another rubber, "let's have some light. I can't see my nose in front of my face."

"That isn't where it is," said Charlie [Lederer].

***

[Doing the Math]

There was a scene in which [Garbo] and Douglas had to do a tango. Robert Alton, the choreographer, was showing her the steps and I was required to tango along with them, injecting and shortening the dialogue lines to the rhythm of the dance.... In this case it took three to tango.

***

One of the theaters... was a loft on the second floor of an ancient building on Martha's Vineyard. Directly underneath it was a merry-go-round with a calliope. The love scenes became even more unconvincing when accompanied by "East Side, West Side" or "Anchors Aweigh."

***

"I like my job. I'm happy in New York."

He shook his head sadly. "Boy," he said incredulously and, lest I might have misunderstood him, he repeated, "Boy."

***

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January 6, 2019 (permalink)


Jonathan Caws-Elwitt

unearths some literary gems.

From Murder at Beechlands, by Maureen Sarsfield:

***

"Old Lord Whatsisname came to tea and simply wouldn't go. Such an old bore, otherwise I'd have asked you both to come up."

No Lord Whatsisname had been to tea with her, but as she had to make some sort of excuse, she might as well make an impressive one.

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January 4, 2019 (permalink)


Jonathan Caws-Elwitt

unearths some literary gems.

From Act One, by Moss Hart:

***

It is taken for granted that a cabinetmaker or a shoemaker, . . . starting with a certain degree of talent for his profession, does, after the practice of that profession for ten or twenty years, learn how to make a good cabinet or a decent pair of shoes. . . . Not so the playwright. He is quite capable after twenty years of practice of having a left shoe for the second act when a right shoe is obviously called for.

***

[Expressive Back of Head dept. (I think this has come up before!)]

I signed the slip as he counted out the money, conscious that the people immediately behind me were whispering to each other. "It is not George Kaufman," I heard a woman's voice say. "It must be the other one."

As nearly as I could, I tried to achieve a look of modesty with the back of my head while I waited for him to finish.

***

[From My Lucky Star by Joe Keenan]:

***

"I'd felt certain this would unnerve her, but her response was well to the left of fiddle-dee-dee."

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January 1, 2019 (permalink)


Jonathan Caws-Elwitt

unearths some literary gems.

From Pomeroy, Deceased, by George Bellairs

 ***

["Patrick, Undergraduate" dept.: All the front matter says "Pomeroy, Deceased"--with the comma--but the dust jacket is "Pomeroy Deceased" sans comma.]

***

[Coming Out of a Band-Box dept.]

He might have just come out of a band-box. He was dark-haired, and every hair was in its place. He looked as if he had a bath and a complete change of linen for each patient.

***

[Eyewear Business dept.]

He polished his monocle with his handkerchief as though preparing it for playing a part in what was ahead.

***

It sounded like a lot of nonsense to Dorange and Littlejohn. Dorange hesitated. Littlejohn felt they were rather like a couple of travellers in a lift who had got out on the wrong floor.

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December 30, 2018 (permalink)


Jonathan Caws-Elwitt

unearths some literary gems.

From They Rang Up the Police, by Joanna Cannan:

[The You Had to Be There on this is that Mrs. Willoughby is an impossibly pretentious character who affects no interest in the "sordid" material world. The protagonist from Scotland Yard is asking her where she was during the key interval.]

"My dear man, how do I know? I'm too intelligent to worry about something that isn't. Time isn't."

[He apologetically presses her, reminding her that he's investigating a murder, to which her evasive answer culminates in the rhetorical question, "What's death?"]

[Finally the inspector takes leave of her, "after giving her a chance to prroduce a firmer alibi and getting a dissertation on the nonexistence of place."]

***

[From a later scene: Mrs. Willoughby is also highly judgmental. Here she is speaking of an inoffensive stranger whom she has observed only for a few minutes after he entered a public room, lingered briefly, and then left.]

"As he stood there by the fireplace I could see right into his twisted little soul."

"I wonder why he went away," said Nancy.

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December 28, 2018 (permalink)


Jonathan Caws-Elwitt

unearths some literary gems.

From Death on the Riviera, by John Bude:
***

"Je regrette, mais il est defense de fumer ici."

"Oh, sorry old boy," said the young man cheerfully, stubbing out his cigarette against his heel. "Bad show, eh? Un mal spectacle."

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December 25, 2018 (permalink)


Jonathan Caws-Elwitt

unearths some literary gems.

From The Case of the Crooked Candle, by Erle Stanley Gardner:

***

“The man’s name was Smith. He put up a deposit of five dollars and rented the boat to make some studies of the nocturnal habits of sharks. At least, that’s what he said he wanted to do.”

“And what time was this boat rented?” Mason asked.

“The boat was rented at right around nine o’clock in the evening.”

“For how long was it rented?”

“He returned it at exactly twenty minutes past ten, about one hour and twenty minutes later. I remember there was some discussion about the length of time he’d been out, and I told him to call it an hour and let it go at that because I couldn’t remember whether it had been right on the dot of nine o’clock when he started out or not.”

“Wasn’t an hour rather a short time to make a study of the nocturnal habits of sharks?”

“It depends on how many habits you want to study—and how many sharks.”

***

[Counsel is definitely not refraining from personalities...]

Burger frowned across at Mason. “What’s that crooked candle got to do with it?” he asked.

Mason said, “That’s my defense.”

“Your defense?”

“Yes.”

Burger hesitated a moment, then announced ponderously, “Well, it won’t hold a candle to the theory I have.”

There was laughter from the courtroom. Mason joined in the laughter, then, as it subsided, said quickly, “You’ve heard of candling an egg, Mr. District Attorney? Well, I’m candling your case. And it’s rotten.”

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December 23, 2018 (permalink)


Jonathan Caws-Elwitt

unearths some literary gems.

From The Black House, by Constance and Gwenyth Little:

[In case you're keeping score, this is the *second* book by the Littles in which there's a house that has been divided in two up the middle, with an "empty" half that complements the half that is normally used, but in which there are goings-on.]

***

"My aunt didn't approve of spirits."

"Well"--Diana sighed--"that's one thing the old girl and I have in common. I don't approve of her, and you tell me she's a spirit.

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December 21, 2018 (permalink)


Jonathan Caws-Elwitt

unearths some literary gems.

From The Birthday Murder, by Lange Lewis:

***

The telephone rang thinly in the hall.

It was a telegram from Victoria's New York agent. As the operator's mechanical voice spoke, the words fell into capitals on yellow paper.

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December 18, 2018 (permalink)


Jonathan Caws-Elwitt

unearths some literary gems.

From The Black Paw, by Constance and Gwenyth Little:

***

It continued  to rain, on and off, for a solid week—as though in sorrow at anyone being stupid enough to take one of Selma's ideas seriously[....] Selma's  ideas were of the type that issue from cracked pots.

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December 16, 2018 (permalink)


Jonathan Caws-Elwitt

unearths some literary gems.

From The Case of the Fugitive Nurse, by Erle Stanley Gardner:

***

[This isn't the first time PM has suggested starting from the middle, but on this occasion he justifies it!]

“You—I—I hardly know how to begin,” she said, crossing her knees, smoothing the pearl-gray skirt down over her legs, her hazel eyes fastened on the toe of her left shoe.

“Begin at the middle,” Mason said.

She glanced up at him quickly. “I thought you’d say begin at the beginning. That’s what people usually say in response to a statement of that sort.”

“Well, then, let’s be unusual,” Mason said. “Sometimes it’s better to begin in the middle and then you’re not so far from either the beginning or the ending.”

***

"It keeps developing into such a series of bizarre situations that the whole thing seems like a cross section of a crazy quilt." [I guess a cross section of a crazy quilt is presumed to look even crazier?]

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December 14, 2018 (permalink)


Jonathan Caws-Elwitt

unearths some literary gems.

From The Case of the Careless Kitten, by Erle Stanley Gardner:

***

"You're getting conservative, mercenary, cautious. You're more interested in periods than you are in question marks."

***

"But it's always been that same spectacular, flamboyant, pulling-the-rabbit-out-of-the-hat business with you."

Mason said, "Well, if the rabbit I'm looking for happens to be in a hat, why not pull him out?"

"Because you usually furnish the hat."

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December 11, 2018 (permalink)


Jonathan Caws-Elwitt

unearths some literary gems.

From Murderer's Choice, by Anna Mary Wells:
***

[Taking Things Literally dept.]

"It's too far for a man with regular office hours to commute comfortably."

"That hasn't anything to do with it," Frank said. "I don't like it. I wouldn't live in it if it was in Grand Central Station."

"It would look nice in Grand Central Station," Kay remarked. "Model Connecticut Literary Farmhouse. You could charge admission."

***

"I shall require some [hot water] tonight and some again in the morning," Mrs. Osgood said, in a tone which would have frozen any hot water that might have been available.

[Cf. the voice so frosty it might have come out of the martini shaker, from Patricia Moyes.]

***

[Cousins dept.]

"I don't get emotionally attached to the cousins of my clients."

***

"No!" Miss Pomeroy did not quite know why she should have said that when the end of the story had been obvious well in advance, but some sort of exclamation seemed to be called for, and "no!" was adequately brief and pointed.

***

[Bonus: An(other?) attorney named Winterbottom.]

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December 9, 2018 (permalink)


Jonathan Caws-Elwitt

unearths some literary gems.

From Murder at Shots Hall, by Maureen Sarsfield:

***

Once a month by the calendar, the Ambroses had a family row. Once every five weeks they threw a party. [I can't help envisioning this as a mathematical "word problem": "Assuming months of 30 days each and rows lasting exactly one full calendar day, how often will a family row fall on the day of a party?"]

***

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December 7, 2018 (permalink)


Jonathan Caws-Elwitt

unearths some literary gems.

From Conjurer's Coffin, by Guy Cullingford:

[Who is or was Guy Cullingford? Well, here's what the "about the author" blurb has to say: "The author of this book prefers to do a conjuring trick and remain invisible, and so gives us no autobiographical details or photograph with which we could shatter the illusion."]

***

[The Joke Only Works in a Working-Class English Accent dept.]

"It's them lazy sluts from the bally [i.e., ballet]. Bally noosance I call them," and she looked sharply at Miss Milk to see whether her pun was appreciated.

***

[Twins dept.]

"What really drew my attention to it was one which I thought said: 'Italian lady gives lessons. Twins by arrangement.' I had to look again to see that it was terms."

***

[Old expression that's new to me.]

"She'd be as right as a trivet."

***

"You're the artist's nightmare. The one who always remembers it's been done before."

[Just wait until Google comes along. You ain't seen nothin' yet!]

***

[Characters Who Allude to People They Know as If You're Supposed to Know Who They Are, When Clearly There's No Reason You Would dept.]

"I like my milk and my tea in separate Thermoses, and if I leave it to Violet I know she'll put them in together."

Miss Milk had no idea who Violet was, but she tut-tutted in sympathy with the principle involved.

***

"The porter knew nothing: come to that you could remove the hotel brick by brick during the night, and I don't think he'd notice."

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