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 — March 26, 2019 (permalink)


Jonathan Caws-Elwitt

unearths some literary gems.

From There Was a Crooked Man, by Kelley Roos:

***

"Even his typewriter complains. It writes poison pen letters to Bruce's editor all by itself."

***

[A running joke between two characters!]

She cleared her throat and affected the solemn whisper of a librarian. "How would you like your books, madame?"

"Rare!" I shouted, and we both laughed raucously.

***

He didn't take courses at Columbia's Graduate School; he snatched them. I was sure that Vincent was responsible for at least fifty per cent of the absent-mindedness of America's professors.

***

"Whoa, Professor, there is no time for maintaining, holding or contending."

***

[A genericized hairdresser.]

Her hair at its worst would have inspired the most blasé Antoine or Antoinette to greater glory.

***

"Mr. Girard, from now on...not a word. Even if I ask you a question, don't answer me."

***

Garbed in a faded but not completely subdued dressing-gown, he was enjoying a large thick cigar.

***

"What are you carrying around an empty box for?"

"It's lighter when it's empty."

***

"He doesn't enjoy being a Huber. He wishes his name were MacClump or Squiffen."

***

"Grodek is a city in Poland. And crossword puzzles."

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March 22, 2019 (permalink)


Jonathan Caws-Elwitt

unearths some literary gems.

From The Last Guru, by Daniel Pinkwater:

***

"This is the silliest thing I ever heard of," Harold's father said.

"You should see the hats we wear when we're at home," Dupdup Drng'pa said.

***

"When he returns to Rochester, New York, he will know more about the mystic East than any person in the West has ever known."

"Well, that will certainly be nice for him," Harold's mother said.

***

"They read Six Easy Steps to Nirvana, by Dr. Weary, or Hum Your Way to Enlightenment by Alan W. Plotz, or Your Feet Are Your Head by Brother Jimmy...."

***

The best that Hamish MacTavish could make of Hodie MacBodhi's explanation of Blong Buddhism was that if you spent twenty-four hours a day meditating, you aren't apt to get in very much trouble.

***

They made a long-playing record called Blong! You Are a Pickle! and offered it for sale in MacTavish's pickleburger stands. It was a record of instructions in Blong meditation, the first exercise of which was to make believe you are a pickle.

***

The hats [of the Silly Hat monks] were the silliest things anyone had ever seen. They were more silly than anyone could imagine. They were too silly to be described.

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March 19, 2019 (permalink)


Jonathan Caws-Elwitt

unearths some literary gems.

From Alan Mendelsohn, the Boy from Mars, by Daniel Pinkwater:

***

The signs all had slogans like Talk is Cheap--Action is Expensive; and Think Before You Think; and Today is the Yesterday You Won't Be Able to Remember Tomorrow.

***

They had titles like Harold Platt, New-age Seer of Rochester; and Blong! You Are a Pickle....

***

"The Order of the Laughing Alligator--a very old mystical brotherhood, said to have originated in Tibet or India or California, or one of those places."

***

"You have powers now that you didn't have before--even if they're boring powers."

***

"I met a Saturnian once, but we never got to be friends. He kept trying to eat my wristwatch."

***

"Don't we have any cities? Hee hee. Hoo hah. Ho ho." He didn't sound as though he was laughing--he just said the words ho ho, and so forth.

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March 17, 2019 (permalink)


Jonathan Caws-Elwitt

unearths some literary gems.

From Rustling End, by Douglas G. Browne:

***

He looked again at Stephanie, his faintly freckled face, with its pointed nose and sandy eyebrows, suddenly sharpened, as though, she thought, it were some sort of pencil.

***

"Nobody here knows a binomial theorem from a turnip."

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March 15, 2019 (permalink)


Jonathan Caws-Elwitt

unearths some literary gems.

From Sailor, Take Warning! by Kelley Roos:

***

There were other questions I wanted to ponder aloud, but Jeff's face was set in a contemplative silence, that "Do not disturb" sign was hanging on his nose.

***

"That's what's called baring one's soul, isn't it?"

"More," Jeff said, "of a soul strip-tease."

***

"How is your alibi?" Jeff asked.

"Fine, thanks."

[...]

"So," Jeff said, "it looks like you have an alibi."

"And am I proud of it! It's my first alibi! It just goes to show...this is indeed the land of opportunity. Ten years ago I came to New York empty handed. And now I've got a job, a bank account, three charge accounts and an alibi!"

"Good alibis are hard to get nowadays, Tony. Take good care of it."

"Oh, I will! I'll keep it in a cool, dry place."

***

A chilling gush of wind and rain met us at the front door; even the weather was trying to come in out of this dismal night.

***

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March 12, 2019 (permalink)


Jonathan Caws-Elwitt

unearths some literary gems.

From Seven Dead by J. Jefferson Farjeon:

***

[Turnabout Is Fair Play dept.: Wind be blowed!]

"There ain't much wind," commented Bob Blythe.

"Wind, be blowed!" retorted Hazeldean. "We're using petrol."

***

"I felt as if he was looking at a ghost!"

"The ghost of a cricket ball," murmured Hazeldean. "Why not? That ball was dead enough to have one."

***

"Well, I suppose [a ship's loud horn is] necessary in a noisy age," muttered a passenger next to Kendall.

"Probably the Ichthyosaurus made a worse noise," answered Kendall.

"Pardon me," retorted the passenger, "but there is no specific evidence that Ichthyopterygia made any noise at all!"

***

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March 8, 2019 (permalink)


Jonathan Caws-Elwitt

unearths some literary gems.

From Look Alive Out There, by Sloane Crosley:

***

When the Gossip Girl producers encouraged me to bring what I might wear to "a typical fictional publishing cocktail party," I was disappointed.... I had never attended a typical fictional publishing cocktail party before. I don't own any hypothetical dresses.

***

[The anthropomorphized moon in reverse?]

He has a face like the man in the moon.

***

I had not imagined there would be catering on the set of adult films. Though it makes sense--sex requires more energy than a monologue unless you're doing both wrong.

***

Tuesday is essentially a less popular version of Wednesday.

***

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March 5, 2019 (permalink)


Jonathan Caws-Elwitt

unearths some literary gems.

From Yobgorgle, by Daniel Pinkwater:

***

[Who Needs Context? dept.]

"I notice you're wearing a chicken suit. Is there any particular reason for it?"

***

[Fanciness Quantification dept.]

Captain Van Straaten... [was] wearing a really fancy bathrobe with gold embroidered dragons on it. It was five times as fancy as the bathrobe Professor McFwain had given Uncle Mel.

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March 3, 2019 (permalink)


Jonathan Caws-Elwitt

unearths some literary gems.

From Attila the Pun, by Daniel Pinkwater:

***

"I've seen Frank Sinatra on television," I said, "and you're not him. Besides, I don't think he's even dead."

"Look," the ghost said, "why did you summon me if you just want to argue?"

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March 1, 2019 (permalink)


Jonathan Caws-Elwitt

unearths some literary gems.

From "I Wish You Were Braille," by Louise Lagris:

***

Sometimes you circle the same people for years until your Venn diagrams bump into each other.

[She goes on to talk about how "sometimes the planets configure themselves into origami shapes..."]

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February 26, 2019 (permalink)


Jonathan Caws-Elwitt

unearths some literary gems.

From Dandy Gilver and a Spot of Toil and Trouble, by Catriona McPherson:

***

"Hidey-holes," I yelled, feeling rather foolish, for it is not a word suited for yelling.

***

I would be interested to see her have the vapours but not if I had caused them.

***

Schichtlers--she managed the name without quite sounding as though she had swallowed a fly while bicycling.

***

Alec...saw off my hunch with no more than a desultory wave of his pipe hand and so, as we set to, trying to think how to prove it, we left my hunch behind.

***

"Thank heavens you weren't shoved on stage with Sarah Bernhardt and..."

"...Henry Thingamajig."

***

Hats were dreadful that year, as they are most years to anyone who is honest enough to say so.

***

Bonuses: Rich American visitors referred to generically as "Roosebilts and Vanderfeldts"; and the NOUN form "[a/the] higgledy-piggle."

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February 24, 2019 (permalink)


Jonathan Caws-Elwitt

unearths some literary gems.

From Mr. Pioneers Takes His Picaresque, by Richard Mallett:

***

After a few moments the old man called out, "I don't like you much."

"No?"

Silence. Mr. Pioneers tried again: "No?" Still silence. Then girl said, "You don't know about father, let me explain. Some people won't take No for an answer, but he's different. He won't take No for a question."

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February 22, 2019 (permalink)


Jonathan Caws-Elwitt

unearths some literary gems.

From The Blood Card, by Elly Griffiths:

***

The general's eyebrows now seemed permanently suspended in the air.

***

Petre took out a large white handkerchief and unfolded it so slowly and deliberately that Edgar thought, for one wild moment, that he was about to perform a magic trick. Instead he wiped his brow and then carefully refolded the handkerchief.

***

"I'm going upstairs to make coffee....you stay here and chat."

This, of course, temporarily robbed them both of the power of speech.

***

An ice cream van trundled mournfully past playing "I've Got a Lovely Bunch of Coconuts."

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February 19, 2019 (permalink)


Jonathan Caws-Elwitt

unearths some literary gems.

From Stolen Words, by Thomas Mallon:

[This scholarly but lively, witty work about plagiarism, and how it became the modern concept we recognize over the course of the 18th and 19th centuries, sits on my imaginary shelf next to Marginalia by H. J. Jackson (who is cited in this book, because her buddy Coleridge figures heavily not only in the history of marginalia but also in the history of plagiarism).]

***

To some extent every writer's desk top is like a Ouija board, his pen pushed across it by whatever literary ghost he's just entertained.

***

It's...common for the novelist, particularly the young one, to create his characters out of himself. What's odd, and what may have been true in Sterne's middle-aged case, is taking the opportunity to make oneself out of one's characters.

***

Originality...set itself down as a cardinal literary virtue sometime in the middle of the eighteenth century and has never since gotten up.

***

[Coleridge] would likely have denied that what he was really giving...was not so much an account of what Sterne's brain went through when musing upon female anatomy as of what his own underwent in the presence of German metaphysics.

***

One can barely conduct a study of plagiarism amid the deafening sound of literary pots roaring at literary kettles.

***

Coleridge: "I regard truth as a divine ventriloquist."

***

Charles Reade: "A man's life is like those geographical fragments children learn 'the contiguous countries' by. The pieces are a puzzle; but put them together carefully, and lo! they are a map."

***

The preface to A Simpleton has Reade blustering: "All fiction, worth a button, is founded on facts.... I rarely write a novel without milking about two hundred heterogeneous cows into my pail."

Most novelists perform the same chore less loudly on a smaller herd.

***

Take a writer not quite so beyond criticism, and we tend, upon spotting historical lumps in the narrative gravy, to object.

***

By mid-March things were sufficiently complicated for an academic to step in.

***

The four volumes of Uber Land und Meer that were brought up from the lower depths of the New York Public Library together weigh more than an IBM Selectric typewriter and are so covered with dust that you have to imagine the Bismarckian Hausfrauen who subscribed to the unbound originals sternly clucking at their current untidiness.

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February 17, 2019 (permalink)


Jonathan Caws-Elwitt

unearths some literary gems.

From Burglars in Bucks, by G.D.H. and Margaret Cole:

***

[Six dots appear in the middle of a letter one character is writing to another.]

.      .      .      .      .      .

Those dots are Jerry [he writes], coming in.

***

"I may accept a poltergeist which breaks crockery, and even, at a pinch, one which doubles up keys in people's pockets, but I will emphatically not accept one which manufactures imitation keys, bends them up so that there is no risk of any one's trying to use them, and substitutes them for the real ones."

***

[Writes Everard] "She clutched me and sobbed, 'Oh, Everard!' any number of times; but when I asked what was the matter she only Oh Evararded again."

***

"'Racing touts,' said Coulson, ' 'ud be a pretty name for them.' He didn't tell me what an ugly one would have been; but by the shape of his face I could guess."

***

Bonus: An offstage character called Lady Doppelganger.

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February 15, 2019 (permalink)


Jonathan Caws-Elwitt

unearths some literary gems.

From The Case of the Careless Cupid, by ESG:

***

Della Street regarded the lawyer with wide-eyed admiration. "You clever so-and-so of a such-and-such!" she said.

***

From The Case of the Fabulous Fake, by ESG:

***

"You know Gertie, she's an incurable romantic. Give her a button and she'll sew a vest on it every time, and sometimes I think she even uses an imaginary button."

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February 12, 2019 (permalink)


Jonathan Caws-Elwitt

unearths some literary gems.

From Begin Again, by Ursula Orange:

[Anthropomorphized Clocks dept.]

Jane's alarm clock went off with such energy that it whirred itself right over the edge of the painted chest-of-drawers and clattered on to the floor. The shrill metallic ringing changed to a croaking rasp. Then silence. The clock lay on its back with its ugly moon face staring at the ceiling, ticking in an offensive and deliberate manner. Beyond pulling the bed-clothes of the divan bed a little further over her head Jane took absolutely no notice. The clock, its three tin legs sticking out sharply, continued to tick. It had the sulky and obstinate air of one who performs a duty, however unpleasant. with extreme thoroughness.

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February 10, 2019 (permalink)


Jonathan Caws-Elwitt

unearths some literary gems.

From The Case of the Daring Divorcee, by ESG:

***

"And that really knocked me off the Christmas tree because he had told me yesterday that fifty thousand dollars was as high as he would go, no matter what happened."

***

From The Case of the Troubled Trustee, by ESG:

***

"If this thing works," Tragg muttered, "I'll be a monkey's uncle." And then after a moment, he added ruefully, "And if it doesn't work and this ever gets out, I'll be the monkey himself."

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February 8, 2019 (permalink)


Jonathan Caws-Elwitt

unearths some literary gems.

From The "Looking-Glass" Murders, by Douglas G. Browne:

[That's "Looking-Glass" as in "Through the": the setting involves an amateur theatrical production of Lewis Carroll.]

***

"As a conscientious artist, I couldn't give the Jabberwock pockets."

***

It was, in short, Messrs. So-and-so's idea of what a study should be.

***

"What an extraordinary creature she must be!"

"She is!" said the Major with conviction. "I have seen her with the lid off, so to speak."

***

[He] drew up before the offices of Messrs. Trimble, Bachelor, Popple & Shelfe, Solicitors and Commissioners for Oaths. Enough jokes have been made about the nomenclature of law firms. It will suffice that no one on the premises appeared to answer to any of the names engraved on the plate outside. [Fair enough! (:v>]

***

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February 5, 2019 (permalink)


Jonathan Caws-Elwitt

unearths some literary gems.

From The Frightened Stiff, by Kelley Roos:

***

"That furniture... that furniture..." Jeff drummed out the rhythm on the top of our desk. "Kaufman's furniture and his clothes hold the secret. The clothes could have been ghosted away easily enough... but not two rooms of furniture. Not without anyone noticing it. You can't put furniture between two slices of bread and..."

"Oh, stop saying furniture!"

***

[Who knew that "straws" was a four-letter word!]

"Darling, this murder has you so stymied that you're clutching at you-know-whats! Frankly, straws!"

***

["I won't spoil this with the context that made it make sense" dept.]

"Oh, be quiet! I wish this were Saturday night so you and Sir Thomas More could pal around together."

***

Summer was still lingering in New York as if it couldn't make up its mind whether to go to Florida or California for the winter.

***

"Do you mind if I don't complete my sentences for a while yet?"

***

"And it's none of your business either. None of your damn business, I might add."

***

"Moonlight will catch the raindrops as they fall from our sumac tree and change them into pearls. We'll stand enchanted. Or if you're too tired to stand enchanted, I'll drag out some chairs."

***

[More "Who needs context?"]

For the next hour I drew imaginary rectangles in the air and shouted: "Change of address!" It didn't do any good.

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Original Content Copyright © 2019 by Craig Conley. All rights reserved.