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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September 20, 2017 (permalink)


Jonathan Caws-Elwitt

unearths some literary gems.

[From Michael Innes's Honeybath's Haven]:

Honeybath remembered that the third-person-singular treatment was administered by Melissa only in a standing position.

***

[From Appleby Talks Again]:

***

"We hear him approaching with a sinister limp.... Your bravado deserts you. Out of compassion for your pitiable condition, I consent to our hiding in a cupboard. And there the man finds us."

"I never heard such rot. Such a thing has never happened to us. Or only once."

***

"Old Josiah Hopcutt," Appleby said, "was a prosperous manufacturer. And he continued prosperous when he had ceased to manufacture anything except large-scale tedium for the people looking after him."

***

[From Appleby and Honeybath]:

***

The books were all outsize folios, and bulky at that. They looked as if they had come into being at the hands of Johann Guttenberg in Mainz round about the middle of the fifteenth century and had been putting on weight ever since.

***

"A matter of untransacted business, as it were."

"Untransacted fiddlesticks!"

***

Miss Arne, Appleby reflected, drew ink-horn terms from one willy-nilly.

***

[From Michael Innes's The Long Farewell]:

"If, one day, something very surprising turned up about him, you wouldn't—so to speak—be very surprised. And yet this circumstance—that you wouldn't be surprised by a surprise—was surprising in itself."

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September 17, 2017 (permalink)


Jonathan Caws-Elwitt

unearths some literary gems.

[From Lawrence Block]:

"Even when we were in outer space, smack in the middle of the Asterisk Belt, there was a part of my mind that knew I'd want to be rid of her sooner or later."

“Essentially,” Carolyn said, “you’re saying the poor woman was /verklempt/.”

“If that means what it sounds like, then that’s what she was.”

***

"Where?"

"The only place I can think of is Three Guys."

"I think you mean Two Guys."

"Jesus, don't you think I can count?"

***

"Still, wouldn't some passerby be whimsical enough to snap up a guidebook to a country that no longer existed?"

Evidently not. I found the promised pair of dollar bills inside the book's front cover, considered leaving them there to reward whimsy, decided whimsy was its own reward, and gave them a home in my wallet.

***

"Maybe that's what the mystery meat was this afternoon."

"Unicorn? I hope not."

"So do I. I try to avoid eating endangered species, let alone mythical ones."

***


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September 14, 2017 (permalink)


Jonathan Caws-Elwitt

unearths some literary gems.

From R. Holmes & Co., by John Kendrick Bangs

***

the lemon curl giving it the vertebrate appearance that all stiff drinks should have

***

I smiled broadly, and slapped the breakfast-table so hard in my satisfaction that even the shredded-wheat biscuits flew up into the air and caught in the chandelier.

***

Breakfast over, I went to my desk to put the finishing touches to a novel I had written the week before, when word came up on the telephone from below that a gentleman from /Busybody's Magazine/ wished to see me on an important matter of business.

"Tell him I'm already a subscriber," I called down, supposing the visitor to be merely an agent. "I took the magazine, and a set of Chaucer in a revolving bookcase, from one of their agents last month and have paid my dollar."

***

"'Now, Mrs. Burlingame,' said I, 'that leaves four persons still in the ring—yourself, your husband, your daughter, and the Duke of Snarleyow, your daughter's newly acquired fiancé, in whose honor the dinner was given.

***

"Aha!" said I. "That's the milk in the cocoanut, is it?

***

"If it were not for her pearl rope, Mrs. Wilbraham Ward-Smythe could go anywhere she pleased without attracting any more attention from me than a passing motor-car.

***

"Aha!" said I. "And you think—"

"I don't think, Jenkins, until the time comes. Gray matter is scarce these times, and I'm not wasting any of mine on unnecessary speculation," said Raffles Holmes.

***

"Keep up the talk, Jenkins," he said. "The walls are thin here, and it's just as well, in matters of this sort, that our neighbors should have the impression that I have not gone out. I've filled the machine up with a choice lot of songs and small-talk to take care of my end of it. A consolidated gas company, like yourself, should have no difficulty in filling in the gaps."

***

There was the Honorable Poultry Tickletoe, the historian, whose articles on the shoddy quality of the modern Panama hat have created such a stir throughout the hat trade; Mr. William Darlington Ponkapog, the poet, whose epic on the "Reign of Gold" is one of the longest, and some writers say the thickest, in the English language; James Whistleton Potts, the eminent portraitist, whose limnings of his patients have won him a high place among the caricaturists of the age, Robert Dozyphrase, the expatriated American novelist, now of London, whose latest volume of sketches, entitled /Intricacies/, has been equally the delight of his followers and the despair of students of the occult....

***

"What are you going to do now?" I asked. "Write to Bruce and tell him the facts?"

Holmes's answer was a glance.

"Oh cream-cakes!" he ejaculated, with profane emphasis.

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September 11, 2017 (permalink)


Jonathan Caws-Elwitt

unearths some literary gems.

From A Voyage of Consolation:

***

There was a delay, during which I listened attentively, with one eye closed--I believe it is the sign of an unbalanced intellect to shut one eye when you use the telephone, but I needn't go into that--and presently I got New York.

***

I heard a whistle, which I cannot express in italics.

***

We stayed over two or three trains in London, however, just long enough to get in a background, as it were, for our Continental experiences. The weather was typical, and the background, from an artistic point of view, was perfect. While not precisely opaque, you couldn't see through it anywhere.

***

"Did I get the four tickets--or two of them--or one? No, sir, I got a letter in the third person singular saying it wasn't a public entertainment!"

***

[Precursor to Judy calling Howard "Steve" in What's Up, Doc?]

"Don't you think we might be silent for a time, Alexander," she said.

Momma does call him Alexander sometimes. I didn't like to mention it before, but it can't be concealed for ever. She says it's because Joshua always costs her an effort, and every woman ought to have the right to name her own husband.

***

"When Emmeline leaves us," said her father, "I always have a kind of abandoned feeling, like a top that's got to the end of its spin."

***

There was something very unexpected about Miss Callis; momma complained of it. Her remarks were never polished by reflection. She called herself a child of nature, but she really resided in Brooklyn.

***

As we stood looking at the Eiffel Tower, poppa said he thought if he were in my place he wouldn't describe it. "It's old news," he said, "and there's nothing the general public dislike so much as that. Every hotel-porter in Chicago knows that it's three hundred metres high, and that you can see through it all the way up. There it is, and I feel as if I'd passed my boyhood in its shadow. That way I must say it's a disappointment. I was expecting it to be more unexpected, if you understand."

Momma and I quite agreed. It had the familiarity of a demonstration of Euclid, and to the non-engineering mind was about as interesting. The Senator felt so well acquainted with it that he hesitated about buying a descriptive pamphlet. "They want to sell a stranger too much information in this country," he said. "The meanest American intelligence is equal to stepping into an elevator and stepping out again." But he bought one nevertheless, and was particularly pleased with it, not only because it was the cheapest thing in Paris at five cents, but because, as he said himself, it contained an amount of enthusiasm not usually available at any price.

***

We saw our first Italian shrug. It is more prolonged, more sentimental than French ones.

***

"It takes the breath. What splendid revenue must be from that!"

The Senator merely smiled, and played with his watch chain. "I should hate to brag," he said, but anyone could see from the absence of a diamond ring on his little finger that he was a person of weight in his community.

***

Presently uprose a great and crumbling arch and a difference, and as we passed it the sound of the life of the city died indistinctly away and a silence grew up, with the smell of the sun upon grasses and weeds, and we stopped and looked down into Cæsar's world, which lay below us, empty. We gazed in silence for a moment, and then Emmeline remarked that she could make as good a Forum with a box of blocks.

***

"You so often remind me of Punch, Mr. Mafferton."

I shouldn't have liked anyone to say that to me, but it seemed to have quite a mollifying effect upon Mr. Mafferton. He smiled and pulled his moustache in the way Englishmen always do, when endeavouring to absorb a compliment.

***

"One question at a time," said Mr. Mafferton, and I think he smiled.

"Now you remind me of Sandford and Merton," I said, "and a place for everything and everything in its place. And punctuality is the thief of time. And many others."

"You haven't got it quite right," said Mr. Mafferton with incipient animation. "May I correct you? 'Procrastination,' not 'punctuality.'"

***

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September 8, 2017 (permalink)


Jonathan Caws-Elwitt

unearths some literary gems.

From The Uninvited Countess, by Michael Kilian:

["And I Don't Even Have a..." dept.]

"You know, Bedford, I'm spending a hell of a lot of time here on a case that's not in our jurisdiction." [...]

"So am I," said Bedford, "and I don't even have a jurisdiction."

***

From Dead Man Riding, by Gillian Linscott:

Talking to Dulcie was like hitting tennis balls into a feather bed. She absorbed what you said but nothing came back to you.

***

[From Wodehouse's Something New]

Mr. Beach was too well-bred to be inquisitive, but his eyebrows were not.

"Ah!" he said. "?" cried his eyebrows. "?--?--?"

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September 5, 2017 (permalink)


Jonathan Caws-Elwitt

unearths some literary gems.

[Here's a nice oxymoron from an Inspector Appleby short story]:

Nothing was visible that did not almost ostentatiously blend with the whole.

***

[From The Penciled Frown, by James Gray: some excessive-consonant words and a flukey patron saint]:

***

He was repeating the names of those to whom he was being presented.

"Mr. Hirmmmmkenmmmm."

"Mrs. Barrtinddmmm."

"Miss Kinggytbbb."

***

Timothy brightened. "You believe in the gospel according to Saint Fluke."

***

[Some maledicta business from Wodehouse, in Pigs Have Wings]:

"To speak expleasantly, sir," he said, "I think the old ---- means to do the dirty on us."

It would perhaps have been more fitting had Sir Gregory at this point said "Come, come, my man, be more careful with your language," but the noun ---- expressed so exactly what he himself was thinking of the Hon. Galahad Threepwood that he could not bring himself to chide and rebuke. As a matter of fact, though ---- is admittedly strong stuff, he had gone even further than his companion, labelling Gally in his mind as a ****** and a !!!!!!.

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September 2, 2017 (permalink)


Jonathan Caws-Elwitt

unearths some literary gems.

In his novel Cocktail Time, I discovered the Wodehouse version of the "pull up a chair" gag:

"Take a chair."

"I have."

"Take another," said Mr. Saxby hospitably.

***

[Also from Cocktail Time]

“Egad!” he said.

“M’lord?” said Rupert Morrison.

“Nothing, my dear fellow,” said Lord Ickenham. “Just egad.”

As the saloon bar was open for saying egad in at that hour, Mr. Morrison made no further comment.

***

[Elsewhere from Wodehouse]

"I was afraid you might have other engagements."

"My dear Clarence! As if any engagement, however other, could keep me from answering a cry for succor like yours."

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August 30, 2017 (permalink)


Jonathan Caws-Elwitt

unearths some literary gems.

From Absent Friends, by Gillian Linscott:

[with an emphasis on lack of context]

***

It arrived quite out of the blue--or out of the mauve perhaps, since that was the colour of the stationery.

***

"Just as well your legal friends couldn't hear you putting leading questions to a piano."

[Context hint: seance.]

***

I fell asleep at last wondering if it were some fault in me that I could never imagine wanting to call anybody Tumtum.

***

From Bland Beginning, by Julian Symons:

"You know the kind of thing—how Henry James patted him on the head when he was five and said, 'I hope, my dear young friend, that you will always retain your present fine awareness of simple, and in fact incommunicable, emotion which it is the endeavour of a lucky few, quite simply, to communicate.'"

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August 27, 2017 (permalink)


Jonathan Caws-Elwitt

unearths some literary gems.

From John Dickson Carr:
He never sat down in a chair without first turning it the wrong way round. He always said 'Ho, my lads!' when he came into a room, and he never went out of it without leaving the door open so that he could come back in again.
***
From Christianna Brand:
Inspector Cockrill is known to pick up any hat that happens to be at hand, to the considerable inconvenience of the true owner. Anything that does not actually deafen and blind him is acceptable.
***
From Nicholas Blake's "The Long Shot":
Eccentricity, as I see it, is nothing more than the visible track of the libido taking a short cut to the desired object.
***
From James Miles:
He had... a full moustache that threatened to encircle his head.
***
From Anthony Berkeley:

I had a picture postcard from him this morning. An incredibly blue Lake Como in the foreground and an impossibly white mountain at the back, with Cadenabbia sandwiched microscopically in between. Actually, though, he's in Bellagio for a few days.

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August 24, 2017 (permalink)


Jonathan Caws-Elwitt

unearths some literary gems.

From Death Mask, by Jane Dentinger:

***

She was a perfect type, just like an E. F. Benson character but with sex.

***

From The Moonflower Murder, by Beverley Nichols:

***

She looked like a sharp, modern full-stop on a page of illuminated parchment.

***

[Rhetorical Questions Answered dept.]

"How dare you speak to me so insolently?"

"Because I do not care to have Krishna insulted."

***

[Metaphorical Typography That Is Not Reflected in the Actual Type dept.]

"Mrs. Kenneth Faversham?" echoed Waller, in block capitals.

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August 21, 2017 (permalink)


Jonathan Caws-Elwitt

unearths some literary gems.

From The Immaterial Murder Case, by Julian Symons:

***

This poem is reproduced by permission of the magazine Yes and No in which it first appeared.

***

In person Mrs P. is tall and angular with lots of flapping, jingling things about her.

***

“I asked if he would like to combine with me on my translations from the Chinese, and he was quite rude. And it’s difficult for me to do them alone, because I don’t really know any Chinese.”

***

“You do drink whisky, don’t you?”

“Does a cat swim?”

I couldn’t remember.

***

I’d come to the conclusion already that Woode was a damned bad detective, but one thing I must say for him, he has the queerest way of popping out by your side, almost from under your elbow or out of your pocket, when you don’t expect it.

***

Knew-it-all-the-time was now mixed with If-you’d-only-told-me-before in Woode’s expression.

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August 18, 2017 (permalink)


Jonathan Caws-Elwitt

unearths some literary gems.

An author's note by Dorothy L. Sayers:

"Every person, incident, institution, college, firm or whatnot in this book is purely imaginary and is not intended to refer to any actual person, incident, institution, college, firm or whatnot whatsoever."

***

From Smallbone Deceased, by Michael Gilbert:

After she had gone he sat for some time, then resummoned Mrs. Porter from the typists' room and dictated a vigorous letter to Lady Buntingford's laundry.  [I eventually realized this means the laundry-service business that Lady B. patronizes--but it was fun while it lasted!]

***

Hazelrigg leaned back again, and treated himself to another bout of swiveling. It was a lovely chair.

***

Good God, people would be coupling their names with--and--next.

[Though the typography is a bit strange--everything from the "with" through the "next," including the dashes, is all run together just as I've typed it, with no spaces--I think from the context that this is a blank map to the name of a law firm, i.e., [ ] & [ ].]

***

"Then he could pay the interest by check--to--"

"To whom?" said Mr. Birley and Mr. Craine in a grammatical dead heat.

***

"I see," said the Assistant Commissioner.

He drew a truculent rabbit on the scribbling pad in front of him: thought for a few minutes, then took out a four-color propelling pencil from his inside pocket and dressed it in a Harlequin tie.

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August 15, 2017 (permalink)


Jonathan Caws-Elwitt

unearths some literary gems.

From Sister Beneath the Sheet, by Gillian Linscott:

He was in his early forties, brown hair just flecked with grey, a square, lined forehead and a jutting chin ending in a sharp ledge of a beard, like a cow-catcher on the front of an American railway engine.

***

“I, Jules Estevan, do solemnly swear that I spent the hours between seven o’clock and midnight last Wednesday insulting a friend about his poetry and drinking too much absinthe.”

“That’s a very long insult, Mr Estevan.”

“They were very bad poems, Miss Bray.”

***

I have achieved nothing so far towards ensuring the smooth transition to us of Topaz Brown's legacy, but I have acquired a pendant with a large opal, a set of underwear with ribbon and net trims and a kilo of cooked fish, since disposed of. This afternoon I visited the circus. It is now midnight and I am sitting in a magnolia tree. Hoping this finds you as it leaves me.

Yours,

Nell Bray

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August 13, 2017 (permalink)


Jonathan Caws-Elwitt

unearths some literary gems.

From Audition for Murder, by Susan Sussman:

***

[Crackling static in an intercom brings us a couple of all-consonant words.]

"The dpthrrst of Msskkffll Lnnnnaas."

***

If you can't star at your own funeral, why bother going?

***

I regale him with witty, charming, pithy stories. He is more amused than ardent. I pith harder.

***

[I love it when a character in a book does exactly what *I* would have done.]

"I would love just once," Murray says, "to sit above the salt."

[...]

"Here." Beth puts a saltshaker under Murray's chair.

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August 10, 2017 (permalink)


Jonathan Caws-Elwitt

unearths some literary gems.

Here, in a mystery story by Ernest Bramah, is a delightful twist on the "loquacious witness" trope: instead of giving her rambling testimony verbatim, he characterizes it from a scholarly distance!

"Mrs. Jones’s testimony, given on the frequently expressed understanding that she was quite prepared to be struck dead at any point of it if she deviated from the strictest line of truth, did not disclose any new feature, while its frequent references to the lives and opinions of friends not concerned in the progress of the drama threatened now and then to stifle the narrative with a surfeit of pronouns."

***

From a "To the Reader" note in The Surprising Adventures of the Magical Monarch of Mo and His People, by L. Frank Baum. Note also that this inclusive "we" is quite distinct from the authorial "I" appearing in the same sentence.

"These questions I realize should be answered before we (that "we" means you and the book) can settle down together for a comfortable reading of all the wonders and astonishing adventures I shall endeavor faithfully to relate."

***

Here's a grandfather clock that's anthropomorphized more than in name only, from Dorothy Sayers:

"The grandfather on the stairs was promptly eliminated [as the source of the chime being investigated]; his voice was thin and high and quavering, like the voice of the very old gentleman that he was."

And another bit from Sayers:

"Over a pair of very sharp gray eyes, heavy gray eyebrows hung like a pent-house."

***

Here's a Poirotism I like:

"My friend Hastings is, as you say in England, all at the seaside."

I also like Poirot's duodecimal-friendly self-criticism, when he says he is thirty-six times an imbecile. (I also like the more involved mathematics taking place on this particular occasion: "I have been not a triple imbecile, but thirty-six times one.")

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August 8, 2017 (permalink)


Jonathan Caws-Elwitt

unearths some literary gems.

From Rex Stout:

"Am I too circumstantial?"

"No," Fred said. Whether he knew what "circumstantial" meant or not, he thought Wolfe couldn't be too anything.

***

"A genius can't be bothered with just plain work like having someone tailed. He has to do stunts. He has to take a short cut. Anybody can get a rabbit out of a hat, so he has to get a hat out of a rabbit."

***

"Why don't you ask me what I want?" [she says]

"I'm putting it off because I may not have it."

"That's nice. I like that. That's a good line, only you threw it away. There should be a pause after 'off.' 'I'm putting it off ... because I may not have it.' Try it again."

***

"You see, Falstaff? Didn't I tell you?"

She had told him absolutely nothing.

***

To watch him consider I had to make an effort to forget his shiny dome and concentrate on his features. It would have been simpler if his eyes and nose and mouth had been on top of his head.

***

Next to Wolfe . . . was . . . a tall skinny guy with . . . a thin tight mouth that was just a hyphen between his bony jaws.

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August 5, 2017 (permalink)


Jonathan Caws-Elwitt

unearths some literary gems.

From Lawrence Block:
By then they were in the office and the great man was on the telephone. I couldn’t tell who was on the other end of the line or what they were talking about, because all Haig said was “Yes” and “No” and “Indeed” and, at last, “Satisfactory.” For all I could tell he had called the weather bureau and was talking back to the recording.

***

From Rex Stout:

"What I thought, maybe you're not eccentric any more."

"Certainly I'm eccentric. Who isn't?"

***

From Case with Four Clowns by Leo Bruce:

His fair fluffy hair stood out around a prematurely bald spot. It looked like a halo which had been put on like a bowler-hat instead of being worn serenely untethered.

***

From Archie Goodwin:

Wolfe wiggled a finger. That was regression--I just looked it up. He had quit finger-wiggling a couple of years back.

***

From Death and the Dutiful Daughter, by Anne Morice:

The protest which had sprung to my lips had to spring backwards again because there was an interruption.

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August 2, 2017 (permalink)


Jonathan Caws-Elwitt

unearths some literary gems.

From Leo Bruce:
"We've always called her Bonny. Short for Bon Mot, you see."

***

[A little later, "Bonny" chides her relative for using] "that old nickname.... Nobody has used it for a century. My Bonny's gone over the ocean, in fact."

***

"Mumble, Gray and Mumford of Booty Street, Bloomsbury."

***

Mr. Lofting just now was busy with a youngish man wearing one of those silly little caps which looked as though it had been made for H. G. Wells to wear for cycling as a young man.

***

"And he shouted himself out of the building."

***

From Leo Bruce's A Case for Sergeant Beef:

"Boys," he said. "Would you like to help me catch a murderer?"

He pronounced the word as though he were a comedian giving an imitation of an old-fashioned melodrama, dragging out the first syllable through a series of vowels.

***

Chatto made that interesting sound usually reproduced by novelists as "Pshaw!"

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July 29, 2017 (permalink)


Jonathan Caws-Elwitt

unearths some literary gems.

From a Sgt. Beef mystery:

***

She was, she now explained, glued to the spot. Her heart was going in a manner which she described as “fit to burst,” while at the same time, and rather confusingly, she didn’t know whether she was standing on her head or her heels. A feather, she assured us, would have been sufficient to send her prostrate. But it was fortunate that these metaphors, however mixed, had come into play, for they kept her there to see something else.

***

“It’s time,” announced Beef, “that we interviewed a parson.”

“A parson?” I repeated, with the air of surprise that is expected of me. “Why a parson?”

“Comic relief,” said Beef; “must have a parson. Wouldn’t be a case without a parson.”

“But you can’t just go off like that and interview a parson.”

“I don’t see why not,” said Beef. “I’ve noticed you enjoy writing about them.”

***

We drove to some offices in a street off High Holborn and saw the name Starling and Nicholson on the plate at the door. I was relieved to see that I should not have to produce that onerous form of humour at the expense of solicitors firms’ names, and that this one was content with a curt partnership instead of any form of repetition.

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July 25, 2017 (permalink)


Jonathan Caws-Elwitt

unearths some literary gems.

From Rex Stout:

***

"No." He meant every word of it.

***

[Arbitrary non-round-number percentages dept.]

At least 91.2 per cent of the district attorneys in the State of New York think they would make fine tenants of the governor's mansion in Albany.

***

"You're at liberty to tell me to go climb a tree if you find the question ticklish. I might add that I would be at liberty to climb a pole instead of a tree."

***

Archie has found some rocks that might yield evidence, but he's lecturing himself about how impractical it will be to home in on it...

***

Good for you, I thought, you've made one hell of a discovery and now you're a geologist. All you have to do now is put every damn rock under the glass, and along about Labor Day you'll be ready to report. Ignoring my sarcasm, I went on looking.

***

"If Wolfe had intercepted me to tell me to type for him a summary of the headway made during the week, it wouldn't have delayed me more than ten seconds. I could merely have stepped into the office for a blank sheet of paper and handed it to him--or, if he wanted it in triplicate, three sheets."

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