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 — July 20, 2018 (permalink)


Jonathan Caws-Elwitt

unearths some literary gems.

From The Case of the Dubious Bridegroom, by Erle Stanley Gardner:

***

[Perry Mason Goes Surrealist]

"Now, if you can tell me why a woman should go tearing madly down the highway to fill up her tank with gasoline at Oceanside, then drive off the road and commit suicide, I'll give you a furlined fountain pen."

[He subsequently indicates that "the second prize consist[s] of a twenty-one jewel watch which runs backwards.]

***

[From Knock, Murderer, Knock! by Harriet Rutland:]

***

He secretly felt that knick-knacks and what-nots made a more fitting background for Hydro chit-chat.

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July 17, 2018 (permalink)


Jonathan Caws-Elwitt

unearths some literary gems.

From Death at Crane's Court, by Eilís Dillon:

***

[George] made his will in favour of a second cousin whom he had never seen, but who had a reputation for oddity, principally because he wore a two-foot beard and wrote savage but incomprehensible poems. George liked the sound of him.

***

His hands pouring out tea were soft and smooth, and they were continually lifting a little at the wrists as if to step back and admire their work.

***

"He writes articles about the decline of art, literature and the drama in Ireland, and sighs for the good old days before he was born. So, I imagine, do the editors whom he pesters with this stuff."

***

[This is an amusingly mixed metaphor, imo: the concept of the "best" school turning out the epitome of a gentleman mashed up with the concept of Timbuktu as the epitome of remoteness.]

"Not if he went to school in Timbuctoo, nothing would make a gentleman of him."

***

[Deputy Ghost dept.: A senile woman believes that the friendly ghost of the old squire visits her, and to gain her confidence a police inspector has been given the job of telling her that he is the ghost. But he doesn't want to be a ghost.]

"It will be interesting to be a ghost," said Daly mischievously. "I'd rather like the job myself."

"Do you think she'll allow me to transfer it to you?" asked Mike hopefully.

"Not a chance," said the old man, shaking his head. "She knows me too well."

[A little later]

Mike... was already planning to make [police officer] Colm MacDonagh his deputy ghost.

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July 15, 2018 (permalink)


Jonathan Caws-Elwitt

unearths some literary gems.

From The Robbery by Clare Beecher Kummer:

***

BOB: I'll stay till the butler gets dressed. I'm sure he's not dead. They always live to be awfully old.

[And this, if I recall correctly, was from Mrs. Bumstead-Leigh by Harry James Smith]:

NINA (Standing away with a shriek of laughter)

Oh, Mr. Anthony! Aren't you an article!

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July 13, 2018 (permalink)


Jonathan Caws-Elwitt

unearths some literary gems.

From The Black Shrouds, by Constance and Gwenyth Little:

[Another "screwball mystery" from the Little sisters.]

***

Grace and Mary did not mind and said so with such enthusiasm that Papa had to put a series of sneering remarks back onto the stove and let them simmer.

***

[Bonus: The book features a pair of sisters named Imogene and Opal Rostrum.]

***

[From Dragon's Cave, by Clyde B. Clason:]

***

This from Phelan, who was standing beside the living-room door, hitherto as silent as a bust of Socrates.

[I like the specificity of that; and it's fun to misread an implication that a bust of Socrates would be particularly silent, as far as busts go. For a modern-day book, I would suggest "a bust of Marcel Marceau" to really put it over the top.]

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July 10, 2018 (permalink)


Jonathan Caws-Elwitt

unearths some literary gems.

From Death of a Fellow Traveller, by Delano Ames:

***

He made a half-hearted attempt to tell me about St. Neot, a very small man who was unable to reach as high as the keyhole of the Glastonbury Abbey door. The keyhole therefore slid down until it was within St. Neot's reach.

"It would seem simpler in a way," he said, "had St. Neot stood on something. But no--the obvious solution of the problem was for the keyhole to descend. The man who made up that story had the kind of mentality we need in the present case."

I refrained from pointing out that in that event he, Dagobert, was just the man required.

***

I suppose the opposite of having an ace up your sleeve is having a deuce up your sleeve.

***

"Don't you remember?" he said, "I wasn't going to have any more hunches."

"Have one anyway," I urged.

***

"But you made that up for my benefit, didn't you?" I said breathlessly.

"No, someone really did inquire about Gwink," he said. "I often tell the truth; you want to be on your guard against it."

***

He was one of those terrifying players who know all about arithmetic and mutter before they throw: "treble fifteen, eighteen and double top." This kind of thing impresses me even when the darts go somewhere else.

***

I found a pile of old magazines which kept me busy for the next hour or so. I was absorbed in a scheme for making a "dramatic" handbag out of an old felt hat (or possibly it was the other way round)....

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July 8, 2018 (permalink)


Jonathan Caws-Elwitt

unearths some literary gems.

This from Dorothy Parker:

***

It is difficult to say whether Mrs. McPherson is happier in her crackling exclamations or in her bead-curtain-and-chenille-fringe style. Presumably the lady is happy in both manners. That would make her two up on me.

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July 6, 2018 (permalink)


Jonathan Caws-Elwitt

unearths some literary gems.

From Death of Anton, by Alan Melville:

***

Dodo the clown... is lying on top of his bed and turning over the pages of his Seven Pillars of Wisdom. Not reading, merely turning the pages.... [He] has been looking for a suitable place to begin reading the book ever since he bought it, but up to now has failed to find one.

***

Brother Robert had a perplexing habit of beginning a letter as though he were resuming a conversation which had been interrupted for a moment. He started in the middle, and ended in the same place.

***

"A novelist?"

"I've been talking to you for five minutes, and I haven't yet mentioned one of my masterpieces. Therefore I cannot be a novelist. Try again."

***

"You know that on Monday night the only people who matter are the newspaper critics, and so you play to their level."

"Up to it?" said Mr. Minto.

"Down to it."

***

At a certain chord from the band (or, more likely, at an uncertain chord, for the new trombone player had not yet accustomed himself to fitting in his blowing with the rapid succession of acts in the ring below him)....

***

The bangers arrived, heaped high on two enormous ashets. Claire had not believed there were so many sausages in captivitiy, and said so. Mr. Carey made a bad joke about missing links, and laughed for a long time at it.

***

No one should ever attempt to build a dam, however small, in a pale grey suit with a chalk stripe. Mr. Minto used, apart from bad language, mud and bricks and stones and divots.

***

[Double What-Not dept.]

At a rough guess, two hundred and fifty china ornaments were busily gathering dust on a number of shelves, cupboards, mantelpieces, whatnots, and what not around the room.

***

[Reminiscent of Anthropomorphized Weighing Machines in a Sitting Room dept.?]

There was a great deal of furniture, mainly upholstered in green plush, as well as a bird-cage (empty) which stood in the middle of the room, like a policeman directing traffic on point duty.

***

"The man thinks of nothing but his blooming vacuums. I hope he doesn't dream about them. It would be very awkward if he started giving me demonstrations in bed."

[I'm pretty sure this 1936 novel isn't intentionally referencing special "massage" attachments...]

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July 3, 2018 (permalink)


Jonathan Caws-Elwitt

unearths some literary gems.

From The Act of Roger Murgatroyd, by Gilbert Adair:

***

Even the grandfather clock stopped ticking--or else tick-tocked on tiptoe.

***

It was the sort of sound that, in their stage directions, playwrights tend to convey as "ahem" and you could actually hear the two syllables "a" and "hem" in Chitty's cough.

***

"It was she who solved the identical-twin fratricide in Faber or Faber, am I right?"

[N.B. The real-life book, The Act of Roger Murgatroyd, is published by Faber & Faber. And, for good measure, the owner of the country house is named ffolkes, echoing the lowercase double-f of the F&F logo.]

***

"He said 'Dahling!' all the time, to all of us indiscriminately.... I chanced to catch him brushing away a fly that had settled on the rim of his cocktail glass and I actually heard him say, 'Buzz off, dahling!'"

***

"When he burbled on incessantly about the finest this and the greatest that, you felt you were being sprayed by the spittle of exclamation marks."

***

"To say that he drawled isn't the half of it. His whole body drawled."

***

"Gentry... opined that The Green Hat was 'remembered only for having been forgotten.'"

***

"Certainly," she answered, a tiny smoke-ring drifting over her head like a halo in search of a saint.

***

[Literary Whatstheirnames dept.]

"He was a beast... with his T.S. this and his D.H. that...."

***

"Molnar--the Hungarian playwright, you know, entrancing man, as witty as a barrel of monkeys."

***

"Clem... is someone utterly incapable of losing his temper. Indeed, according to Cynthia, he's so absent-minded his temper is just about the only thing he never does manage to lose."

***

Evelyn Mount, meanwhile, was wearing... shoes so sensible, as they say, you felt like consulting them on whether you should cash in your shares in Amalgamated Copper.

***

"Cora has had no fewer than three husbands. It is three, isn't it, Cora darling?"

"Four, darling, if you count the Count."

"I never count the Count."

***

"One was The Vamp of the Pampas. Ooh, was that hot stuff!"

"Language, Addie, language! This isn't Paris, you know."

***

"It was called No Murder in the Title...."

***

Dolly stuck her forefinger in the dead centre of her brow as though to indicate, for everyone's benefit, the exact location of her hunch.

***

He even, nobody quite knew how, contrived to slam doors open.

***

"Cora could tell her stories to the back of the Clapham omnibus and never know the difference."

***

["Fictitious novel titles that postcurse JC-E titles" dept.]

The Proof of the Pudding

***

It was almost as though she had spoken in italics, almost as though they could feel the hairs stand up on the napes of their necks, almost as though those hairs, too, were in italics.

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July 1, 2018 (permalink)


Jonathan Caws-Elwitt

unearths some literary gems.

From All Roads to Sospel, by George Bellairs:

[At first I wrote I mistakenly wrote "Sospol." In other words, I mis-spel-led it!]

***

Both of them eagerly said they did, the small man vociferously; the large one by vigorously shaking head up and down as though trying to cast it from him.

***

'He's known locally as "Andy Know-all," not because of his education, but because he terminates almost every sentence with "you know."' [Technically, wouldn't that make everyone else the "know-alls"?]

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June 29, 2018 (permalink)


Jonathan Caws-Elwitt

unearths some literary gems.

Fom Made Up to Kill, by Kelley Roos:

***

[(Presumably) Fictitious Theatrical Productions dept.]

Four years ago she had snagged the ingenue lead in a play called Gibbon's Glade.

***

The man who stood there seemed to me the tallest man I'd ever seen. His parents, I thought inanely, must have been Basil Rathbone and a skyscraper.

***

[Personified Punctuation dept. The character being alluded to here is a nosy elevator operator.]

Fortunately the day operator was on and not Jinx, the human interrogation point.

***

[One- (and Two-) Upping Clichés dept. (Also "Toast Is Funny" dept.)]

He came in looking as though he'd just eaten a flock of canaries. On toast.

***

“Philip Ashley couldn’t have stolen a scene from a snowdrift.”

***

Immediately Jeff gave me the high sign, so high it almost went completely over my head.

***

Bonus: An extraneous intra-library slip of paper within this inter-library-loaned book bears the intriguing legend ***,S.

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June 26, 2018 (permalink)


Jonathan Caws-Elwitt

unearths some literary gems.

From With a Bare Bodkin, by Cyril Hare:

***

"There are moments when I feel that 'nothing' is the most beautiful word in the language."

[This is only accidentally related, given the 20th-century source above; but I recently read an analysis of lost double entendres in Shakespeare--lost because of pronunciation changes since the Bard's time. The one I recall related to "nothing" having been pronounced the same as "no thing," which in turn could refer to female anatomy. So here we can juxtapose the "divine monosyllable" with the "most beautiful word in the language."]

***

Damn Phillips! Damn Edelman! Damn the Control and everything connected with it, including the Blenkinsop file!

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June 22, 2018 (permalink)


Jonathan Caws-Elwitt

unearths some literary gems.

From Thirteen Guests, by J. Jefferson Farjeon:

***

Usually he was rather good at conversation, but now he could not even talk of cabbages and kings without putting his foot in it.

***

She always closed her eyes in company when she thought, so that the company would know she was thinking. Sometimes she cheated, and opened her eyes without having thought at all.

***

"I have written a detective novel," replied Bultin. "Also, the notice of it."

[I note that this precurses our namesake Jeremy Hillary Boob of Yellow Submarine, who says he is writing a book and simultaneously reviewing it. (Also sock-puppet Amazon reviewers.)]

***

A figure darted towards Kendall, like a ghost that had suddenly materialised out of a shadow and had urgent business to do before dissolving back into ethereal form.

***

It was Bultin who discovered--or who expedited the discovery of--the little glass tube in the hat's leather lining. This discovery will probably cause his own size in hats to increase.

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June 19, 2018 (permalink)


Jonathan Caws-Elwitt

unearths some literary gems.

From The Black Coat, by Constance and Gwenyth Little:

***

[Dubious Testimonials dept.]

"The trouble with George," Tim said critically, "is that he has no sense of humor...."

"You leave George alone," Lily pouted. "He can laugh like a hyena when he doesn't have all this on his mind."

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June 15, 2018 (permalink)


Jonathan Caws-Elwitt

unearths some literary gems.

From Death in the Quadrangle, by Eilís Dillon:

***

"There's terrible changes here, sir, enough to make the old [college] President, God be good to him, turn in his grave."

Daly doubted the truth of this, remembering how hard it had been to induce the late President to turn in his chair, even while he was alive.

***

He was in his early forties, of medium height with nondescript, mouse-coloured hair, rather thin, and a parchment complexion which gave him an unreal appearance, like a bad stained-glass window.

***

[I Resemble That Remark dept.]

"How did you get him talking about the President?" asked Mike, fearing that Daly was about to embark on his favourite game of repeating his own witticisms.

***

[Nonsense Interruptus dept.]

She started to say:

"Nonsense!"

Then suddenly she closed her mouth tight and covered it with her hand.

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June 12, 2018 (permalink)


Jonathan Caws-Elwitt

unearths some literary gems.

From The Black Goatee, by Constance and Gwenyth Little:

[If you want more "screwball mysteries" in your life, I might recommend this one. It could be shelved comfortably next to Alice Tilton--providing, of course, one wasn't using an alphabetical or spine-color system. (:v> Incidentally, I was mulling over the distinction between "screwball" and "zany"--my impression being, in the film-comedy world, that they are two quite different animals, the former involving hapless protagonists whom circumstances force into a comically undignified antics, and the latter involving protagonists for whom antics are "normal" behavior. So, though Tilton has been described as "screwball," I might suggest that she's sort of halfway between the two. While her characters certainly aren't intrinsically zany on the order of the Marx Brothers or Wheeler and Woolsey, it doesn't take much to prompt them into silly behavior, and they don't lose much sleep over looking silly. And I would say that this Little-Little novel is along similar lines, with the additional similarity that the various slightly kooky characters have all known each other forever or, even when they haven't, behave as if they have.]

***

"Well, I know a man--" Ed began, but wasn't able to get anywhere in telling about his man, because everyone else knew a man, also, and couldn't be bothered hearing about Ed's.

***

"What did he say?"

"Nothing. And he said it very well, too."

***

[Goat Getting: The Extended Metaphor Version]

"He wanted to get your goat, and he walked off with it under his arm."

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June 8, 2018 (permalink)


Jonathan Caws-Elwitt

unearths some literary gems.

From Tragedy at Law, by Cyril Hare:

***

It was his Court whisper, something quite different from any tone normally used by him--or indeed by anyone else.

***

[Unusual Threesomes dept.]

Pettigrew got into bed with a furrowed brow and a very wrinkled nose.

***

"So far as--so far as his particular grievance is concerned, if you follow me, my lord."

From Barber's expression it was plain that he followed him perfectly, and that he did not greatly enjoy the journey.

***

"It appeals to some temperaments, and Sally, as you are no doubt aware, has several."

***

Ranging from querulous protest through bitter sarcasm to straightforward abuse, the [guest book] entries made an interesting contribution to the literature of ill temper.

***

He gave a gasp of dismay when Greene opened the door of his room and with mute eloquence displayed what lay beyond.

***

"By the end of the evening I should not be surprised if I were verging on the blotto, in a quite gentlemanly way, of course, but definitely verging."

"But..." said Derek.

"I know what you are going to say. As a purist, not to say an idealist, you object that a verge cannot be definite."

***

It is somewhat difficult to disregard with lofty chivalry a blot on the family scutcheon unless you can see the blot.

***

Hilda caught Derek's eye and gave him what is generally described as a meaning look. Derek had no difficulty in recognizing it as such, but unfortunately he was not able to determine for himself exactly what it meant.

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June 5, 2018 (permalink)


Jonathan Caws-Elwitt

unearths some literary gems.

From The Case of the Restless Redhead, by Erle Stanley Gardner:

***

"Pretty Polly. Watch it now. Here's your cracker," the parrot interpolated.

[The parrot *interpolated*! (N.B. I think the "bonus" near-Tom Swifty of Polly inter-pol-ating was unintended. Also of note: The presence of the parrot is *not* used as a plot device, i.e., the parrot doesn't repeat any compromising bit of a secret conversation at a crucial juncture. It's a purely recreational parrot!)]

***

From An Oxford Tragedy, by J. C. Masterman:

***

You must see it all through my eyes, or rather--to be more exact--through my spectacles.

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June 1, 2018 (permalink)


Jonathan Caws-Elwitt

unearths some literary gems.

From One False Move, by Kelley Roos:

***

He was sandpapering it, having a wonderful time. I had never been especially interested in sandpapering per se, but Gramps made me want to try my hand at it.

[There must be YouTube channels for people who get a sensual frisson from sandpapering.]

***

Arch put on his half-lens reading spectacles and perused the letter. It seemed to take hours; I had never seen a letter so perused.

***

If she could project the sincerity she was exuding now from a stage, she would be another Sarah Bernhardt, another Eleonora* Duse. Well, another Doris Day.

[*Thinking this name would normally be spelled like "Eleanor" with an "a" appended, I wondered if "Eleonora" was a typo. But, no, there really is a lion in there.]

***

My mind was not on counting money. I might have been counting chickens before they were hatched. Or my blessings, although at the moment I could have finished that up in a hurry.

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May 29, 2018 (permalink)


Jonathan Caws-Elwitt

unearths some literary gems.

From The Pleasure Cruise Mystery, by Robin Forsythe:

***

"And I deduce--it's not often I condescend to deduce--that the one that belonged to Maureen was the cinnamon and white diamond affair."

***

"She may have used ordinary saliva [as an invisible ink]...."

"By Jove, fancy getting one's information straight from the mare's mouth so to speak. The process explains the phrase 'spitting it out' and makes x's a fair approximation to kisses."

[That "By Jove" speech--apart from the "by Jove" itself--reads to me like it's straight out of the Conley - Caws-Elwitt correspondence!]

***

"She reminds me of a hansom cab. I can't explain why, Algernon."

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May 25, 2018 (permalink)


Jonathan Caws-Elwitt

unearths some literary gems.

From the Leonidas Witherall radio shows:

***

"Keep your beard out of this." [Used more than once.]

***

"That's quite a character reference."

"Well, Mr. Witherall's quite a character."

***

"I just took Dalton Chancery Prince Igor IV over to his pen."

"Dalton Chancery Prince Igor IV? Pen name of a writer?"

"It's my prize bull!"

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