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 — September 21, 2018 (permalink)


Jonathan Caws-Elwitt

unearths some literary gems.

From The Case of the Substitute Face, by Erle Stanley Gardner:
***
[Buying Your Own Hype dept.]

"She's a bit hypnotized by Hollywood."

"Everyone is," Mason grinned, "including Hollywood."

***

[In which Erle Stanley Gardner lets one of his characters (and not even a recurring character) name the book...]

"Ooh, the Big Bad Lawyer!" she laughed. "I forgot I was being cross-examined. What shall we call this, Mr. Mason—'The Case of the Purloined Picture'?"

"It wasn't purloined," he said, "so much as substituted."

"All right, then. 'The Case of the Substitute Face.' How will that do?"

"All right," he said, "at least temporarily."

 

[ Oh, I like this character a lot! A little later...]

"Incidentally, what are your theories?"

She shook her head. "I don't have theories. I'm too young... You don't mind being kidded a bit, do you, Mr. Mason? Because if you do, you only have to say so and I get worse... No, seriously speaking...."

[ I would let her name the book, too, if she showed up in one of mine.]

***

Jackson said, "He's an arrogant, dictatorial, obstinate nincompoop."

"You really should take up profanity, Jackson. It's a lot more satisfying," Mason told him.

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September 18, 2018 (permalink)


Jonathan Caws-Elwitt

unearths some literary gems.

From An English Murder, by Cyril Hare:

***

Those marginalia! Those crabbed, truncated interlineations!... Dr. Bottwink stared in angry bewilderment at the hieroglyphics before him and across two centuries muttered maledictions on Lord Warbeck and his ill-mended quill pen.

***

From The Dying Alderman, by Henry Wade:

***

[Nonsense Department, Hogwash-and-Eyewash Division]

"This is all mouthwash."

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September 16, 2018 (permalink)


Jonathan Caws-Elwitt

unearths some literary gems.

Noted in passing as I reread some Benchley pieces:

***

"I will quote from a noted authority on non-existent cities"

***

Did you know that.... The reason why it always says "twenty minutes past eight" on those big watches that hang outside jewelers' shops is because that is actually the time at the particular moment when you are looking at it?

[I don't recall knowing about the 8:20 alternative to the classic 10:10. It's a logical inversion, of course. But I wonder if 10:10 supplanted 8:20, or whether they coexisted for a time... Is 8:20 "the pessimist's 10:10"?]

***

The “O” in the name “Ogden” has four concentric circles in connection with it, as if the writer had got going and couldn’t stop. A valuable item for collectors of unusual letter “O’s.”

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September 14, 2018 (permalink)


Jonathan Caws-Elwitt

unearths some literary gems.

From The Great Black Kanba, by Constance and Gwenyth Little:

***

[The protagonist, who is suffering from amnesia, catches herself in the middle of a whimsical ramble.]

I stopped short and thought wildly that not only had I lost my memory but I'd gone a bit silly too. Or maybe I was naturally silly--I had no way of knowing.

***

"You know as well as I do that Mavis would keep that sort of appointment if the man were snowed in with white whiskers."

***

"Come on, Virgineeah."

"You'd better call me Ginny," I said, getting to my feet. "You can't play around with it so much."

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September 11, 2018 (permalink)


Jonathan Caws-Elwitt

unearths some literary gems.

From The Murder of a Quack, by George Bellairs:

***

[Anthropomorphized Grandfather Clock dept.]

All was silent inside, save for the heavy ticking of the grandfather clock in the hall. This wheezily worked itself up for an effort, struck eight and sank into exhausted quietness once more.

***

[We liked this joke in the last book, so Mr Bellairs is giving it to us again.]

"Hey, grandpa, ye'll be meetin' yerself comin' back if ye bustle like that," shouted one of the idlers.

***

"Maybe it'll turn out to be suicide, after all," said a meek man, baring his yellow teeth in a smile and patting his bald pate as though either blessing himself or stimulating his brains to activity.

***

She was a little, thin woman, with ... a nose and mouth so small that a caricaturist would have passed them off with a tick and a dot of his pencil.

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September 9, 2018 (permalink)


Jonathan Caws-Elwitt

unearths some literary gems.

From Voices Offstage, by Marc Connelly:

***

The picture [a serial] was called The Great Secret.... I never found out what the great secret was and I don't think anyone else working on the picture knew either.

***

[a Retroactive Lifetime Goal?]

...Jack Donohue, a droll comedian regarded by Ray Bolger as America's greatest eccentric dancer....

***

[Bonus: I recently reread a Benchley piece about informal group singing at parties, in which he notes that "Kiss Me Again" is a favorite because you can pretty much get through it by singing those three words over and over, if you're shaky on the actual lyrics. A few days later, reading this memoir by Benchley's colleague Connelly, I learned that the actual lyrics to KMA were, according to MC, mostly "dummy lyrics"--i.e., the lyricist's placeholder lyrics, which were unexpectedly used in the song's public debut performance because the lyricist had been suddenly taken ill and was temporarily unavailable to substitute "real" lyrics. The song went so smoothly, according to MC, that consequently only "two or three minor words" were altered for the official lyrics.]

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September 7, 2018 (permalink)


Jonathan Caws-Elwitt

unearths some literary gems.

From The Case of the Stuttering Bishop, by Erle Stanley Gardner:

***

"And," she told him, "I take it the plot thickens?"

Mason frowned and said, "Yes, it thickens like the gravy I made on my last camping trip—all in a bunch of lumps, which don't seem to be smoothing out."

She laughed up at him and said, "Did you apologize for the gravy, Chief?"

"Hell, no!" he told her. "I told the boys that it was the latest thing out, something I'd learned from the chef in a famous New York restaurant; that it was Thousand-Island Gravy."

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September 4, 2018 (permalink)


Jonathan Caws-Elwitt

unearths some literary gems.

From No Mourning for the Matador, by Delano Ames:

***

[Spoken of a pianist] "They said he was a second McCormack [who was apparently a notable tenor], or do I mean Kreisler [who was apparently a violinist]?"

***

[Misquoting a reference to death as "the long siesta"] "With our own darling Denis just setting forth on what the newspaper so beautifully said--the long fiesta."

***

A shock awaited us in the garage: our car was ready.

***

"You'd laugh at me Jane, wouldn't you, if I told you I'd fallen fairly passionately in love? With you, I think."

"I'll laugh at you when you've made up your mind," I promised.

***

In between snacks he begged me to accept things like "the desire of the moth for the star" or "devotion to something afar." Though I indicated that I would gladly settle for the latter, he stuck close to us to the bitter end.

***

Sir Jasper was surveying the place with an air of superiority though his eyeglass. Without it he would probably have seen us sooner.

***

I know Dagobert rather well, and, though I frequently don't understand him when he's talking, I can almost always interpret his silences.

***

The road, I remembered, was a series of switchbacks; in the daytime it looked like a badly tied shoelace.

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September 2, 2018 (permalink)


Jonathan Caws-Elwitt

unearths some literary gems.

From The Case of the Cautious Coquette, by ESG:

***

The man had an almost dreamy air of abstraction, as though his mind, immersed in books, had somehow become imprisoned between the printed covers of some text book and had failed to emerge.

***

"That stall about the stolen car is two years older than Moses. In addition to which, it stinks."

***

[From The Case of the Fiery Fingers, by Erle Stanley Gardner]:

***

“Wait a minute,” Mason said. “You’re getting several carts in front of one horse.”

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August 31, 2018 (permalink)


Jonathan Caws-Elwitt

unearths some literary gems.

From The Dead Shall Be Raised, by George Bellairs:

***

He lived in the past and his memory in this respect was wide, precise and boring.

***

[Not quite a full-fledged silly name, imo, but a "slightly silly" one--along the lines of the Pythons' Slightly Silly political party.]

Mr. Benjamin Butterworth

***

Of the old firm of Butterworth, Coughey, Mills, Butterworth and Mills, Solicitors, only Mr. Simeon Mills survived. This was somewhat of a public relief, for previously, nobody had known which Butterworth was which in the firm's title and as for the other Mills, he might have been the invisible man; no-one ever knew or saw him.

***

[The residents of an insular village] spoke freely to each other, but answered "foreigners" in monosyllables, as though suspecting that any friendly gestures would result in the strangers taking the liberty of marrying into their families and removing their closely-guarded building-society deposits into alien communities.

***

She... grumbled that it wasn't long since the meter-man was there before.

"Yes. We're getting a bit ahead of ourselves at the gas-works," said Blades. "If we go on like this, we'll be meeting ourselves coming back!"

***

[Descriptions that compare people to eggs never get old for me.]

Enthroned among the rest of the customers sat a portly man, with a bald head, like an egg thrusting itself from a deep, stiff collar. He was the mortgagee of the premises and came regularly every day to eat two boiled eggs, which, in their white cups, looked like small replicas of him. Now and then, he would raise his eyes, which were like cloudy-grey poached eggs, from his plate and scan the place critically, as though putting the whole lot under the auctioneer's hammer then and there.

***

[Bonus: A reference to "flatulent Eccles cakes," which of course make me imagine an indignant reaction from the Goons (whom this book predates).]

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August 28, 2018 (permalink)


Jonathan Caws-Elwitt

unearths some literary gems.

From The Case of the Dangerous Dowager, by Erle Stanley Gardner:

***

"I've already been employed by some client whose interests are adverse to yours. If you don't tell me anything, you won't have anything to regret later on."

"Spoken like a gentleman," Duncan said.

"No," Mason corrected, "spoken like a lawyer."

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August 26, 2018 (permalink)


Jonathan Caws-Elwitt

unearths some literary gems.

From The Blatchington Tangle, by G. D. H. and Margaret Cole:

*** 

...a nervous-looking pale woman of about thirty-five, who was addressed as Miss Winter, but commonly without result.

***

He had a wild idea of trying to pump Wicks Ellis; but how could one pump a mechanism which emitted a perfectly steady stream without any pumping at all?

***

[P.S. The Coles are now (counting them as one!) the fourth author in whose work I've encountered a bandbox in the past couple of months--having never, as far as I can recollect, encountered the word prior to that.]

[Also: This is the second book I've recently read (not by the same authors) in which the surname Porteous appears.]

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August 24, 2018 (permalink)


Jonathan Caws-Elwitt

unearths some literary gems.

From The Mummy Case, by Dermot Morrah:

***

[Nonsense dept.]

"Mutton!" replied Considine briefly.

***

[Said of a character with a particularly off-putting manner.]

"He'd have put an oyster's back up."

***

[Tweedledum/dee dept.]

It seemed the twins always spoke alternately, and hence a question addressed to the one was generally answered by the other.

***

"We've got to catch the Laconic from Southampton."

[N.B. This is a different author from the one who gave us the S.S. Pedantic etc. previously!]

[P.S. "Funny fictitious ship names are the new funny fictitious musical-comedy titles"?]

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August 21, 2018 (permalink)


Jonathan Caws-Elwitt

unearths some literary gems.

Here's a case where we can laugh with Erle Stanley Gardner.  From The Case of the Gilded Lily:

***

"What do you mean, they are discovering a body?"

"Present participle," Mason said.

"Another one of those things," Drake complained. "Why can't you wait until the body becomes a past participle and give a guy a break?"

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August 19, 2018 (permalink)


Jonathan Caws-Elwitt

unearths some literary gems.

From Too Many Cousins, by Douglas G. Browne:

[Though in the context of a mystery novel, "too many cousins" has obvious and specific connotations, I enjoyed relishing the title out of context while the book sat in my to-read pile.]

***

"What have you stuck your nose into now?"...

"It is the other way about".... "Something has been stuck on my nose, so to speak."

***

[Rhetorical Questions Answered]

"Well, what do you know about that? The answer is of course, nothing yet, but these Americanisms have a certain expressiveness."

***

He was good looking in a slightly florid way, with a high colour and large brown eyes behind horn-rims with sidepieces so thick that they resembled young hockey sticks.

[And a little later, another young man is introduced.]

Very dark hair fell untidily over his forehead, and the almost inevitable hornrims crowned a beak-like nose.

***

"Moulting Manitous!" [That is an expletive, in case you weren't sure.]

[And, later on, from a different character...]

"Jumping Jeroboam..."

***

[Downgraded from a "Whatever-his-name-is" to a "Thingamajig" within a single paragraph!]

"And find this missing link, Martin Whatever-his-name-is.... The defence would play Old Harry with this Martin Thingamajig."

***

There were, correctly, a pair of stockings--Dry Stocking and Stocking End, but the map showed the latter to consist of no more than a few cottages.

***

[Another one of those characters...]

"I believe Twitchell makes up those sayings of his as he goes along."

***

A stone seat bore inevitably but inexcusably the inscription "A garden is a lovesome thing, God wot"....

Slightly nauseated by this godwottery, as it has so happily been termed [but it's new to me!], Mr. Tuke advanced....

***

Mr. Tuke's cap and her eyebrows were raised together. [A blended family?]

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August 17, 2018 (permalink)


Jonathan Caws-Elwitt

unearths some literary gems.

From The Missing Partners, by Henry Wade:

***

One of the ship's firms, the S.S. Snark, was due to sail next day.

***

"Just some routine questions he was asking."

"Routine gradmothers!"

***

"I might faint and then you ought to be present and apply 'restoratives'--whatever they are."

***

[A cameo from a cartoon character, to punctuate an emotional moment! The characters are conversing intimately between features at the cinema...]

"It simply is that I'm not capable of loving anyone as you do--not at present, at any rate--I may be some day."

She gave his hand a little pat and released her own. Felix strode into view, turned and strode back, frowning....

***

[From the final paragraph of the book!]

So it was that he set foot upon the S.S. Pedantic full of hope for the future.

***

[Bonuses: (1) a reference to an incidental offstage character called Honourable Gweneth Bootle]; (2) a (presumably fictitious) stage show called Happy Hopscotch.

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August 14, 2018 (permalink)


Jonathan Caws-Elwitt

unearths some literary gems.

From The Murder at Crome House, by G. D. H. and Margaret Cole:

***

"And what I want to say is--" What she wanted to say presented every appearance of being infinite.

***

[Human Hypotheses dept.]

The real murderer? But he was only a hypothesis. Flint ran over in his mind the list he had made of all persons on whom suspicion could possibly rest. Delrio? if he wasn't a hypothesis too?

***

Flint drew perplexed spirals on his blotting-paper.

***

[Bonus: A librarian describes a patron as "very miscellaneous," based on his eclectic borrowing habits.

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August 12, 2018 (permalink)


Jonathan Caws-Elwitt

unearths some literary gems.

From Bats in the Belfry, by E. C. R. Lorac:

***

"The chap's in Golders Green or Timbuctoo by this time." [I like how, in conveying that the suspect has had plenty of time to get far away from central London, the protagonist escalates directly from a neighborhood a few miles away to good old Timbuktu. There's not even a layover in Halifax or Jericho!]

***

"Keep your wool on, old sermon-face," growled Robert Grenville.

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August 10, 2018 (permalink)


Jonathan Caws-Elwitt

unearths some literary gems.

From Death of a Busybody, by George Bellairs:

***

[The novel's opening sentence. Quite a good one, eh?]

The September morning which greeted the Rev. Ethelred Claplady, M.A. (Cantab.), incumbent of Hilary Magna (and Parva for that matter), made him want to leap and shout.

***

Mrs. Harriwinckle [!]... stood petrified, holding her husband's nightshirt like one wrestling with a ghost.

***

"Never! screamed Mrs. Prettypenny in a fiery interview between Miss Bose and the three Prettypennies--or Prettypence, whichever you like."

***

Mr. Lorrimer had a habit of crisply finishing off his sentences, as though biting into a stream of verbiage to terminate its flow.

***

"Long Sonaters, List's Hungarian Rapsodaisicals, Chopine's Polonies, and sich like."

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August 7, 2018 (permalink)


Jonathan Caws-Elwitt

unearths some literary gems.

From Mystery in White, by J. Jefferson Farjeon

***

[With reference to a supposed ghost of Charles the First. And, yes, this novel features a character who is (initially) referred to as "the bore"!]

"Charles the Fiddlesticks!" muttered the bore.

***

[Rhetorical Questions Answered dept.]

"What'd we feel like if we read in to-morrow's papers that he'd been found buried in snow?"

"To-morrow's Christmas, and there won't be any papers."

***

"Yes, one does almost feel as if one almost ought to go after him, doesn't one?" [Isn't that a masterpiece of upper-class British expression?]

"This one doesn't," replied the bore, unconsciously adding a point in favour of departure.

***

"That doesn't explain anything."

"Nothing explains anything!"

***

[Nonsense dept.]

Jessie smiled, as nonsense advanced on apprehension.

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Original Content Copyright © 2018 by Craig Conley. All rights reserved.