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.

Yesterday — May 24, 2019 (permalink)


Jonathan Caws-Elwitt

unearths some literary gems.

***

The Soul.... became personified into a sort of sprite which peered out of its apartment at the material world.... The eyes were "the windows of the Soul," and when the Soul took a look at something especially pleasing the windows were supposed to "light up."

Modern science explains this lighting business as being due to natural causes, such as the appearance of a piece of French pastry....

***

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May 21, 2019 (permalink)


Jonathan Caws-Elwitt

unearths some literary gems.

From Corey Ford's collected Rollo Boys:

***

"         !" went the baseball, as Tom's bat failed to connect with it, and the disconnected sphere sailed on toward Merriwell Hall.

***

"!" exclaimed Dr. Merriwell, examining the weapon. "Someone has put a silencer on the starting-gun."

***

The leader in the prow barked out a single word in Arabic: "&"

***

She advanced slowly down the garden path, her eyes radiant with youth and love, her arms filled with a bunch of fragrant asterisks which she had plucked from the good, rich dirt where they grew in profusion, the tips of their star-shaped petals suffused with a passionate pink glow and exuding at times an almost overpowering odour.

[Elsewhere, as I recall, we also have a night sky with asterisks.]

***

". . . ." she replied, and was gone. Phut!

***

And his mother's name was Quetch, if that makes it any funnier.

[And, paraphrasing, as I lost the place: someone does card tricks with matches.]

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May 17, 2019 (permalink)


Jonathan Caws-Elwitt

unearths some literary gems.

In the light verse of Samuel Hoffenstein, I like some of his poem and section titles:

Songs to Break the Tedium of Riding a Bicycle, Seeing One's Friends, or Heartbreak

Poems in Praise of Practically Nothing

Notes for a Superfluous Poem

Songs of Faith in the Year After Next

Love Songs, at Once Tender and Informative--an Unusual Combination in Verses of This Character

Lyric, to Be Skipped by Those Who Do Not Care for This Sort of Thing

Come Weal, Come Woe, My Status Is Quo

'Tis I, Sir, Rhyming Rapidly

Well, Let's Include Them, Anyhow

Flies Without Ointment

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May 14, 2019 (permalink)


Jonathan Caws-Elwitt

unearths some literary gems.

From Murder Comes Home, by Anthony Gilbert:

***

[An obvious one, but new to me.]

"Got as many ears as a field of corn, that woman."

***

[And a new-to-me twist on "moth balls"!]

"[That old coat] must have been used for moths' balls for years past"...

"Then the moths must have been holding a ball elsewhere yesterday.... Because that coat wasn't there last night."

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May 10, 2019 (permalink)


Jonathan Caws-Elwitt

unearths some literary gems.

From The Black Smith, by Constance and Gwenyth Little:

***

"Well, who does he think he is, with all that stuffing in his shirt? Nobody likes the men better than I do, but you can have that one--even on Sundays and holidays."

***

"Did you ever see such a bunch of dead ones, outside the morgue? They look nude, walkin' around without their coffins."

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May 7, 2019 (permalink)


Jonathan Caws-Elwitt

unearths some literary gems.

From Death Wears a Mask, by Douglas G. Browne:

***

[The protagonist is playfully accusing his wife of being indiscreet with one of his secrets.]

"Delilah!" said Mr. Tuke to his wife. "Or do I mean someone else?"

***

"Many a time I've said to 'im, 'A rolling-pin don't gather no moss.'"

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May 3, 2019 (permalink)


Jonathan Caws-Elwitt

unearths some literary gems.

From The Black Curl, by Constance and Gwenyth Little:

***

One of the guests unexpectedly found this hilariously funny.... He collected the laughter.

[Like scooping up winnings after an unanticipated win in a poker hand, I guess?]

***

"He can have a watch fob made of it." She added almost immediately, "What /is/ a watch fob?"

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April 30, 2019 (permalink)


Jonathan Caws-Elwitt

unearths some literary gems.

From Murder in the Bookstore, by Carolyn Wells:

***

Dr. Jamison, the Medical Examiner, was what the novelists call a strong, silent man. Two not indispensable traits for one of his calling, for his strength was seldom needed and his silence was frequently exceedingly annoying.

***

[Ooh la la!]

"As I sat there a few minutes waiting, I noticed it was twenty past ten. I shouldn't have noticed, probably, but there was a little clock on the table that had a quick, saucy little tick. I felt sure it was a French clock and I looked at it with admiration, it was such a pretty little piece of property."

#vintage illustration
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April 26, 2019 (permalink)


Jonathan Caws-Elwitt

unearths some literary gems.

From Ghost of a Chance, by Kelley Roos:

***

[Apple-Munching dept.]

"You know, that I solved six murders which baffled the best police minds in the city, solved them singlehanded while simultaneously practicing my hobby of earning a living being a photographer, whipping up exotic curries in my streamlined kitchen and munching an apple."

***

"What do you know?" he inquired.

"Not much," Jeff said.

The man shoved his hat back on his head and a smug look spread over his face.... "Twenty years," he said, "I been asking people what they know. Always get one of two answers. 'Not much' or 'You're drunk.'"

***

The bartender at the Belfast smiled a pleased welcome at us. He seemed to have won a bet with himself that we would be back again that evening.

***

[Rhetorical Questions Answered?]

"Why don't you mind your own business?"

"My business hours don't start until nine-thirty," Jeff said.

***

I threw myself into my part. I was Miss Somebody from Someplace, New Jersey, in town for a day's shopping.

***

"That's me, in a nutshell."

"Move over," May said, "and I'll get in the nutshell with you."

"You get a nutshell of your own."

***

"And, personally, in weather like this I don't blame the line for being down. If I were a line, I should be down, too."

***

In the center of the small room stood a fat-bellied coal stove. It was unlighted, cold, and black, but two men and an elderly woman had crowded around it, as if to get some warmth from its reputation.

***

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April 23, 2019 (permalink)


Jonathan Caws-Elwitt

unearths some literary gems.

From Dead Man's Watch, by G. D. H. and Margaret Cole:

***

[Witty Typography dept. (i.e., the final use of all-caps in the excerpt).]

Next door but one to the post office stood one of those forlorn confectioners, with three or four plates of dismal buns and a notice, DEVONSHIRE TEAS. CREAM SENT TO ANY PART OF THE WORLD, of the kind with which wayside villagers make optimistic bids to stay the speeding stream of cars. In it were two rickety tables with vases of paper flowers, at one of which a non-descript man was facing a DEVONSHIRE TEA.

***

"Nice little tin Lizzie he's got, I don't think," said the girl. "Must pay being a whatever-is-it*."

[*Police doctor.]

***

[For those keeping score: I believe this is our second generic reference to "uncles" within the week.]

"Bittaford, when you were living with your Uncle Percy, had he got a beard?"

"No, of course he hadn't," said Ronald, as though uncles were soil upon which beards would not grow.

***

"The what sort of hoppers?"

"Pentecostal. They're the International Bible something-or-other, really; but that's what they're called. When the Spirit moves them, they hop--all at once."

[Later.]

"I like them even less when they're Pentecostal what-ever-it-is."

***

"He's got the loveliest head you ever saw, like pictures of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob all together, with a long white beard and long white hair that's very thick and curls over his collar.... When you see him sitting down you think goodness me, that's a real church saint and no mistake. And then he gets up and you see his legs are tiny...and his beard looks as if it would be tickling his knees all the time, and he just looks an old comic. And he's got a little squeaky voice like a young pig's."

[Now, that is one of the protagonists' description of a minor character called Mr. Cole; and Mrs. Cole is given a description that is no more flattering. When we recall that the authors of this book are a husband-and-wife team named Cole--who were cosmopolitan socialists who probably bore little resemblance to these small-town "Pentecostal Hoppers"--I think the humor gets taken to the next level!]

***

It was not well; it was very far from well, Wylie reflected crossly, as he tried to pick some coherent sense out of the confusion of Mrs. Devene's italics and her melodramatic mind.

***

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April 19, 2019 (permalink)


Jonathan Caws-Elwitt

unearths some literary gems.

From Copy for Crime, by Carol Carnac:

***

Joe's charwoman was named Mrs. Oaks, but as she always added an aspirate to her own name, "Mrs. Hoax" she became.

***

[Mixed Hat Metaphors dept.]

"I lift my lid to anybody who produces a home out of a hat."

***

"Why not co-opt me? Two fools are better than one."

***

"Curtains are much nearer my heart than uncles."

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April 16, 2019 (permalink)


Jonathan Caws-Elwitt

unearths some literary gems.

From Death in Seven Volumes, by Douglas G. Browne:

***

[X here is simply the classic "unknown" person in the mystery. But the protagonists' theorizing is getting overly complicated. Thus the caution...]

"We don't want too many Xs knocking about."

***

Wadeson's bushy eyebrows, which Fleurette afterwards likened to moustaches in the wrong place, rose slightly.

***

"Whew!--if that's how it's pronounced."

***

[Literary scholar H. J. Jackson wrote a fascinating 300-page book about the history of marginalia...but mystery author Douglas G. Browne sums the topic up in about twenty words]:

"But they don't find anything—or only the marginal scribbles that learned readers can't resist making. 'See page 42.' 'Bosh!' 'What about Poffenheim?'"

***

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April 12, 2019 (permalink)


Jonathan Caws-Elwitt

unearths some literary gems.

From Off With Her Head! by G. D. H. and Margaret Cole:

***

[I love this. It's sort of the opposite of an omniscient narrator—a narrator who, like an omniscient, is a disembodied device rather than a character, and yet who seems to have just wandered onto the scene without knowing much more about anything going on than the reader does. (An approach more commonly found in children's books, I suppose.)]


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April 9, 2019 (permalink)


Jonathan Caws-Elwitt

unearths some literary gems.

From The Man from the River, by G. D. H. and Margaret Cole:

***

The conversation descended into such abysses of allusiveness that Michael gave up the attempt to understand.

***

Worse still was an enormous Early Victorian atrocity in yellowish-grey, with bands of Palladian ornament, which stood beside the Queen Anne block, and just succeeded in overtopping it with an obvious and ludicrous effort. It was as if one's grandmother had decided to stand permanently on tiptoe.

***

"Who are all those people?" Michael asked [....]

"Oh, nobody in particular." [But she immediately proceeds to give specifics about exactly who each of them is!]

***

"That man's like a revolting Greek chorus, always turning up and moralising where he isn't wanted!"

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April 5, 2019 (permalink)


Jonathan Caws-Elwitt

unearths some literary gems.

From "Death of a Trouper," by Kelley Roos:

***

He was vastly surprised to see us; never had I seen surprise so vast.

***

"He didn't mean two bits, twenty-five cents, one quarter of a dollar to her."

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April 2, 2019 (permalink)


Jonathan Caws-Elwitt

unearths some literary gems.

From "She'd Make a Lovely Corpse," by Kelley Roos:

***

Still-lifes that ran the gamut from bowls of soup to bowls of nuts.

***

[RQA dept.]

"You'll look silly walking in with that! What will people say?"

"They'll say, 'There's a man who doesn't mind looking silly.'"

***

"I'm a drink-upsetter, too," Sara said. "But I only do tall ones."

***

Mrs. Tollman, a short, stout woman in her fifties, gave the impression that she considered these goings-on nonsense and poppycock, not to mention highly irregular.

***

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March 31, 2019 (permalink)


Jonathan Caws-Elwitt

unearths some literary gems.

From Picture of Death, by E. C. R. Lorac:

***

[A character's sort of lazy/unintentional "adjustment for inflation" of the "64-dollar question."]

"That's the eighty dollar question, or whatever the jargon is," said Macdonald.

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March 29, 2019 (permalink)


Jonathan Caws-Elwitt

unearths some literary gems.

From A Step So Grave, by Catriona McPherson:

***

[Presenting northmanship--and the islemanship counterploy!]

I have never understood the one-upmanship of Scots regarding longitude [sic*]. Why should the most northerly-dwelling Scotsman in any gathering be the top dog?... I hoped these Rosses would not be the type of Highlanders who would look down on Hugh and Perthshire and thereby nudge him into endless accounts of his grandmother's childhood on Skye to even the score. For northerliness is only one of the winning cards in the game: an island carries a hefty bonus. Of course, Skye is quite a southerly island and the ferry journey to it is a brief one. If a Ross grandmother had come down from some speck in the Shetland Isles, Hugh would be trounced completely.

[*She means latitude, of course.]

***

Then the footman, disappearing out of the room with the empty fish plate, said, "Fuchsia cabin marmoset coal-cake." [This is the English narrator's transcription of how she hears the footman's Gaelic.]

***

"And here comes Lairdie with the lamb."

"Lairdie with the lamb" sounded like another harbinger, along with the coal yak [more mistranscribed Gaelic], but the dining-room door opened just then and the Gaelic-spouting footman backed in, turning to reveal an enormous platter.

***

Hugh, who had never in his life heard a rhetorical question he did not answer

***

"You got here all right through the drifts then?" I said, and was rewarded by his grin lessening from maniacal to merely insufferable.

***

I said nothing and kept my face as blank as a skating pond.

***

Hutcheson was looking at me with his eyebrows positively rippling. They looked like two lively caterpillars crossing a pathway.

***

Alec snorted. He has a marvellous menu of snorts and I had grown to recognise most of them, but this latest was something new.

***

His top lip almost turned itself inside out from the strength of his sneer. [I visualize Kenneth Mars as Hugh Simon!]

***

I caught sight of myself in the dressing-table mirror across the room and closed my mouth, but I could not do anything about my eyebrows. They refused to climb back down my face to where they belonged.

***

"I think a Wester Ross man putting out to sea [on Easter Sunday] would be as conspicuous as you or me walking down Piccadilly stark naked, playing bagpipes."

***

I knew it had distracted me from something more important. I tried to see past it to the back of my own mind.

***

"I shall just take her to Gretna Green and present you with a fait accompli."

"You don't have to go down to Gretna Green if you're already in Scotland," I said.

***

"You could promise now anyway," Donald said. "I'd be most awfully grateful."

I beamed at him. It was a non-committal beam and, besides, the most fervent beam ever hoisted onto a face is not a binding contract.

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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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