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 — May 30, 2017 (permalink)


Jonathan Caws-Elwitt

unearths some literary gems.

Catriona McPherson tidbits:

"Alec Osborne is a dear friend who can speak nonsense like a drunken parrot." [from McPherson's A Deadly Measure of Brimstone]

***

It is more usually the case that Alec’s thoughts and mine march in step, or at least stagger along in a three-legged race together.

***

“Alec, I’m more sure than I’ve ever been about anything that . . . Well, actually I’m not sure what I’m sure of but I am sure.”

***

[And now we know what the opposite of losing one's marbles is, as the narrator verifies that a character has not, as feared, lost hers.]

Mary Aitken looked to me like a woman who had all her marbles organised in order of size and weight, cross-referenced for colour, and spinning in time as she juggled them one-handed and kept the other hand free.

***

"Debunked? Where do you get these words? Do you have to pay a subscription?"
"You'll find," I said, trying to sound withering, "that debunking comes from Oscar Wilde. When they find out that Algy's dying friend isn't dying."
"That would be de-Bunburying," said Alec.

***

The Scott Monument—erected in honour of Sir Walter specifically and not, as I had long believed, to the general and misspelled glory of the Scots race—was a kind of airy turret in High Victorian Gothic style, not attached to anything but just rising up out of the grass as though some ecclesiastical architect had lavished all of his attention on the decorative touches but forgotten to build the cathedral itself.

***

[The narrator also describes some of the jewelry she inherited from her grandmother as "wilfully ugly."]

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May 27, 2017 (permalink)


Jonathan Caws-Elwitt

unearths some literary gems.

The man grinned, and, as Roz watched, the grin widened to resemble a Moebius strip or an infinity sign.
—Susan Kenney

***

I was rather baffled by the business about prophecies: I couldn’t see why the ghosts of the dead should know any more about the future than anyone else—rather less, I would have thought.
—Sarah Caudwell

***

Corfu has the charm of a place which reminds one of other places--which and for what reason one is not altogether certain.... [Some features] remind one chiefly of Venice, especially of those things in Venice which remind one of Istanbul.
—Sarah Caudwell

***

"Yeeees," she said, drawing out the "yes" as though stretching a balloon.
[...]
"Yes." And here she ballooned out the "yes" as far as seemed possible without it actually popping and deflating and turning into a "no."
—Ian Sansom, The Case of the Missing Books

***

If a forensic anthropologist did this, I'll eat my hat. My fur-lined hat with earflaps, the one I wear when it snows.
—Aaron Elkins

***

From Wodehouse:

You get the Earl of Thingummy, for instance. Right. So far, so good. But his heir is Lord Whoosis, and if his union has been still further blessed, the result will be anything from the Hon. Algernon Whatisit to the Hon. Lionel Umph.

"He made a noise."
"What sort of noise?"
[....]
He rather rashly tried to imitate it and found his companion eying him with open incredulity.
"It couldn't have sounded like that," said Lionel. "There isn't such a noise."

"I'd like to put all the women I've fallen in love with at first sight end to end--"
"Well, you mustn't."

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May 25, 2017 (permalink)


Jonathan Caws-Elwitt

unearths some literary gems.

From Ellery Queen stories:

***

"[You couldn't expect someone to believe] that a man dead one hundred and thirty-seven years could push aside his tombstone, step out of his grave, yawn, and then sing three verses of /Mademoiselle from Armentières/."

[Nor, indeed, has this happened, even in the story. It is simply Ellery's idea of a hypothetical example!]

***

"We'll find her where the cummerbunds are thickest."

***

"Paula, your Hollywood is driving me c-double-o-ditto!"

***

"Now what kind of clean-up... was this monkey figuring on?" asked Inspector Moley quietly. "And if that's not something, Mr. Queen, I'm the monkey's uncle!"

[This may be the most specific monkey I've ever seen benuncled--I mean, usually one is just "a" monkey's uncle, right? By the way, Inspector Moley also, on one occasion, says not simply "Nuts!" but "Nuts and bolts!" to more comprehensively vent his frustration.]

***

[One from Ellerys' own mouth.]

"You're nursing a viper to your collective bosoms, Miss Godfrey. And that's not as funny as it sounds."

***

[And I certainly wasn't expecting an oblique reference to an old Wilde anecdote! (Rest assured that no one in the book is actually called Oscar.)]

"Then she'll be looking--"
"She has, Oscar, she has," said Ellery mildly.

***

He found Paula finishing an apple and looking lovely, serene, and reproachful.

***

From a novel by "Barnaby Ross," which is an alternate pseudonym for "Ellery Queen":

Dromio, whose pride of profession approached the sublime, drove Mr. Lane's glittering limousine with the finesse of a Philadelphia lawyer and the facility of a première danseuse.

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May 23, 2017 (permalink)


Jonathan Caws-Elwitt

unearths some literary gems.

From The Rich Die Hard, by Beverley Nichols:


"We were practically swooning... even the birds and the rabbits."
"I fancy that you exaggerate," commented Mr. Green in a voice as dry as a rusk.
"Of course, I exaggerate like mad. It is part of my charm."


"As it is, you seem to have come to a full stop. Don't you?"
[...]
"When I am investigating a problem," he said, "I do not recognize full-stops. However, I am occasionally compelled to acknowledge the existence of a semi-colon."


"I warned you that my theory was far-fetched."
Mr. Green sighed. "Sometimes the truest theories are those that are the furthest fetched, even if they have to be fetched from very unpleasant places."

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May 21, 2017 (permalink)


Jonathan Caws-Elwitt

unearths some literary gems.

From Parting Breath, by Catherine Aird:

John Smith was an undergraduate so daunted by his undistinguished name and so determined to make his mark that he had sought individuality the previous academic year by affecting to live by the Julian Calendar.

[However, Smith has arrived for the new term 13 days early...]

There was a general shaking of heads. Eccentric students, they agreed, weren't what they used to be: Smith ought to have had the courage of his convictions and come up late.

 

From The Winter Ground, by Catriona McPherson:

"Well, I never," said Hugh, folding the newspaper down to look at me, and so I asked him to tell me--for Well I Nevers were usually points of titillated interested where Good Lords could be anything at all.

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May 19, 2017 (permalink)


Jonathan Caws-Elwitt

unearths some literary gems.

The one I just finished takes place among competitive ballroom dancers:

***

On the other side, looking straight out at us, clearly engaged in a tango . . . were “Miss Tweetie Bird and Mr Roland Wentworth” . . . . Caught in stasis by the camera, however, they looked as though they were trying to share a golf club during a tricky putt.

[And later]

Tweetie and Roly were cheek-to-cheek, or temple to jaw anyway given the disparity in their heights, and they prowled around with their joined hands stuck out in front of them like two people trying to reach the top note on the same trombone.

***

Another dancer is described as "an enormously tall fellow with a lot of knees and elbows, giving him the look of an umbrella outwitted by a high wind."

Also present is a high official (Mr Silvester) who represents a couple of dancing-related associations, which are abbreviated to strings of initials that the protagonists have trouble remembering correctly. Thus,

***

I explained to him that her solicitor fiancé was unaware of her connection to the Locarno and the Championship and would not sue Mr Silvester or any of his strings of initials if he simply showed her the door.

***

And I like the specificity of this image:

***

One could have bottled the electricity in the room and taken it camping to boil a kettle.

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May 15, 2017 (permalink)


Jonathan Caws-Elwitt

unearths some literary gems.

He was a thin, methodical man with rimless glasses and a general rimless appearance.
—John Mortimer

 

Rachel knew he looked familiar, probably from a dust jacket rather than life. He had that dust-jackety look about him.
—Jon L. Breen

 

And a bonus from Breen:

"Don't do anything silly."
"Okay. I was planning to stand in front of the mirror doing my Bette Davis imitations, but I'll try to do something more productive."

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May 12, 2017 (permalink)


Jonathan Caws-Elwitt

unearths some literary gems.

[From Sellar & Yeatman's Garden Rubbish]

This Thing (they learned to their horror) was called the Cornucopia, and appeared to be a form of twisted symbolical bedsock, or umbilical jelly-bag, the true purpose of which, as they realized at the first glance, would never (alas) be revealed to mankind.

However, being by temperament a jollicose and bellicund kind of people, they faced up to the Thing and began defiantly filling it with Plenty of fruit and cereals and so on and tried not to lose their tempers when the fruit, etc., kept falling out symbolically at the top; while the Greeks, whom they called in as usual to explain the tragedy, decided that the Thing was (on the one hand) an Eleusinian Mystery, since nobody was able to discover what was at the bottom of it.

***

[And other highlights of GR...]

***

Take it from us, it is utterly forbidden to be half-hearted about Gardening. You have got to LOVE your garden, whether you like it or not.

If you doubt this for a moment, how do you account for the fact that all the Gardening Encyclopaedias, Diaries, Manuals, Articles, Magazines, and even (alas) the Seedsmen's Catalogues are unanimously addressed to GARDEN LOVERS?

There is simply no literature, no help, and evidently no hope for people who merely like having a garden, or don't mind if they do, or, fatalistically, just have a garden.

***

"The remedy," says Captain Pontoon, "is to plug the gaps by planting high-voltage Gladiolus bulbs; and if the result is a complete black-out due to your having accidentally plugged-in an onion, thus fusing the whole garden, I can only suggest that you stare fixedly at the blinding show of Sweet William, Old Harry and Eschscholtzia Hore-Belitzia on page 10 of your seedsman's catalogue and then suddenly transfer the gaze to the nearest expanse of vacant soil. As a last resort you might try taking part of the garden and looking at it through my special rose-tinted spectacles."

***

[Do you have Lord Ancestor in YOUR family tree?]

The noblest way of acquiring a rich velvety greensward is to inherit one from a rich velvety ancestor. So if you think by any chance that you have been excluded by some legal trickery from the true ownership of, say, St. John's College, Oxford, or Hampton Court Palace, or all the best parts of the Wiltshire Downs, pop round and see your solicitors about it, remembering to bring some documents proving your legitimate descent from Cardinal Wolsey, The Abbot of Salisbury Plain, or, better still, the original Lord Ancestor.

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Original Content Copyright © 2017 by Craig Conley. All rights reserved.