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
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Nonsense Dept.

May 17, 2016 (permalink)

We call hogwash where we find it.  There's a probability puzzle popularly called the "Monty Hall Problem."  Entire books have been written about it, but we feel compelled to establish that it is pure nonsense.  A contestant on Let's Make a Deal declares a choice from three doors (two hiding goats and one a new car).  Then the host reveals a goat behind a door not chosen and suggests the possibility of switching to the other remaining door.  On paper, this is a counterintuitive paradox in which the contestant is convinced of a 50/50 chance of success, when in fact switching doors offers demonstratively better odds.  However, theorizing about the puzzle is ludicrous, and the considerable debate over the years is meritless, for the simple reason that a game show is a piece of theatre tantamount to a magic trick.  The host of this purported gambling scenario obviously works for "the house" and knows where the car is hidden (presuming—which one cannot, in fact—that the car is not moved from door to door behind the scenes).  Based upon subtle facial expressions and tones of voice (neither of which can be tabulated mathematically), the contestant wonders about being manipulated (with good reason).  Creating truth tables or running simulations of possible outcomes is meaningless because there is no circumstance in the real world where any of the probability theory could possibly be relevant.  There's a reason why the game show does not allow the contestant to simply walk up to a door and open it to determine the outcome.  Just as a magician displays a deck to prove that it's well-shuffled (which it isn't, and that's why pains are taken to prove otherwise), the host opens a door with a goat as part of an elaborate psychological and theatrical presentation that "proves" the outcome is random.  The outcome is not random on a television show designed to entertain.  The contestant wins if the powers that be wish to give away a car during that episode, period.  There is no other conceivable consideration (sorry, mathematicians and statisticians!).  While we tip our hat to those who are capable of modeling possible scenarios ad nauseam, the "Monty Hall Problem" is no problem at all.

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March 2, 2016 (permalink)

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February 11, 2016 (permalink)

From Nonsense for Old and Young by Eugene Field, 1901.

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August 10, 2015 (permalink)

Why is a jester associated with a cone?  We find our answer in Percy Bysshe Shelley's Oedipus Tyrannus, in which Swellfoot says, "Sustain the cone of my untroubled brain, / That point, the emblem of a pointless nothing!" (I.i.).

Our illustration is from an advertisement c. 1872.

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April 25, 2015 (permalink)

"This nonsense must be stopped, he said."  From An African Millionaire by Grant Allen, 1897.

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March 25, 2015 (permalink)

"Only clowns try to find suitable clothes. ... And they turn nonsense into a sacred rite. ... [E]ven Art often fails to do for us what a clown does.  Laughter and tears together. ... With his tragic clumsiness ... he lurches out over the reality that we have lost.  When he grasps for support he grasps at fantasies, and when he stumbles he falls out of the world altogether." —Ernst Kreuder, The Attic Pretenders

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March 17, 2015 (permalink)

Don't forget Horse Nonsense, the Sellar & Yeatman book.
Jonathan Caws-Elwitt

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January 28, 2015 (permalink)

"Random rubbish," from Life on the Mississippi by Mark Twain, 1883.
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January 20, 2015 (permalink)

"What nonsense, darling!" — a precursor to the unpublished comic novel Talk Nonsense To Me by Jonathan Caws-Elwitt.  From Thrilling Life Stories for the Masses, 1892.
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December 19, 2014 (permalink)

"Brown, our one earnest member, begged us to be reasonable, and reminded us, not for the first time, and not, perhaps, altogether unnecessarily, that these meetings were for the purpose of discussing business, not of talking nonsense."
Jerome K. Jerome, Novel Notes

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November 12, 2014 (permalink)

"We should say either 'complete nonsense' or 'utter nonsense,' since they mean the same thing.  I could also argue we should leave both 'complete' and 'utter' out, since nonsense is nonsense, and there's no such thing as something being half nonsense."
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October 27, 2014 (permalink)

"Following the invention-of-tradition logic, monks’ consciousness about their musical tradition would disqualify it as genuinely traditional. This is problematic (read: nonsense), to say the least." —Tore Tvarnø Lin, The Past Is Always Present

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October 17, 2014 (permalink)

"I became an artifact in the proverbial nonsense of my mind." —Atlas Captain, "A Fraudulent Tradition"
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October 15, 2014 (permalink)

"On a topographical map of Literature Nonsense would be represented by a small and sparsely settled country, neglected by the average tourist, but affording keen delight to the few enlightened travellers who sojourn within its borders." —Carolyn Wells, A Nonsense Anthology, 1910 (via Jonathan Caws-Elwitt)

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October 14, 2014 (permalink)

"I told you to get into pictures!" Heffy huffed.  "Not this nonsense."
Mariel spoke up.  "Look, Sid, someone has to provide the nonsense, now that you’ve been called to a higher art."
Jeremy Edwards, The Pleasure Dial

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September 27, 2014 (permalink)

An illustration from Lilliput Lyrics by William Brighty Rands and illustrated by Charles Robinson (1899).  The caption reads: "Nonsense Rhymes."
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September 24, 2014 (permalink)

"The divine gift of purely nonsensical speech and action is in atrophy." —Edmund Crispin, The Case of the Gilded Fly
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September 22, 2014 (permalink)

The night belongs to nonsense.
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September 10, 2014 (permalink)

"I had no idea what she was talking about. But I was used to that. I love Adrienne madly, and when her eyes glimmer that way she can speak nonsense or Old Norse, and I won’t mind." —Jeremy Edwards, Spark My Moment
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September 1, 2014 (permalink)

Jack. Oh, that’s nonsense, Algy. You never talk anything but nonsense.
Algernon. Nobody ever does.
—Oscar Wilde, The Importance of Being Earnest (via Jonathan Caws-Elwitt)
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