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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Rhetorical Questions, Answered!

August 17, 2014 (permalink)

Q: Is it morally wrong to have two separate photo albums for "Relatives Who Have Not Yet Peaked" and "Relatives Who Have Already Peaked?" (asks William Keckler)

A: "The intelligent, free, permanent, predominant action of the will and the heart, in which the agent electively prefers some object or end inferior to the highest wellbeing of all as his supreme object or end, and which is thus fitted to prevent this end and to promote its opposite, the highest misery of all, is morally wrong action, and the only morally wrong action." —Nathaniel Taylor, Lectures on the Moral Government of God

June 5, 2014 (permalink)

Q: What are the wild waves saying?
A: Go back, go back, go back.  (The Leisure Hour, 1873.)

May 28, 2014 (permalink)

Q: Why did the British monetary system undergo decimalization?

A: (See illustration.)

The caption reads, "One and ninepence-halfpenny, and sixpence, and ninepence-farthing [from which we subtract one and fivepence]."  From The Quiver, 1892.

February 27, 2014 (permalink)

From Punch, 1893.

September 15, 2013 (permalink)

Q: "Why, on earth, on Sunday?"  (Cornhill magazine, 1863)
A: "[It was] on Sunday because it was already Monday over there." (Terry Webb, Re-Membering Libraries, 2000)

August 14, 2013 (permalink)

Q: The average man's IQ is 107.  The average brown trout's IQ is 4.  So why can't a man catch a brown trout?

A: Lower-tech animals can be much quicker.  (Steven Pinker, How the Mind Works, 2009)

August 1, 2013 (permalink)

Jonathan: Whatever happened to Roquefort dressing?
Hilary: It just turned into "bleu cheese" dressing, right?
Jonathan: They didn't coexist for a while, like Neanderthal and Cro Magnon?
Oddfellow: Yes, but only after the Pre-Camemberian Era, a span of very hard cheeses.

[Did you know that cheesemaking colanders have been discovered amongst Roquefort-sur-Soulzon's prehistoric relics?]

[Also: not only did cavemen invent the cheese wheel, but they also invented bleu cheese.  We present, collaged for your convenience, Exhibit A below: Rogue Creamery's Caveman Blue.]

July 29, 2013 (permalink)

"Darrin, you keep asking and answering your own questions": a still from the unquestionably classic Bewitched.

July 17, 2013 (permalink)

Q: What, then, is truth?

A: A mobile army of metaphors, metonyms, and anthropomorphisms — in short, a sum of human relations, which have been enhanced, transposed, and embellished poetically and rhetorically, and which after long use seem firm, canonical, and obligatory to a people.  (Nietzsche, "On Truths and Lies in the Extra-Moral Sense," 1874).

July 12, 2013 (permalink)

Q: "Why should I not think the best of those who are kind to me?" (The Quiver, 1881).

A: "The problem with kindness, for Nabokov, is that most visible or public forms of it are fake" (Will Norman & Duncan White, Transitional Nabokov, 2009).

July 2, 2013 (permalink)

Q: Why didn't Rilke just write, "Consider your life sacred. Consider all other lives sacred."  Why did he have to be such an asshole? (asks William Keckler)

A: "Rilke was distressed because he could not find an adequate German word for 'palm of hand.'"  [He rejected Handfläche, flats of the hand, and the archaic Handteller, hollow of the hand.]  (André Gide via Beckett via Mark Nixon.)

June 26, 2013 (permalink)

What in the universe is it all about?  "Ultimately, it's all about the music, isn't it?" (Samuel David McIlhagga, 2006).

(Illustration from Punch, 1893.)

June 14, 2013 (permalink)

[We answered this rhetorical question a few years ago, but the vintage illustration is "new," courtesy of Punch, 1877.]

Q: How many beans make five?

A: It’s something of a trick question.  The answer is "one."  One leguminous pod contains five seeds.

Note that this riddle is a corruption of "How many beans make fava."  Again, the answer is "one," though admittedly it's one very broad bean.

June 11, 2013 (permalink)

Q: What need of Siege and Conquest in a Play, / When Love can do the work as well as they?  (Elkanah Settle, Ibrahim, the Illustrious Bassa [1676])

A: What need, indeed!

June 2, 2013 (permalink)

Q: "Aren't red and blue 'off white' too?"  —HBG2

A: It's a gray area.  (Forgive us.)

Here's an image by Jason Paluck showing that red and blue do indeed combine to form off-white.

May 1, 2013 (permalink)

Q: "Spiritualism" delivers 12,000 Amazon books and five million Google hits.  What are modern magicians doing today that will spark like controversy?

A: "Modern magicians are on the wrong path; they waste their energies upon trifles." —Susanna Clarke, Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell

October 6, 2012 (permalink)

Q: "Do the clouds want to chime in on how they think my day went?" (William Keckler)

A: No; however, clouds do want many things:
  1. The clouds want to know what they are. (The Journal of the Anthropological Society of Bombay, 1928)
  2. The clouds want to be your clothes. (Shidao Xu, Origins of Chinese Cuisine, 2003)
  3. The clouds want more elaboration. (Horatio Noble Pym, Odds and Ends at Foxwold, 1887)
  4. The clouds want to hide the sun. (Don Marion Wolfe, Language Arts and Life Patterns, 1972)
  5. The clouds want to rain on the parade; they have intentionality. (Jonathan C. Smith, Pseudoscience and Extraordinary Claims of the Paranormal, 2011)
  6. Clouds want to be fields. (Nichita Stanescu, Wheel with a Single Spoke: and Other Poems, 2012)
  7. The clouds want to play. (Kevin R. Fish, Poetic Justice For Nature, 2004)
  8. In general, clouds want a full baptism in the sea. (Gaius Glenn Atkins, The Godward Side of Life, 1917)
  9. The clouds want to go somewhere. (David Hicks, Ritual and Belief: Readings in the Anthropology of Religion, 2010)
  10. Clouds want to be platforms. (Curtis Franklin Jr., Cloud Computing: Technologies and Strategies of the Ubiquitous Data Center, 2009)
  11. Fragments of clouds want to align. (Paul S. Ropp, Banished Immortal, 2002)
  12. Clouds want to move things around, get a better view where noise comes from. (Devan Malore, The Churning, 2008)
  13. Clouds want to blow in and drop rain. (Marianne Sawicki, Crossing Galilee, 2000)
  14. Our clouds want to mingle and form an even bigger and better cloud. (Sol Gordon, How Can You Tell If You're Really In Love?, 2001)
  15. Clouds want more moisture in order to remain supportive. (Ham Kaima, My Arrogant Friends, 1992)
  16. The clouds want to be smoke circles blown over lips. (A. Van Jordan, Quantum Lyrics: Poems, 2007)
  17. Hovering dark clouds want to flatten the city. (Chinese Idioms and Phrases, 1977)
  18. The clouds want fire from the rocks. (Courtenay Malcolm Batchelor, Folklore, 1952)
  19. All clouds want a talent. (Dow Kump, Scooter's Sparking Stone, 2005)

September 25, 2012 (permalink)

Q: Is this some cosmic joke?
A: It's real estate, for God's sake.
The Deal, Vol. 5, p. 4 (2007)

September 21, 2012 (permalink)

Q: "[What's] the proper pronunciation of the triple-m configuration when a vowel is blocking the rear exit[?]"
Jeff Hawkins

A: Recall that at the end of each episode of "The Dating Game," the host and winning contestants would dramatically blow a kiss to the viewers.  When we make exaggerated kissing gestures, a lip-smacking "mmmwa" sound invariably accompanies the pantomime.  That's the correct pronunciation of the final m in a triple-m configuration, even if the context is quarrelsome.

September 7, 2012 (permalink)

Jeff Hawkins explores "preemptive rhetoric," in which rhetorical answers deny being asked.  It's a phenomenon we're all familiar with but probably didn't know the name of.  See the link for examples, and consider this freshly personal one:

[The context is that no one at dinner could recall the name of that well-respected character actor.  Hours later, Oddfellow makes a telephone call.]

[The caller picks up and Oddfellow exclaims.]

A: John Malkovich!
Q: Aren't you supposed to be asleep?

Preemptive rhetoric!  Thanks, Jeff!

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