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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This May Surprise You

Today — August 28, 2015 (permalink)

Whether particles or waves, sunbeams are carried by cherubs, as this ad from 1892 confirms.



Yesterday — August 27, 2015 (permalink)

As if in anticipation of the birth of the interrobang (‽), the exclamation point/question mark combo was laid to rest in 1836, as we learn in Prose and Verse by William James Linton.


August 24, 2015 (permalink)

Carrier pigeons get all the glory as postal carriers, but we learn here that "chicken mail" required a self-addressed, stamped envelope.  From St. Nicholas magazine, 1900.


August 21, 2015 (permalink)

Though they begin life as elders, grandfather clocks still experience a growth cycle.  Here's an embryonic grandfather clock from Vizetelly's Sixpenny Series of Amusing Books, 1885.  The caption reads, "Sneaking a grandfather's clock."



August 20, 2015 (permalink)

Did you know that the night sky features both a chair and the Platonic ideal of a chair?  Our illustration appears in St. Nicholas magazine, 1877.



August 13, 2015 (permalink)

A reflected beard will spread in the water.  From The Adventures of Hajji Baba of Ispahan by James Justinian Morier and illustrated by H. R. Millar, 1895.


August 9, 2015 (permalink)

Did you know that humble pie is traditionally cooked in a cauldron?  From Cinderella: A Fairy Opera in Four Acts, composed by J. Farmer & Henry Sambrooke Leigh, and illustrated by Heywood Sumner, 1882.



August 4, 2015 (permalink)

The reason feta cheese is so divine is that goats are milked by angels.  From The Illustrated Companion to the Latin Dictionary and Greek Lexicon, 1849.



August 1, 2015 (permalink)

Snow White was only half the story: here are 14 drawfs, illustrated by Donn P. Crane (whose little-known history is profiled here).



July 25, 2015 (permalink)

Here's a precious secret of immortality: train a peach tree to spell "Davie," and you'll not only live forever but also enjoy luscious peaches.  This we learn in The Peach and Nectarine by David Taylor Fish, 1879.  But note in the text that only immortality is guaranteed, and the peaches are a mere "perhaps."



July 22, 2015 (permalink)

"The Mayans were wrong. When Liv Ullman sings, 'The world is a circle without a beginning,' that's when the world ends." —Eric Henderson's scathing review of Lost Horizon for Slant Magazine


July 14, 2015 (permalink)

We learn here that the exact truth can never be known while one is holding an umbrella.  From An American Girl in London by Sara Jeannette Duncan, 1891.  The caption reads, "Please hold my parasol, Mr. Mafferton, that I may get the exact truth for my penny."


July 10, 2015 (permalink)

Moonlight reflects off the bones of the dead, as we see in From the Earth to the Moon Direct in Ninety-Seven Hours and Twenty Minutes, and a Trip Round It by Jules Verne, 1874.



June 24, 2015 (permalink)

At the end of a story, the characters are collected into a locked trunk.  From The Oxford Thackeray.




"Machines of most types change or disappear; even institutions die; the clock is unchangeable and eternal.  The last man, when he says farewell to the cold, exhausted sun, will consult his watch in order to know the exact time of his death." —Machado de Assis, Epitaph of a Small Winner


June 21, 2015 (permalink)


Here's how any blank piece of paper is actually a magic trick with a false bottom:

Gentlemen, observe this piece of paper.  An ordinary sheet of paper, no watermark, no false bottom.  And now I'd like to ask someone for an ordinary pencil.  Thank you, sir.  In the meantime you can talk, play little games, do what you like, it won't make any difference to me.  And he sits down and begins to write.  Anyone can write.  There is no shortage of words.  And off he goes with them.  Now he shows whether there's anything in him or not, now he gives it all he's got.  And when we read his story, we forget this dreary reality, we discover in our own room a secret door that we had never noticed before, behind which all sorts of strange and unheard-of things go on.  It's not such an ordinary bit of paper after all; there is a false bottom, and there is a watermark which no one can forge. —Ernst Kreuder, The Attic Pretenders


June 18, 2015 (permalink)

"There are a number of ideas present in water." —William Keckler


June 14, 2015 (permalink)

It's rarely mentioned, but one challenge of a wooden leg is that it unwittingly serves as a dowsing rod.  We find our evidence in Wonderful Ching-Ching by Edwin Harcourt Burrage, 1886.  The caption reads, "The wooden leg of Eddard went up into the air with a sudden jerk."



June 6, 2015 (permalink)

You've heard the idiom that "blood is thicker than water," but what does water have to do with anything?  Rather, it's oil, as we see in this diagram from An American Text-Book of Physiology by William Henry Howell, 1897.



May 29, 2015 (permalink)

"The sun is the soul and the light of the world, probably in the same way that the physical letters of the vowels are the soul of the alphabet." —Joseph Dan, The "Unique Cherub Circle": A School of Mystics and Esoterics in Medieval Germany (1999)




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