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 — May 27, 2015 (permalink)

Can you find Woodrow Wilson in this mysterious photograph from the University of Cincinnati's Cincinnatian yearbook, 1917?  Is W.W. the figure at the left, who (if we use our imaginations) might be a person with an outstretched arm?  Is W.W. the splotch at the bottom right, which might depict someone's head and shoulders?  Surprisingly, W.W. is neither of those, and now we can reveal our extensive analysis of this photograph.  His Eminence is actually the splotch at the top right of the photo.  See our specially enchanced enlargement below for proof.  "That's Woodrow," you'll exclaim, "or I'm Archduke Franz Ferdinand."


Woodrow Wilson.


Woodrow Wilson.


May 22, 2015 (permalink)

The old-time euthemism "Golly gee whillikers" is of ambiguous etymology, but we've traced it back to this 8-pound fish who went by the name of "G. Whillikens."  From Heston's Hand-Book by Alfred Miller Heston, 1902.



May 21, 2015 (permalink)

We actually traced our ancestry to the second, third, and fourth figures in this illustration from The Popular History of England by Charles Knight, 1854.  The secret?  We followed the techniques in Heirs to the Queen of Hearts: Tracing Magical Genealogy.



May 20, 2015 (permalink)

We've been monitoring this for years and are thrilled to report that a library stamp has leafed and fruited!  It's true, and it's all happening on the last page of Breezes from John o' Groats, 1896.  Rest assured that further developments will appear here first.



May 19, 2015 (permalink)

Ornate borders and frames are formed slowly, carefully "grown" like topiaries.  We find this adolescent frame in Time's Footsteps: A Record of Red Letter Days and Events, 1890.


May 16, 2015 (permalink)

The Private Lives of Some Very Great Thinkers Indeed

(from N. F. Simpson's highly recommended Most of What Follows is a Complete Waste of Time: Monologues, Dialogues, Sketches and Othe Writings)

Swedenborg, we are told, saw God as infinite love and infinite wisdom and the end of creation as the approximation of man to God.  But though this was undoubtedly one side of Swedenborg, it was not the only side.  There was another side: the side that liked to put up shelves and to see to the ceiling where the plaster was coming away.  Religion and philosophy were every bit as important in their own way, but, basically, they were there for Swedenborg as something to turn to in the small hours when it wasn't on to go banging about with a hammer, as there were people living upstairs.  So often a theologian is, in essence, a kind of handyman manqué who, but for the neighbors, would have been building a cocktail cabinet with bevelled edges and a veneer finish, but has turned to the study of the eternal verities out of frustration: frustration at being unable to get the wood; frustration because he would no sooner get going than there'd be the usual thumping on the wall leaving him with no option but to down tools and start thinking about God again.  One is reminded here of Schopenhauer, who, living as he did in a terraced house, had neighbors on either side.  It made a quite spectacular difference to his heating bills.  He was paying less than half, and this was why he stayed.  But the opportunities for making things were seriously curtailed, and it is small wonder that he should have put forward the view that God, freewill and the immortality of the soul are illusions.  Rousseau, who spent the better part of his life working up in the attic on that full-scale model of a Spanish galleon, solved the problem of noise by doing it, as we know, in raffia-work.  It is possible there were complaints even so.  But if there were, no record of them has come down to us.  It is worth remarking here, perhaps, that Rousseau's reputation for being hopeless, galleon apart, at anything requiring manual dexterity was largely undeserved.  True, he fell off a roof while trying to put some tiles back on, and in doing so, brought another sixteen down with him, and half the guttering.  But it was a more or less isolated incident and the kind of thing that could happen to anybody.  It has, nevertheless, tended to count against him amongst historians less than sympathetic to Rousseau's pretensions as a handyman.  One thing about which there has never been any dispute is that he could lay lino.  There are those who would say "after a fashion," adding that this does not make him the greatest handyman of all time, even if true.  But he could do more than lay lino.  He could unblock a drain.  No outstanding achievement perhaps, except that he had a way of doing it with a broomhandle that impressed those looking on and excited a certain amount of, sometimes grudging, admiration.  The real yardstick, surely, is whether you would have had Rousseau in if anything needed doing.  Not, if one is being perfectly honest, as a first choice, admittedly, but I would, for my part, have Rousseau every time if it were a choice between him and Freud.  Freud's behavior on a roof is something about which the less said the better.  It was, as apologists for Freud are never tired of pointing out, in the middle of the night.  And he was taken short.  But you don't, in those circumstances, clamber up through the skylight and make water in the first receptacle you see.  One is at liberty to accept his explanation that he thought it had been put there for the purpose, but I am convinced he knew perfectly well what it was put there for.  It was put there to measure rainfall and it is almost superfluous to point out that, once the rainfall figures have been distorted, it can affect the whole climactic picture virtually in perpetuity.  To go off next morning without a word to anyone, knowing this, is, to my mind, inexcusable.  It invalidates his entire corpus.


May 10, 2015 (permalink)

After the privilege of peeking at an early draft of this book in 2008, I've been on pins and needles for its official release.  Few people can boast having Sting as an opening act—the Sting, after he won all those Grammy awards—with photos to prove it.  Steve Spill, of Santa Monica's MAGICOPOLIS fame, has chosen not to be discouraged by the impossible.  He has finally revealed the unbelievable but true story of how he built and has maintained (for 17 years and counting) his own magic theatre when multi-million dollar conglomerates have failed (like Caesar's Magic Empire in Vegas, Wizards at Universal Studios Hollywood, and Copperfield's Magic Underground in New York).  It's ultimately a how-to book for crazy dreamers (with practical tips on securing funding, generating publicity, attracting celebrities, filling theatre seats, operating a business, and staying sane), colored by three decade's worth of funny and rather slanderous anecdotes about the rich and famous around the world.  His exposé is entitled, I Lie for Money, and that's the first clue that Spill is actually coming clean: if a liar says he's lying, then that statement itself is a lie, so he is by definition telling the truth.  

Full disclosure: I've been enchanted by Steve Spill ever since my first visit to Magicopolis, and it's because of his uncanny talent to make one feel like a million bucks.  It's not the sort of charisma that makes you feel like you're the only person in the room, but Steve Spill makes you feel like the only celebrity in the room.  (And I mean that quite literally -- it was during my second visit to Magicopolis that Steve Spill announced to the entire audience that I was in attendance, as if I weren't some fringe curator of unicorn sounds and arcane lexicons.)  Granted, he does lie when he promises that Magicopolis will entertain you for an evening, because in truth the mystification carries with you long after the show is over.  For example, on my most recent visit to his theatre, he called up my 10-year-old niece to the stage to participate in a bit of wonderment.  When she returned to her seat in the audience, she noticed that the "It's my birthday" button she had been wearing all day was suddenly not there.  Now, the birthday button didn't figure into the show, and I'm convinced that Steve Spill never touched her person, nor do I have reason to suspect that he's a kleptomaniac.  But my niece's birthday was transformed by the experience of being called to the stage and made to feel like a real Hollywood star.  And she marveled at how Steve Spill seemingly performed an entire bit of vanishing magic not for the audience but just for her.  This idiosyncratic and presumably accidental occurrence nonetheless illuminates the way that Steve Spill mystifies beyond mere tricks, and there's no doubt that a great many people have experienced albeit different but profoundly mysterious occurrences around this magician.  His remarkable life story is proof that he's not limited by what's possible, and that transfers to his audience in uncanny ways.



May 2, 2015 (permalink)

You've heard of carrying "coals to Newcastle," but here is revealed how they get there: via cherubs.  From Church Review, 1901.  We recall Jonathan Caws-Elwitt's sitcom treatment: "Coles to Newcastle: Posh Londoner Dagobert Coles has hilarious misadventures adjusting to life in the North."



April 21, 2015 (permalink)

Contrary to popular belief, dropped H's don't fall but rather fly.  From La Morale Merveilleuse by P. Christian, 1844.


April 18, 2015 (permalink)

A lie never stops to put on its hat, as we learn in Blasts from The Ram's Horn, 1902.


April 9, 2015 (permalink)

When salmon swim up the Buttermilk Falls to spawn, that's the origin of cream sauce for fish.  From Historical Collections of the State of Pennsylvania, 1843.


April 5, 2015 (permalink)

Time travel is possible because Father Time's soap bubbles of the years linger.  From Dicks' English Library of Standard Works, 1884.  [In honor of Marja Lingsma's photos [a & b] of her parents blowing bubbles.]




Santa Claus is really the Easter Bunny, as revealed in St. Nicholas magazine, 1915.


April 3, 2015 (permalink)

Inside "the book that has never been opened" is a pressed flower, according to T. S. Eliot in "The Dry Salvages."

[Pressed flower not shown.]

March 30, 2015 (permalink)

You've heard of somnambulists, and you've heard of escape artists, but here's both at once.  The caption reads, "Sylvester, once more sound asleep, sets himself free."  From Dicks' English Library of Standard Works, 1884.





As we see in this vintage map, Florida once occupied most of North America.  But one could also make an argument that most of North America was once Scotland, just as absurdist playwright N. F. Simpson has argued that the Mediterranean could technically fall under Scottish law:

Lawyer:  It would be enough to show that it [the Mediterranean] is in what — for the present purposes — can be deemed to be Scotland, and here we might usefully explore the possibility that Scotland, as we know it, may not always have occupied the precise position north of the border that it is commonly thought of as occupying today.  We are assisted here by the known fact that the general configuration of the Earth's surface, such as it is, was not arrived at overnight.  It is the end product of a not unlengthy process involving widespread upheaval over a period of several millennia, during the course of which things were in a considerable state of flux ... and it should not be difficult to demonstrate as an a priori possibility that Scotland — or what was subsequently to become known as Scotland — might, in one of the remoter periods of geological time, have occupied, however fleetingly, and prior to making its journey northwards to the position on the map that it has occupied ever since, [the Mediterranean].  If so, there would be a strong prima facie case for a reappraisal of the whole situation with a view to bringing the whole matter fairly and squarely within the jurisdiction of the Scottish courts....
Senior:  Sounds promising.
Minister:  Yes — I think one could give voice to a tentative eureka there.
[From Was He Anyone?, first performed in 1972]


March 27, 2015 (permalink)

The phrase "a circle isn't self-supporting" delivers zero Google results, and yet here's proof.  From The Great Hall, Winchester Castle by Melville Portal, 1899.  The caption reads, "The back of King Arthur's Round Table."



March 26, 2015 (permalink)

Ciphers must be incubated if they are to encode successfully.  From The Farm-Poultry, 1902.


March 19, 2015 (permalink)

"Each of the letters [of the alphabet] kills the thing it has replaced." —Peter Lamborn Wilson, Abecedarium

March 18, 2015 (permalink)

The alphabet of the leg goes only to H and I, hence the expression "thigh high."  Our proof appears in the Medical Directory of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, 1899.




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