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, a “monk for the modern age” by George Parker, 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.
We're honored that Bobby Bræger (screenwriter, genealogist, lost film hunter, and hauntologist on the cheap) considers the fractued mirror of our Abecedarian blog on Tumblr to be "one of five or six vital blogs" on that medium.
We're delighted that Clint of Fiddler's Green zine said over on Instagram that he smiles every time he sees our video about strange anagrams from alphabet dice. We're also delighted that the editor of Yogurt Culture Zine, Brian Kelly Denton, called our video "wholesome."
I'm sorry, but you have to laugh: an Amazon reviewer named Marilyn W. Barclay rated our One-Letter Words: A Dictionarywith 3 stars because it was "interesting but not what I expected." It's a dictionary of one-letter words. That's what it's called, and that's what's in it: definitions of one-letter words. But somehow it's the book's fault that it's not what she expected? She ends her review, "interesting just not useful for Scrabble." Hey, tell it to Scrabble, not us. We didn't write the rules. Meanwhile, we rate Marilyn W. Barclay's review zero stars. Oh, maybe she was in fact looking for our dictionary that is, indeed, great for winning at Scrabble: Webster's Dictionary of Improbable Words: All-Consonant and All-Vowel Words.
I never gave much thought to one-letter words until I discovered they have their own dictionary. I bought a copy of the dictionary and read in its preface the claim that despite there being only 26 letters in the English alphabet, they represent more than 1,000 units of meaning.
One-letter words are important building blocks of communication. Learning them is easy and so is spelling them, but you shouldn’t underestimate their value. Many of the most important English words are small, and these little words are relatively few in number. But they occur very often in our speech, writing, and reading. A mere ten words account for 25 percent of all the words we use, and all of them have only one syllable. Fifty words account for 50 percent of all the words in our speech, and they also have only one syllable.
Furthermore, two of the top six words we use in speech and writing have only a single letter:aandI. Ais the third most frequently occurring word in the English language. Iis the sixth most common.
One of our favorites isX, which claims more than seventy definitions on its own. Xmarks the spot where treasure is buried on a pirate’s map. It’s a hobo symbol meaning handouts are available. Xtells you where to sign your name on a contract or will, and it’s also an illiterate person’s signature. Xindicates a choice on a ballot, and a mysterious person may be named Madame X. It also marks an incorrect answer on a test, and is the rating for an adult movie. This list could go on for quite a while, but I’ll stop with the designation of a kiss at the end of a love letter.
Craig Conley, the author of the dictionary of one-letter words, confesses that he wrote the first entry in his dictionary in a fit of procrastination while a graduate student spending many hours a day in the library working on his thesis. He was intrigued by all the enormous dictionaries on the shelves, and on a whim he started looking up entries for the 26 letters of the alphabet. He jotted down a variety of tidbits, and those notes became the basis for his dictionary.
For example, remember the expression, “Mind your p’s and q’s” as a comment on behavior. As a English teacher I am familiar with Hawthorne’s story entitled “The Scarlet Letter,” about a woman condemned to wear an A (for the crime of adultery) embroidered on her breast. Here’s his description in the first chapter: “On the breast of her gown, in red cloth, surrounded with elaborate embroidery and flourishes of gold thread, appeared the letter A.”
The letter Q has a special meaning in the field of Biblical criticism, when it refers to material common to the Gospels of Matthew and Luke that is not derived from the Gospel of Mark. R is used in the expression “the three R’s (reading, writing, and arithmetic).” It also designates a movie rating prohibiting attendance by anyone under seventeen not accompanied by a parent or guardian.
In school the letter S is used as a grade rating a student’s performance as satisfactory. T can be used to describe a way of doing something perfectly: “We could manage this matter to a T.” T-bone refers to a thick loin steak containing a T-shaped bone. Until 1827, convicted thieves in England were often branded on the thumb with a T.
The term U-boat referred to a military submarine. V stands for the Roman numeral for five; with a line over it, it signifies five thousand. Z is almost universally recognized as a symbol for sleep, as in “It’s going to be a long night’s vigil, so if you want to catch some z’s work it out with your buddies.”
Clearly, one-letter words are numerous and important enough to deserve their own dictionary. You’ll find Craig Conley’sOne-Letter Words: A Dictionaryon sale at Amazon.
FIVE STARS. Craig Conley is a genius. He draws from the right sources, which give his books a certain richness and beauty. This book itself is a great source for any sorcerer or enthusiasts of the magical arts. —Joseph Ledoux
About the book:
Stage illusionists and amateur conjurors play out a mythic story, told through the deep symbolism underlying their age-old magic tricks and tools: the top hat, cups and balls, escape trunk, linking rings, white dove and rabbit, wand, handcuffs, restored ropes and papers, multiplying coins, etc. This book explores how magical props, as symbols, point beyond themselves to the larger mystery.
Magic Archetypes is a picto-poetic history of magic predating Robert Houdin's Scientific School of conjuring, recalling the ancient Mystery School traditions. Told by artists from the 700s - 1600s who were influenced by the iconography of even earlier ages, this history is an initiation into the deeper aspects of magic: the meaning in the art beyond clever trickery, the archetypes at play since time immemorial. A fascinating, enlightening companion for professional illusionists, amateur conjurors, and art lovers intrigued by the power of archetypes.
"I've only just become aware of your work and I'm both grateful and in awe. I'm especially smitten with the Hexopedia. As someone who conjures things for a living, I feel as though I've stumbled onto a deep well of utility and aesthetics I'll be able to draw and learn from for years to come."sun flare
"Genius. I couldn't stop smiling while reading the entire thing." —Hugo, Washington
"Such an artful device for guiding readers through an analysis of the dynamics of their own faculties of perception within a metaphysical context. If readers are willing and able to follow where you lead, I have little doubt they'll spot Nessie. But even if the best they can do is make a good faith attempt, they'll very likely see themselves more clearly than they did before." —Nash, Virginia
"I love this inspired little book! It makes me want to go look at Nessie immediately!" —Lawrence, Tennessee
"This is a guide to see many things in life, factual or fictional.” —George, the Netherlands
"At the end I was reminded of the old question ‘have you found Jesus?’ And now when I tell others about our visit I will happily say that while I didn’t see Nessie, I did find her." —Gordon, Illinois
"If you approach the Loch Ness monster as a skeptic then you’ve already tilted the tide towards disbelief. I personally used to be deeply skeptical until I started experimenting myself with the tools in this booklet and eventually saw Nessie." —Bryan, California
Here's a review of our previously underground treatise on the profound secrets of Twilit Silence(publicly available for the first time in a decade):
Conley puts forth a method of noticing the subtlety of the space between day and night, especially when one can experience silence at that liminal time. His thoughts on the matter, along with his collection of quotes and photographs on the subject, induced a bona-fide magical state of mind as I enjoyed them under the mid-day shade of a tree in a park in Berkeley.
We're delighted that J. Keith Vincent called our One-Letter Words: A Dictionary a "chrestomathy" at a symposium about the Japanese author Edogawa Ranpo and whether or not a person could craft an entire narrative out of a single letter of the alphabet. "If Craig Conley could come up with thousands of meanings for the 26 letters of the alphabet, who’s to say how many stories might not be condensed into any one of those letters?" Here's how Vincent's paper begins:
I recently ran across a curious dictionary of nothing but one-letter words. The author of One-Letter Words: A Dictionary spent fifteen years compiling 275 pages of definitions of words consisting of only one letter. This is the dictionary, as one reviewer put it, for “anyone who has forgotten that Z was the Roman letter for 2000.” It also reminds us that “X” has no fewer than seventy meanings in addition to “10,” including everything from “wrong” (“batsu” in Japanese as well) to the place where one’s signature on a ballot should go, to a rating for an adult movie, a power of magnification and, of course, the symbol for a kiss.
I discovered this little alphabetical chrestomathy because its author, Craig Conley, cites as his inspiration a story by a detective novelist that I have written about and translated. “It’s hard to pinpoint exactly when I first got the idea to write a dictionary of one-letter words,” Conley writes. But “I remember once hearing about a bizarre Japanese crime novel from 1929, The Devil’s Apprentice by Shiro Hamao, and how the entire work consisted of a single letter.The single letter was obviously a written correspondence, but I initially envisioned a single letter of the alphabet. And I marveled at how bizarre indeed it would be to write a detective story that all boiled down to a solitary letter of the alphabet!”
Hamao’s story is indeed taken up by a single letter. It is written by a man in jail for murder, and addressed to his former lover, who is also the prosecutor trying his case, and whom the alleged murderer blames for leading him astray into homosexuality and other crimes. Conley’s productive misinterpretation of the story as a novel consisting of a “single letter” (一つとの文字) rather than “a single letter” (一通の手紙) is a great example of what can be gained, rather than lost, in translation. The misunderstanding, based on single scrap of text without context, opens his mind to the signifying capacity of single letters and leads him to produce his dictionary of one-letter words, like some queer companion volume to George Perec’s La Disparition, a detective novel that was famously written without ever using the letter “e.”
Might it be possible to tease a narrative out of just one letter? A single “character” one would have—protagonist perhaps. If not a majuscule, a miniscule character, one who could at least play a minor supporting role in a drama to which our imagination might supply the rest. Conley continues, “I imagined some sort of gritty retelling of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s novel The Scarlet Letter, where a bloody letter A serves as the only scrap of evidence to unravel a seedy tale of adultery, heartbreak, and murder.” If Craig Conley could come up with thousands of meanings for the 26 letters of the alphabet, who’s to say how many stories might not be condensed into any one of those letters?
It was with such silly thoughts in my mind that I happened across a story by Hamao Shirō’s good friend Edogawa Ranpo. The story is titled “Monogram” (モノグラム) and Ranpo wrote it in 1926. As the title suggests, “Monogram” is a story about letters in their singularity. And although the story is written using many more than one letter, a close reading of Ranpo’s text shows that it has quite a lot to say about how one might, or might not, spin a tale out of “a single letter.” ...