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.
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A Turkish Delight of musings on languages, deflations of metaphysics, vauntings of arcana, and great visual humor.

Today — November 22, 2019 (permalink)


Jonathan Caws-Elwitt

unearths some literary gems.

From "The Return of Lord Kingwood," by Ivans (trans. Josh Pachter):

***

Mr. Monk then ferreted a number of newspaper clippings and other papers out from an assortment of nooks and crannies.... How the little man managed to locate them so quickly, after they had spent years tucked away and forgotten, was impossible to explain. But it was generally acknowledged that there were certain secret passages through the wilderness of documents strewn both within and without the office's many cabinets, passages that were known only to Mr. Monk, passages that invariably led him directly to whatever information he sought.

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November 19, 2019 (permalink)


Jonathan Caws-Elwitt

unearths some literary gems.

From "Murder in the Movies," by Karl Detzer:

***

I'm telling it now, just the way it happened, so that there needn't be any more pictures surrounded by question marks.

***

[I like the "intersport" imagery in this sentence.]

Gatski was a little man, about forty years old, with a bay window like a basketball and a voice like a baseball umpire's.

***

"Turn 'em," Sam said in a peculiar tone, like a sound track that's picked up an echo.

***

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November 15, 2019 (permalink)


Jonathan Caws-Elwitt

unearths some literary gems.

From The President's Mystery Plot [a round robin novel]; chapter by Anthony Abbot:

***

[And illustration by Arnold Roth.]

The two partners, Messrs. Noble and Scarp, stood side by side in their little office over a bank and looked solemnly at Jim. They couldn't look at him other than solemnly for they were a very solemn pair.

[...]

They had been partners for so long that they looked like brothers. And both talked in the same hushed and defeated tone; if Jim closed his eyes, it was hard to tell which one was speaking. And whatever Scarp said, Noble repeated in slightly different words.

[Note: Some quick research tells me that Dupond et Dupont debuted a couple of years before Abbot wrote this ca. 1935; but since Tintin wasn't translated into English until two decades later, and the man who wrote as Anthony Abbot had no obvious connection to French-language culture, my guess would be that he came up with the gag independently.]


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November 12, 2019 (permalink)


Jonathan Caws-Elwitt

unearths some literary gems.

It's 1972, Wodehouse is in his nineties, and he's no longer standing on ceremony:

***

"The intelligent reader will recall, though the vapid and unreflective reader may have forgotten..."

[This from The Plot That Thickened, which also gives us the following]:

***

"[She was] always insisting that their position demanded that they entertain as dinner guests people whom, if left to himself, he would not have asked to dinner with a ten-foot pole."

***

[And ... a nightclub orchestra called Herman Zilch and His Twelve What-Nots!]

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November 8, 2019 (permalink)


Jonathan Caws-Elwitt

unearths some literary gems.

From Wodehouse's Uncle Dynamite:

***

Constable Potter, who had momentarily removed the glazed look from his eyes, put it back again.

***

"Nobody but a practised writer could have told that story so superbly. [...] You publish your stuff secretly under another name. I believe you're one, if not more, of the Sitwells."

***

[From The Purloined Paperweight, aka Company for Henry]:

***

“You see, when I recommended Deadly Ernest to him as required reading, he snubbed me in no uncertain manner.”

“What’s he like when snubbing?”

“Pretty formidable. The beard helps a lot, of course. He waggled it at me and said, ‘Dear lady, does one read books called Deadly Ernest?’ And when I said yes, one did, mentioning myself as a case in point, he sighed like a patronizing escape of steam and said he was afraid my taste was very crude.”

***

“We particularly liked its austerity.”

Bill blinked.

“Its what?”

“Or restraint, if you prefer it. No second corpse.”

“I thought of putting in a second corpse, and then I thought I’d fool my public by not having one.”

“You were quite right. I’m sick of second corpses.”

***

“I had various jobs.”

“Such as?”

“Well, there quite a number of them. Picking lemons, for one.”

“I knew it! The moment I saw you, I said to myself, ‘That man has been picking lemons.’ Where was this?”

“Chula Vista, California.”

“Are there lemons out there?”

“Several.”

***

The last thing he would have wished to do, had circumstances been other than they were, was to reveal his business secrets to anyone like Algy, in whose discretion he had little or no confidence, but as so often happens, circumstances were not other than they were.

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November 5, 2019 (permalink)


Jonathan Caws-Elwitt

unearths some literary gems.

From "The Episode of the Codex' Curse," by C. Daly King:

***

[Palpable Silences dept.]

The silence, which to begin with had been complete, seemed somehow to have gotten steadily more and more profound. Imperceptibly but steadily. Oppressive was the word probably, for by two a.m. I had the distinct feeling that it would have been possible to cut off a chunk of it and weigh it on a scale.

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November 1, 2019 (permalink)


Jonathan Caws-Elwitt

unearths some literary gems.

From The Brothers Sackville, by G. D. H. and Margaret Cole:

***

[To ensure a gay (in the old sense) party, there's nothing like bringing someone named Gay. And that Minnie! She's always girling.]

There was quite a gay little party in progress at Summerdene. Hal Kipson was there, and he had brought Peter Gay with him.... Minnie Girling was there, full of laughter as usual; and Hester Longsight....

***

She led him firmly across to where the film actor was holding forth, with Minnie Girling putting him questions all of a giggle.

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October 29, 2019 (permalink)


Jonathan Caws-Elwitt

unearths some literary gems.

From "The Strange Case of Steinkelwintz," by Mackinlay Kantor:

***

"There is an odor....But, Max Grame, you can't arrest an odor! I suppose you think that an odor stole my piano?"

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October 25, 2019 (permalink)


Jonathan Caws-Elwitt

unearths some literary gems.

From "Death Out of Thin Air," by Stuart Towne:

***

[From an editor's footnote.] Mickey Collins was Pat's twin sister, a young lady who looked so much like her that it was a standing joke as to whether or not the twins themselves knew for sure which was which. [And have we possibly encountered a version of that somewhere before, too?]

***

Inspector Church was being as tight-mouthed as two clams.

[I love the idea that the utter silence of individual clams has an additive effect!]

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October 22, 2019 (permalink)


Jonathan Caws-Elwitt

unearths some literary gems.

From "Where Have You Gone, Sam Spade?" by Bill Pronzini:

***

With her was a wiry little man in his mid-forties, with colorless hair and features so bland they would have, I thought, the odd reverse effect of making you remember him.

[If I recall correctly, this is not the first time we've encountered a writer describing someone whose nondescriptness makes them paradoxically memorable.]

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October 18, 2019 (permalink)


Jonathan Caws-Elwitt

unearths some literary gems.

From "The Flying Hat," by Vincent Cornier:

***

The only usual sounds were the far-away drone of traffic in Oxford Street and the solemn snoring of that in Edgeware Road.

***

[The flying hat] sped along; it seemed a ball of blackness, madly sportive.

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October 15, 2019 (permalink)


Jonathan Caws-Elwitt

unearths some literary gems.

From "The Flying Corpse," by A. E. Martin:

***

"Now you're being Dr. Smug," Mona said. "I'll bet my suspenders against your stethoscope...."

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October 11, 2019 (permalink)


Jonathan Caws-Elwitt

unearths some literary gems.

From "Past Future," by Richard Wayne Horton:

***

Surprise turns her eyes from grapes to oranges.

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October 8, 2019 (permalink)


Jonathan Caws-Elwitt

unearths some literary gems.

From "Moments Musicaux," by Judith Cutler:

***

"Couldn't even agree whether to have the piano lid up or down. Madame Thingie wanted it up so that her sound would prrrrrrrroject. Monsieur Something pointed out that her projection would make his an impossibilité. There was a lot of mon dieuing all round."

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October 4, 2019 (permalink)


Jonathan Caws-Elwitt

unearths some literary gems.

From "Don't You Cry for Me," by Norbert Davis:

***

He stooped forward a little, as though the weight of his mustache was pulling him off-balance. It could have easily. It was a wonderful mustache. It ran as straight across his face as a ruler and turned up in sharp points at either end.

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October 1, 2019 (permalink)


Jonathan Caws-Elwitt

unearths some literary gems.

From Oh, Murderer Mine, by Norbert Davis

***

Despite his size, the fierce, jet-black mustache he was wearing was still too big for him and Melissa got the impression the mustache was leading him around willy-nilly.

***

"Gluck-gluck-gluck," Melissa said in frustrated incoherence. "Gluck!"

***

"We are the Misses Aldrich," said the faces.

"Are--are there two of you?" Doan asked.

"Yes. We're twins.... We are specialists," said the Aldriches in fascinating unison, "in the emotional and social conditioning of pre-school-age children."

***

"Oh, phooey with an olive," said Beulah Porter Cowys.

***

["Rhetorical 'you knows' answered" dept.]

"Early to bed and early to rise, you know."

"I know," Melissa agreed.

***

"Are [the Misses Aldrich] gone for good?" she asked. "They're a little too plural for me at this hour."

***

["Pooh!" + "Bah!" = a (Grand?) Pooh-Bah?]

"Pooh-Bah!"

***

It was a voice that was hoarsely hollow and smooth at the same time. It sounded a little like a billiard ball rolling down a rain spout.

***

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September 27, 2019 (permalink)


Jonathan Caws-Elwitt

unearths some literary gems.

From Scotland Yard Can Wait, by David Frome:

***

His employer wore an eyeglass on a very wide ribbon, and looked, always, precisely as if he hadn't the foggiest notion what it was all about.

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September 24, 2019 (permalink)


Jonathan Caws-Elwitt

unearths some literary gems.

From The Musubi Murder, by Frankie Bow:

***

"What kine baboozes they got working up there in security?"

"Officer Medeiros has been nothing but professional," I said. "I don't think it's nice to call him a...whatever you called him."

***

"You, a professor, don't even have a proper office chair. You sacrifice your dignity every day by sitting on a yoga ball."

"My dignity is very well toned from sitting on that ball, I'll have you know."

***

"A very good salary"....

I involuntarily rolled my chair back when Iker told me the number, as if I were making room for a dump truck load of cash.

***

"You're being ridiculous! Ridiculously blinded by lust!"

"Now wait a--"

"What were you thinking about, eating that meat?" [N.B. That's literal meat.]

"That wasn't lust," I said. "That was gluttony."

***

"So maybe he steals his brother’s artifact out of jealousy, or pride, or, you know, anger."

"You forgot lust and gluttony."

***

"I'm going to spell it out for you. One: Jimmy Tanaka was going to ruin Donnie Gonsalves. Two--"

"That's counting, not spelling."

***

"Did you sell out for the money?"

"Of course I did! Why else would you sell out? It's called 'selling out' because you do it for the money."

***

"Locus of control....A locust is an insect.  Why do I have to explain that every time?"

***

[Bonus golden-goose business]:


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September 20, 2019 (permalink)


Jonathan Caws-Elwitt

unearths some literary gems.

From The Corpse in the Constable's Garden, by G. D. H. and Margaret Cole:

***

"Crikey!" he said; and, feeling the comment inadequate, added, "My aunt!"

***

"I shall stay at Coward's Hotel in Craven Street." [This is not some kind of metaphor: it is presented in a matter-of-fact way as a literal hotel (though I'm sure the authors' intention here was humorous).]

***

"Don't pretend to be a fool, Hubert," said his wife. "You know you said you liked Proust."

"I said I liked him in moderation," said the Colonel. "The trouble was, there wasn't any moderation."

***

"Praise the pigs there are two of them, anyhow." ["Praise the pigs" as a way of saying "thank goodness" was a new one on me! And, indeed, a quick look at Google Books suggests that this character may have been the only person ever to say it.]

***

"He told me Barrington was a great authority on something or other, I've forgotten what."

[If I'm not mistaken, this is the second novel by the Coles in which I've encountered a character who is a "great authority on something or other," or words close to that. (:v>]

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September 17, 2019 (permalink)


Jonathan Caws-Elwitt

unearths some literary gems.

From Superintendent Wilson's Holiday [a short story collection], by G. D. H. and M. Cole:

***

Matthew Kingdon, Fellow of St. Philip's College, Oxford, was quite unable to settle down to prepare his paper for the Philosophical Society. 'Do Relations Relate?' was a fascinating subject, and he had promised himself good sport in answering the question, and incidentally discomfiting his great rival, Dr. Mugsley of St. Jude's.

***

All the male Pedders were rather like surprised parrots.

***

[Bonus: A theatre called the Megatherium.]

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