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.

May 29, 2020 (permalink)


Jonathan Caws-Elwitt

unearths some literary gems.

From Mr. Pinkerton Finds a Body, by David Frome:

***

He twisted an imaginary hat round and round in his hands.

***

[Precursing the Pleasure Dial "Candied"/"Candid" Business dept.]

"There's a tea shop called The Candied Friend."

***

Mr. Pinkerton watched his beaming countenance undergo a gradual change that reminded him of the Cheshire Cat, except that with Mr. Kewly-Smith the smile faded and left a face.

***

It had got him out of breath just to listen to her.

***

"That's the way Lucy meets all problems--by having them to dinner."

***

[I fear I may have been neglecting an "Anthropomorphized Bells" department that was asking to be acknowledged.* Oh well, better late than never!]

[*Anthropomorphized Departments department]

A distant bell sounded, then another. In a moment the night was filled with them, hurrying high in the pelting rain. A deep sombre note [the largest bell in the area] dropped in among them, and sent them scattering like sparrows at a pool.

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May 26, 2020 (permalink)


Jonathan Caws-Elwitt

unearths some literary gems.

From To Bed at Noon, by Val Gielgud:

***

The loudspeaker reminded intended passengers on Flight No. Whatever-it-was that the moment had come....

***

"But time and typewriters are inexorable."

***

[I love how the force of the assertion is undercut by the admission that he never wears the hat anyway!]

If they hadn't cross-checked what they had written or dictated they weren't human, and I would eat the bowler-hat I never wore.

***

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May 22, 2020 (permalink)


Jonathan Caws-Elwitt

unearths some literary gems.

From Max Smart and the Perilous Pellets, by William Johnston:

***

"Well, you know how we brilliant doctors are...a little absent-minded sometimes."

"Indeed I do," Dr. Medulla replied. "In fact, I practice absent-mindedness every morning for a half-hour. I hope to be a brilliant doctor myself someday."

***

"I can prove I'm the doctor," the man said. "Look--here is my little black bag!"

"But he has a little black bag, too," Dr. Medulla said, indicating Max.

"My little black bag is blacker than his little black bag!" the man raged.

[...]

"Yes," Max pointed out, "but my little black bag is littler than his little black bag."

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May 19, 2020 (permalink)


Jonathan Caws-Elwitt

unearths some literary gems.

From "A Question of Timing," by Phyllis Bentley (1946):

***

Some seagulls were flying about, screeching, and I stopped to watch. I always wish Walt Disney would do a film about a seagull, and as I stood there I began to imagine how such a film would begin. That delayed me quite a bit, you see.

#seagull
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May 15, 2020 (permalink)


Jonathan Caws-Elwitt

unearths some literary gems.

From Mr. Pinkerton Has the Clue, by David Frome:

***

Mr. Pinkerton...settled his brown bowler on his head with a sort of tentative firmness.

***

"He's so awfully smooth. Like cold cream after the jar's been near the fire."

***

An expression heard in the cinema popped into Mr. Pinkerton's head, but he could not allow himself to use it, not having quite made out just what a sour puss was.

***

Many of the things that Major Peyton had called the Chief Constable Mr. Pinkerton had never even heard of.

***

The green buses to Wells, Devises and Frome were lined up against the kerb.

[As you may know, there really is a placed called Frome in England--I looked it up--but I still think we can assume that the author made a point of sneaking in her pen surname.]

***

He had a head the shape and colour and texture of a large white cheese, punctuated, of course, with eyes, a nose and a smile.

***

He held up a small, rather surprised looking toupée. [See attached.]

***

If he were somebody in a story....she would just be getting off a bus in Duncannon Street, or coming out of the National Gallery, or be waiting for the green light with "Cross" written on it to show, or she would pop out of the mouth of one of the lions.

[For those keeping score, this is at least the third whimsical reference to the Trafalgar Square lions in the Pinkerton oeuvre. (But they don't appear in every book, so it's not quite a "Hitchcock cameo" thing.)]

***

Mr. Pinkerton shook his head gently. This was completely out of his field. He had never been quite sure of just what his field was, but surely this was not it.

***

"Made pots of money taking alcohol out of beer or caffeine out of coffee--something out of something--and they can take the fun out of a party the same way."

***

"I told him...that I'd not be caught dead drinking water of any sort--hot, cold, mineral or...or animal." [Note: That last ellipsis is part of the text, not my own.]

***

[Who Needs Context? dept.]

She was at the very heart of the wig and mustache business.

***

[Bonus/Spoiler]toupee copy

I recently mentioned the second-hand information that Picadilly Jim involves the protagonist impersonating himself. Well, it turns out in this Mr. P. novel that someone has impersonated himself--doing it just unconvincingly enough so as to make people decide someone *else* was impersonating him, and thus diverting suspicion. And I realize I've encountered this clever device in some other mystery novel as well.


#vintage illustration
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May 12, 2020 (permalink)


Jonathan Caws-Elwitt

unearths some literary gems.

From The Fever Cabinet, by Frankie Bow

***

Dan always looked kind of gray....But today he looked like his own ghost. [How to Be Your Own Ghost?]

***

I have a theory that Iker may be an angel in human form, except I can't work out why an angel would have been sent to earth to teach accounting.

***

"You don't think the flowers are a bit garish?" Fiona asked us.

"I think Nature is allowed to be garish," I said. "Things like orchids and sunsets should be colorful. I mean, who wants a tasteful rainbow, right? What would that even look like?"

***

Talking with her mother often made Fiona feel like she was trying to read a book that had random pages torn out.

***

"Fiona told you Emmett was, wait, how's the British way to say it, getting a leg up on Maureen? Bubbling her squeak?"

***

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May 8, 2020 (permalink)


Jonathan Caws-Elwitt

unearths some literary gems.

From "Lessons for Leona," by Tenille Brown:

[Normally my "Mrs. Somebody" encounters happen in vintage or period mystery novels; but this "French twist" comes from an erotica story.]

***

Ida would be personally trained by French Chef Something-or-Other.

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May 5, 2020 (permalink)


Jonathan Caws-Elwitt

unearths some literary gems.

From The Case of the Defunct Adjunct, by Frankie Bow:

***

It was part of a yarn tree on an orange construction paper background. I wondered what possible educational purpose it served. Maybe to illustrate what trees would look like if they were made of yarn?

***

[Bonus: This book offers a malaproping character!]

"This thing makes me madder than a wet blanket."

"It is a scandal that stinks to Betsy's Heaven."

"You must not try to escape your conscience by drinking yourself into Bolivia."

"What is the expression, the third time is the most charming?"

#malapropism
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May 1, 2020 (permalink)


Jonathan Caws-Elwitt

unearths some literary gems.

From The Man from Scotland Yard, by David Frome:

***

Everyone always knew—to his great relief—what Archie meant after the first three words. Thus he never had to bother about knowing what he meant himself. Schoolmasters were the only people who had never seemed to know. Waiters to Archie's mind were much more intelligent. He'd had doubts about train people since his first long vacation when he was up at Oxford. A man sold him a ticket to northern Italy. He'd wanted to go to Iceland. Not that it made any difference to Archie, except that he met Aunt Gertrude in Florence and had to look at pictures in galleries.

***

His eyes were lost in the concentric depths of his glasses.

***

There was loud and insistent clamouring in the wings of the stage where Mr. Arthurington trod the boards in the latest song and dance hit called Life. It seems hardly fair that the actors in any given rôle in the universal tragi-comedy are never allowed to see the book with their parts clearly down in black and white. They simply have to blunder on and off, getting their cues as they may. They are not permitted to put in lines of their own when they think the piece is falling flat, and they can never leave lines out, because the Prompter is always in the wings. The unfortunate part of it is that they never know who the Management is; thus there is no way of lodging a formal complaint.

***

"How the devil's a fellow expected to sleep with you next door blowing and snorting like a sacred buffalo wallowing in the Andes?" ....

"You mean Ganges."

"It's the same thing when you're trying to sleep."

***

Mr. Pinkerton was as familiar with Bull's habits as Nelson is with those of the lions in Trafalgar-square.

***

"When does St. John get home, by the way?"

"Not before dinner. The Royal Society of something or other is meeting."

***

"He's what a friend of mine calls a pillow of the Church."

***

There was something uncanny in this apparently simple yet really intricate game of cat and mouse. In his rôle of cat he was threading a maze with the mouse holding the other end of the string. The mouse knew the ins and outs of this maze. Inspector Bull had the very uncomfortable feeling that while he was blindly feeling his way, the mouse had tied up his end of the strong to a post somewhere, and had simply gone home.

***

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April 28, 2020 (permalink)


Jonathan Caws-Elwitt

unearths some literary gems.

From Dead End, by Joan Lock:

***

He had a high-domed forehead and a long nose that sat like an exclamation mark atop a particularly luxuriant walrus moustache.

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April 24, 2020 (permalink)


Jonathan Caws-Elwitt

unearths some literary gems.

From The Perfect Body, by Frankie Bow:

***

The handwriting was like the man himself, small and spidery.

***

"It's not like Gunderson can just take the money and go spend it all at Ye Olde Elbow Patch Shoppe or wherever he buys his clothes."

***

[This time the monocle-in-motion is a hypothetical/nonexistent one!]

Gunderson turned to stare at Emma. If he had been wearing a monocole, it would have dropped into his lap.

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April 21, 2020 (permalink)


Jonathan Caws-Elwitt

unearths some literary gems.

From And Death Came Too, by Richard Hull:

***

"Now you're being both ponderous and arch at the same time, which definitely is unwise."

***

Lansley was one of those people who was capable of extracting the maximum of noise from a piece of paper.

***

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April 17, 2020 (permalink)


Jonathan Caws-Elwitt

unearths some literary gems.

From The Maltese Herring, by L. C. Tyler:

***

"I've constructed a timeline."

"Am I paying you to construct timelines?" I asked.

"You're not paying me at all."

[Cf. The Can of Yams: "Look, I’m not paying you to undermine my sense of artistic mission." / "At the moment, you’re not paying me at all."]

***

Our tyres screeched alarmingly as Ethelred put his foot down and the Ashmolean Museum flashed past the passenger window in a blur of Cotswold stone.

***

I wondered whether to point out that fluttering her eyelashes like that was causing a nasty draught, but I let her continue.

***

"He told me his grandfather was worth ten of mine--not that I ever had any plans to have more than two."

***

[And, though this book is hot off the press, the author demonstrates that the art of author-disclaimer variations lives on!]

None of my characters (as they say) resembles a real person in any way whatsoever. If you don't believe me, check out a few real people.

***

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April 14, 2020 (permalink)


Jonathan Caws-Elwitt

unearths some literary gems.

From Cork on Location, by Macdonald Hastings:

***

In the go-go-go world of television, it seemed that anything went.

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April 10, 2020 (permalink)


Jonathan Caws-Elwitt

unearths some literary gems.

From The Headless Lady, by Clayton Rawson:

***

Everything Mildred did and said bristled like a hedgehog with question marks--big curly ones.

***

"Did you know that the side show has a very special attraction this afternoon? Something never before seen on land or sea? Might be good for a press release."

"No. What?"

"A Headless and Bodiless Lady. Her head's invisible, and now the rest of her is missing. Ross and I found her empty trailer. It would appear that she has lammed."

***

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April 7, 2020 (permalink)


Jonathan Caws-Elwitt

unearths some literary gems.

From Rich, Radiant Slaughter by Orania Papazoglou:

[Recently we discussed breakfast as a place. But meals being places isn't just for breakfast anymore!]

"I think that Jon Lowry is out to lunch."

"Well, at least you think he's out to somewhere in particular," I said.

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April 3, 2020 (permalink)


Jonathan Caws-Elwitt

unearths some literary gems.

From Death as an Extra, by Val Gielgud:

***

[Now, we've all seen countless old-fashioned literary mentions of "erections" (and "ejaculations"). But this passage here (from 1933, so not even as old as some) seems to go above and beyond.]

From the shadows in the background a young man plunged out of a queer erection that looked like the cabin of a crane. He wore stained flannel trousers....

***

[A villain uses creative wordplay to threaten someone named Jerome B. Cole (through a receptionist).]

"I know all about how busy Jerome B.C. is! If he don't want to be Jerome A.D. a lot quicker than hell, he'll be glad to talk to me!"

***

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March 31, 2020 (permalink)


Jonathan Caws-Elwitt

unearths some literary gems.

From Sweet, Savage Death by Orania Papazoglou:

***

Phoebe's name was floating in the air like Casper, the Friendly Ghost.

***

“Miss Patience Campbell McKenna, Miss White Anglo-Saxon Protestant Foxcroft School to Greyson College Junior Assemblies bitch.”

“It was Emma Willard,” I said automatically.

[Which is sort of an inversion of this bit from Talk Nonsense to Me]:

“Look, I can handle your brush-off, you Swarthmore smartass, but I’ll thank you not to add insult to injury.” This was a lesson I constantly had to relearn: never reveal your alma mater in the course of small talk, because eventually you’re sure to regret it in one way or another.

 

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March 27, 2020 (permalink)


Jonathan Caws-Elwitt

unearths some literary gems.

From stories by Phyllis Bentley:

***

[Unintentionally Airborne Eyewear dept. I note that where Lord Emsworth's pince-nez seem to fly off his face through a sort of cartoonish pathetic fallacy (cf. American Cornball on the "hat take"), this author gives a sort of physics-driven accounting for the phenomenon. (Now I'm envisioning a Rube Goldberg contraption wherein step 37 involves unfurling a poster that astonishes a pince-nez-wearing personage who is seated there for this purpose; the flying pince-nez then land someplace so as to trigger step 38.)]

Astonishment so distorted the little novelist's features that her old-fashioned pince-nez slipped off her nose; they flew through the air on the end of their chain and came to rest with a click against the large black button on her bosom.

***

[A rhetorical question that the protagonist wants to answer--but doesn't.]

"Words, words, words!" said he. "Who was it said that the use of words is to conceal thought?"

Miss Phipps longed to inform him, but she did not dare.

***

The Vicar...pronouncing solemn and beautiful sentences...turned and led the cortège toward the altar.

[I like the generic reference to "beautiful sentences." Sort of like asking a pianist to "play something--anything."]

***

[Bonus (Fail x2): You can imagine my delight when, in the course of one story, the protagonists referred to an earlier "case of the ubiquitous mannequin." There were additional references, culiminating in a hypothetical "mannequin parade"--a phrase that, alas, burst the bubble in the same instant that it overjoyed me: because, of course, this made it clear that these were "mannequins" merely in the sense of living models. And then, a second disappointment followed when a glance at a list of all stories in this series (not all of which were included in the compilation I read) showed that the tale about the mannequins was a "real" one and not, as I'd initially hoped, a nonexistent story-we'll-never-hear à la Doyle's Giant Rat of Sumatra. (:v>]

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March 24, 2020 (permalink)


Jonathan Caws-Elwitt

unearths some literary gems.

From The Eel Pie Murders, by David Frome:

***

The junior partner, who was at least sixty-five, looked so much like a maple leaf that has been for a century between the leaves of the family Bible that Bull thought it best to come to the point quickly, before a chance gust of wind might take him off before his very eyes.

[This solicitor also responds to everything, from information he's long been aware of to startling revelations, by calmly saying "Quite so."]

***

Inspector Bull began to feel a little of what an eighteenth-century writer would call "the gratifying glow of self-complacency."

[This is apparently general pastiche, as I find no evidence that any actual 18th-c. writer used that phrase in full. However, a Rev. John Trusler, writing in 1816, said that "There is a secret pleasure in doing good, which the benevolent man feels within himself, and which compensates for the value of the thing he parts with. If it tend to benefit or gratify the object on whom we bestow it, it communicates to our own bosom that glow of self-complacency that warms and invigorates the generous breast, and soothes the agitated spirit of a beneficent disposition." (A Warm Appeal against the Disturbers of Their Own Quiet, and That of Others)]

***

If Mr. Pinkerton was insignificant to the naked unprejudiced eye it was because naked eyes are proverbially unseeing.

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