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.

Yesterday — January 28, 2020 (permalink)


Jonathan Caws-Elwitt

unearths some literary gems.

From The Corpse Wore Pasties, by Jonny Porkpie:

***

"Sure, she was dead now, but who wasn't? Well, me, for one, and that's why I could spend all my time obsessing."

***

The character she was playing when I walked in the door of the Gilded Heel was, I have to admit, my least favorite of her personae--an over-the-hill borscht-belt comedian named Allan Schmuck.

***

"Have another," she said, and got up to pour me a whiskey. It was slightly better than my usual brand, but I drank it anyway.

***

"I had just a bitch of a time shaking the guy who was tailing me. I had to pull a reverse Hammett with a half-Houdini and a Cincinnati twist."

"You're making that up."

"I am making that up. Actually, I just jumped on the F train as the doors were closing."

***

[The two cops who rescue the protagonist from imminent murder at a burlesque show] came barreling through the crowd like two very short trucks, knocking over glasses, bottles, and a bachelorette or two.

***

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January 24, 2020 (permalink)


Jonathan Caws-Elwitt

unearths some literary gems.

From The Mouse in the Mountain, by Norbert Davis:

***

"I can speak your lingo on account I used to be a waiter in double New York."

"Where?" Doan asked.

"New York, New York."

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January 21, 2020 (permalink)


Jonathan Caws-Elwitt

unearths some literary gems.

From Cork in Bottle, by Macdonald Hastings:

***

[Pathetic Fallacy with Telephones dept.]

As he reflected, one of the telephones on the desk gave a fretful tinkle.

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January 17, 2020 (permalink)


Jonathan Caws-Elwitt

unearths some literary gems.

From "The Diary of Death," by Marten Cumberland:

***

"Time turns our most outlandish paradoxes into truisms." [I guess that's sort of like Hegel's dialectic?]

***

Lady Goombridge's resolute voice boomed out, and dispersed the [other voices] as a motor-horn scatters a flock of roadside chickens.

***

"The night is such a wonderful time to dream [said Silk], but one should never sleep whilst one dreams. How we waste those wonderful hours of silence and moonlight in vulgar sleep!"

Adam Steele laughed loudly.

"Silk wants a 'Moonlight Saving Bill,'" he suggested.

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January 14, 2020 (permalink)


Jonathan Caws-Elwitt

unearths some literary gems.

From Strange Embrace, by Lawrence Block:

***

There were two doors at the far end of the living room. He walked to one, knocked carefully, and finally eased it open. He saw a small closet, containing an overcoat and a pair of galoshes. He wondered why he had knocked and thought how strange it would have been if the galoshes had answered him.

***

"If you know as much about them as you know about the James girl, they could all be orangutans and you wouldn't know the difference."

***

It was absolutely incredible how obvious everything became once it was obvious.

***

To be perfectly accurate, Johnny thought, you could only say that Haig turned purple. Literally. His face was the color of grape juice.

***

[But getting back to anthropomorphized telephones... We have two in this book!]

He dialed the girl's number again, listened to the phone ring its brains out, and replaced the receiver.

The telephone on the bedside table was ringing industriously and unpleasantly.

***

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January 10, 2020 (permalink)


Jonathan Caws-Elwitt

unearths some literary gems.

FromĀ Kill Now, Pay Later by Robert Terrall:

***

[Anthropomorphized Mustaches dept.]

He was thin and dapper, with an ebbing hair-line and a narrow, nervous mustache which seemed to have landed on his upper lip by accident.

***

I followed her through an open arch and sat on a couch facing the blank eye of a television set.

***

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January 7, 2020 (permalink)


Jonathan Caws-Elwitt

unearths some literary gems.

From The D.A. Takes a Chance, by Erle Stanley Gardner:

***

"His tongue is hinged in the middle and clacks at both ends."

[Apparently, a tongue with a metaphorical hinge more often than not implies a two-faced nature; but some use it to mean simply somebody who talks too much. ESG clearly means it in the latter sense, and he takes it to the next level by making both ends of the tongue free to move! Incidentally, I note that this runs the hinge left to right, rather than front to back, as the "talking out both sides of the mouth" hinge would run.]

***

"Fit as a fiddle. And why do you suppose people say that? What's fit about a fiddle? When you take one out of its case you have to putter around with it, tinkering and tuning. Why should people think it's fit?"

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January 3, 2020 (permalink)


Jonathan Caws-Elwitt

unearths some literary gems.

From "The Cleverest Clue," by Laurence W. Mynell:

***

"We'll step down the road to the 'Ship,' unless you've joined one of these anti-everything leagues lately?"

***

He was a professor and had all the letters after his name that you could think of.... He always spoke just so, like a dictionary.

***

When he talked, he talked like a dictionary; when he didn't want to talk, he could be as dumb as a doughnut.

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December 31, 2019 (permalink)


Jonathan Caws-Elwitt

unearths some literary gems.

From Cork on the Water, by Macdonald Hastings:

***

Colonel Johnson had applied himself to salmon-fishing with such single-minded purpose for so long that, with advancing years, he had acquired a noticeable resemblance to a salmon himself.

***

Montague Cork's was a name to magic with. [My first experience of "magic" as a verb (unless there's simply a word missing from the sentence).]

***

On a hook on the wall hung a tu-tu, a stiff white ballet skirt with two leg holes, like spectacles, in the underpart.

***

[in a hotel register]

somebody called something hyphen Smith

***

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December 27, 2019 (permalink)


Jonathan Caws-Elwitt

unearths some literary gems.

From The Count of Nine, by A. A. Fair:

***

Bertha Cool twisted her face into a fatuous smile; a sweetly synthetic grin that was as foreign to her as a postage stamp on a dollar bill.

***

"Try hanging around him," I told her, "and you'll learn about the facts of life."

"I know the facts of life," Bertha said.

"You'll learn ramifications, variations."

"I've been ramified, verified, and mutated," she said.

***

Bertha kept blinking her eyes at me as though she was biting the information off in chunks with her eyelids so as to help her brain digest it. [I think this may be a more elaborate version of a similar bit that we saw ESG (aka Fair) use in the Perry Mason oeuvre.]

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December 24, 2019 (permalink)


Jonathan Caws-Elwitt

unearths some literary gems.

From The Knife Slipped, by A. A. Fair:

[From Erle Stanley Gardner's pseudonymously penned "Cool and Lam" series.]

***

She...habitually kept her lips clamped in a tight line as though afraid a word might inadvertently spill out when it wasn't absolutely necessary.

***

"This Bertha Cool is a card all right."

"Card, hell," I told him, "she's the whole deck."

***

"What did that fan dancer have that I haven't got?"

"A fan."

***

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December 20, 2019 (permalink)


Jonathan Caws-Elwitt

unearths some literary gems.

From Death from a Top Hat, by Clayton Rawson:

***

I awoke to see the alarm clock scowling at me reproachfully, the corners of its mouth turned down and indicating 5:40.

***

Quotation marks at the corners of his straight mouth indicated a capacity for humor that softened the hard, angular set of his jaw.

***

A gnome-like man with abnormally rounded shoulders entered, following a huge cigar. [File with characters being led around by their mustaches?]

***

Another flash bulb flared brilliantly, putting a bright exclamation point on Tarot's sentence.

***

"Here's a particularly choice collection of the English pamphlet literature. I don't know how they ever sold any of the things. Their authors had an odd journalistic habit of telling almost the whole story on the title page." [Precursing, of course, my "Two-Fold Title" gag, by some 75 years--though granted it's an obvious target for comedy.]

***

The whole damned business, in his opinion, was blithering, four-starred, purple-hued nonsense. [!]

***

"He put her in a trunk that a committee from the audience locked, roped, and sealed. Then, when he clapped his hands she appeared at the back of the theater and ran down the aisle with a revolver, firing blanks and shouting, 'Here I am!' They were playing Detroit one day when Judy got a little mixed and came dashing down the aisle of a theater next door where an audience of Guild subscribers were viewing O'Neill's Mourning Becomes Electra!"

***

Gavigan, who had been in a brown study with the door closed, came out of it.

***

"Every time I draw a breath this case does a lightning change act and turns up wearing a set of false whiskers and a putty nose."

***

Grimm echoed somewhat less emphatically, like a second carbon, "And so do I."

***

Grimm mumbled in what would have been his beard if he had had one.

***

"And did you find what you were looking for, Merlini?"

"No....But what's worse, I didn't find something I wasn't looking for."

***

I typed for another half hour until the phone interrupted, ringing with a nervous uneasy jangle. [The pathetic fallacy with phone rings seems to be adding up to quite a mini-theme among the authors I read!]

***

The Colonel threw him a look that needed its face washed.

***

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December 17, 2019 (permalink)


Jonathan Caws-Elwitt

unearths some literary gems.

From "The Room in the Tower," by J. Jefferson Farjeon:

***

I arrived one gloomy evening at the ridiculous Rhine castle I had never quite believed. I had caught a preliminary glimpse of it, when it had still been three miles away...and I had thought, "Oh, nonsense!" Now here the nonsense was.

***

I usually write in a small room, my imagination functioning best through walls that are close. Of course, that was the trouble--this room was too large! Instead of remaining near at hand my imagination was wandering all over the place, and refused to come back when it was wanted.

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December 13, 2019 (permalink)


Jonathan Caws-Elwitt

unearths some literary gems.

From "Dead Men's Letters," by Erle Stanley Gardner:

***

That girl could have written a complete set of fifty volumes on the weather and it would all have strung together in perfect continuity and then when a fellow had read everything that was in the fifty volumes he'd still have to stick his head out of the window to see whether it was raining.

#yesterday's weather
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December 10, 2019 (permalink)


Jonathan Caws-Elwitt

unearths some literary gems.

From Brief Lives, by Alan Vanneman:

***

I hate rosewood. It's so rosy.

***

When he was done with all four columns he started on the wainscoting. Now that was a pleasant word. Where would we be without wainscoting? I've got to fuck Dennis, he has the most fabulous wainscoting.

***

Dennis, Dennis, Dennis! It's so fucking Toledo. Why not Andre Agassi, for Christ's sake? How could you not win Wimbledon when your name is Andre Agassi?

***

"If you've got to ask..."

"You can't afford it. That's the law of the sea."

***

She had this little spidery writing, like she could hardly bear to touch the pen to the paper.

***

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December 6, 2019 (permalink)


Jonathan Caws-Elwitt

unearths some literary gems.

From "Death in December," by Victor Gunn:

***

He met both the Chartons--Gerry, cheery, frank and likeable; and Ronnie, supercilious and full of psycho-this and psycho-that.

***

"He's got no more sense of humour than a carrot."

[When I shared this quote with HC-E, she opined that carrots had a better sense of humor than some vegetables, and I had to agree. We both felt, for instance, that carrots had a better sense of humor than turnips (but not so strong a sense of humor as broccoli).]

***

He went loping down the big staircase not unlike a great shaggy bear...with his hair pointing to all points of the compass.

***

[A twist on the Wodehousian "phonus balonus."]

"If you'll cease talking hokus bolonus...."

***

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December 3, 2019 (permalink)


Jonathan Caws-Elwitt

unearths some literary gems.

From "The Man with the Sack," by Margery Allingham:

***

A bewildered-looking bronze lady, clad in a pink marble nightgown, was seated upon a gilt ormolu log, one end of which had been replaced by a blue and white enamel clock face.

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November 29, 2019 (permalink)


Jonathan Caws-Elwitt

unearths some literary gems.

From "Mr. Cork's Secret," by MacDonald Hastings:

[I believe we've had something like this before, from another author.]

***

The dance floor was crowded with sad-looking people in tinsel hats. Clouds of balloons floated down from the ceiling, and the diners who were left behind at their tables solemnly amused themselves blowing out paper tubes with feathers on the end and making shrill blasts with wooden whistles. The English, in their way, were having a Gala Night.

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November 26, 2019 (permalink)


Jonathan Caws-Elwitt

unearths some literary gems.

From "The Top Comes Off," by Erle Stanley Gardner:

[This is one of those proto-Mason stories about lawyer Ken Corning and his assistant, Helen Vail.]

***

"What name are you registered under?"

"Bess and Edna Seaton," she said. "The room's five-thirty-six."

"Which is Bess and which Edna?" asked Corning.

"Be your age!" she said, and hung up.

[A little later.]

Helen Vail grinned at him. "I came to tell you," she said, "that I'm going to be Bess. We tossed up for it."

[And is it just me, or does the "Be your age!" reaction raise more questions than it answers? (It certainly doesn't answer "Which is Bess and which Edna?"--which I guess, prior to the coin toss, is an unanswerable Schrodingerian question.) Now, to me, "Which is Bess and which Edna?" seems not only like a reasonable question but one to which the answer might be important for Corning to know. However, we're told that Corning grins after Helen hangs up on him, so I feel there's a joke I'm not in on. Tangentially, I'd like to note that Edna is a funny name; as supporting evidence I offer Woody Allen's "The Cartesian dictum might better be expressed, 'Hey, there goes Edna with a saxophone!'"]

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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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