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.

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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September 13, 2019 (permalink)


Jonathan Caws-Elwitt

unearths some literary gems.

From Alphabet Juice, by Roy Blount, Jr.:
***

'Stringing English together is like rewiring an old house.'

***

[Re. the word "logocentric"]

'What other kind of too-narrow focus provides... a diagnostic name for itself? If you're ethnocentric, does your culture include a folk dance acknowledging the limitations of your outlook? Is there a beeper that goes off when you get too technocentric?'

***

[Midway through this book that is primarily comprised of digressions, Blount gets to the end of an entry entitled "Memorabilia" and says] 'There might be a way to drag the Latin /mirabile dictu/, "marvelous to say," in here, especially since it might lead us into "too marvelous for words" and other philological lyrics by Johnny Mercer--but we've got to move along, if this book is going to have any narrative drive.'

***

'Minimalism:

'A little of it goes a long way.'

***

[I especially recommend pp. 204-208, about names.]

***

[Blount's priceless encapsulation of a bit of classical absurdity] 

'Aristotle maintained that a falling body accelerated because it became more jubilant as it found itself nearer home.'

***

[Apparently the word ptarmigan is spelled thus because scholars with Greek on the brain mistook the origin of the Scots Gaelic word from which the bird's name actually derived. Says Blount, the ptarmigan] 'lives in cold climes and mostly shuffles or flutters around. It isn't putting on neoclassical airs.'

***

[Blount claims that the letter Q, in the Braggadocio typeface], 'looks like a South Park character.'

***

'De Quincey says that Wordsworth would grow impatient when anyone else spoke of mountains.'

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September 10, 2019 (permalink)


Jonathan Caws-Elwitt

unearths some literary gems.

From The Great Southern Mystery, by G. D. H. and Margaret Cole:

***

[I suspect this pun was unintentional.]

The most startling thing so far about the entire affair was the finding of the sovereigns in the dead man's mouth.... At present, Arkwright could make neither head or tail of it.

***

"You could get pots and pots of money from the Daily Whatever it is."

***

[Bonus #1: Tennis-playing minor characters nicknamed Bunch and Lumps.]

[Bonus #2: Two old clubmen who are colossal bores; each warns the journalist seeking them out that the other is a colossal bore.]

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September 6, 2019 (permalink)


Jonathan Caws-Elwitt

unearths some literary gems.

From Mr. Pinkerton Grows a Beard, by David Frome:

***

He made a sharp turn to the right and went rapidly along until he came to the Swedenborgian Reading Room. He opened the door, put on an air that he felt might be supposed to be Swedenborgian, nodded to the middle-aged man in charge, and settled down at a reading table.

***

In the rear of the flat he could hear Mr. Gwatley-Wells singing loudly about an old spinning wheel, accompanying a hand organ playing down in the road below. Now and then as the organist's arm wearied Mr. Gwatley-Wells would get ahead, and would hold the note powerfully until the music caught up with him.

[That's just what I would do!]

***

"I trust Mr. Gwatley-Wells has not got himself into any unusual difficulty?"

Not knowing the nature of Mr. Gwatley-Wells's normal difficulties, Bull shook his head.

***

[The protagonist and another character have been joking about whether she'll "compromise" him if they're seen alone together in a hotel restaurant.]

They went in the hotel and sat down in a corner in the dining room between two large gilt-framed pier glasses set at right angles.

Molly Cameron looked in them and smiled. "That makes so many of us that it must be all right," she said.

***

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September 3, 2019 (permalink)


Jonathan Caws-Elwitt

unearths some literary gems.

From Murder by the Book, by Jennifer Rowe:

***

The phone rang forlornly, as though it had been ringing for some time and had given up hope of ever being answered.

***

"I don't give a continental what Malcolm thinks, I can tell you!"

[Not giving a continental was a new one on me, so I did some research. What follows is some info from the OED, in case you also need to know more about not giving continentals.]

"Used as a depreciatory epithet (originally with reference to currency). (Cf. sense  B. 2b below.*) U.S. colloquial."

*"A currency note issued by the Continental Congress during the war; the depreciation of which afterwards gave rise to the phrases not worth a continental and not to care (or give) a continental. orig. U.S."

1851   Knickerbocker 37 554   That clock you sold me ain't worth a continental cuss.

1874   E. Eggleston Circuit Rider (1903) 148   I tole him as how I didn't keer three continental derns fer his whole band.

1890   Amer. Notes & Queries 5 169   ‘A Tinker's Dam’ is equivalent to the expression, ‘A Continental Damn’.

[Interestingly, the Jennifer Rowe books are set in Australia (and are as recent as ~30 years ago).]

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August 30, 2019 (permalink)


Jonathan Caws-Elwitt

unearths some literary gems.

From Jeeves and the King of Clubs, by Ben Schott:

***

I knew for a fact that the dinner jacket in which he was currently attired had been bespoken on Savile Row, no less, for I was with him at its bespeaking.

***

And here he was, in the flesh, leaning against my mantelpiece like an elongated exclamation mark.

***

He gave me a look of pure hatred; the kind of look a cat might give having been prematurely let out of a bag.

***

As before, Lord MacAuslan was elongated against a mantelpiece like a prime example of Euclidean geometry.

***

Lord MacAuslan shot me a knowing look. For want of anything better to do, I shot one right back.

***

The Colonel harrumphed, a noise I had hitherto encountered only in novels.

***

Not only was the lark on the wing and the snail on the thorn--comme par ordinaire--but as far as the eye could see every other member of the animal kingdom was suitably conjoined with its appropriate poetical appurtenance.

***

She had the no-nonsense look of one who, when the mood took her, was prepared to indulge a certain amount of nonsense.

***

"I suppose [flying a plane is] devilishly complicated?"

"Can you drive a car?"

"I can. Is it much like driving a car?"

"Not really, now I think about it."

***

"That Vandyke of his follows you round the room like the eyes in an oil painting."

***

Aunt Dahlia's floral melange resembled nothing less than a crayon scrawl of a scarecrow's funeral drawn by an insolent child.

***

Lambert Lyall is one of those curious old shops even Dickens would have called Dickensian.

***

As we descended to the front door, I was assailed by a qualm, assuming such things are sold to the public in the singular.

***

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August 27, 2019 (permalink)


Jonathan Caws-Elwitt

unearths some literary gems.

From Dr. Tancred Begins, by G. D. H. & Margaret Cole:

***

"No, don't you get on your high horse, and tell me all over again to mind my own business. I shan't: so it's no use. It's the last thing I ever shall mind."

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August 23, 2019 (permalink)


Jonathan Caws-Elwitt

unearths some literary gems.

From Lucia on Holiday, by Guy Fraser-Sampson:

***

[Sandwiches Are Funny, and Egg Sandwiches Are Especially Funny dept.]

Elizabeth, on the other hand, had fallen into the footwell and become hopelessly entangled with a travelling rug, some magazines, a Thermos flask and several egg sandwiches.

***

The Contessa di Alto-Brandisci...flowed graciously around the room as though on well-oiled castors.

***

[My favorite passage in the book!]

Georgie said "Oh" in a very pursed-up-mouth sort of way, until he caught sight of himself in a faded gilt mirror. Realising that his expression must seem somewhat strange, he experimented with trying to make it look like the natural result of needing to pronounce a particular word, but then found that he could not think of a single one which seemed appropriate. So, he slowly adjusted his mouth back to its normal shape, having spent several seconds pursing and unpursing his lips, looking rather like a pensive goldfish, as Olga unkindly said later.

***

Amelia, Contessa di Faraglione, emerged through the French windows and greeted them without any unnecessary show of emotion such as might disturb her eye-glass.

***

"The very surroundings inspire an almost tangible feeling in one of enduring beauty, don't they?...."

She drew a deep, quavering breath as though inhaling copious amounts of enduring beauty and testing its perfume.

***

He practised crossing his legs for a while in the mirror, and found that if he concentrated really hard he could nonchalantly shoot his cuff at the same time as he straightened the crease on his knee.

***

"Why yes, of course, so he is," Georgie concurred. He crossed his legs and shot out his cuffs perfectly at the same time, and was disappointed that nobody appeared to notice.

***

"Let's just say I have a contingency plan."

She giggled to herself, and Georgie said, "Oh, aren't you wonderful?" in a very gratifying fashion, so gratifying in fact that, just for a fleeting moment, she almost felt guilty that she didn't actually have a contingency plan at all.

***

He sat down but was so agitated that he forgot to check his trouser crease as he crossed his legs.

[There is a least one more instance of Georgie trouser-crease business--and I love the Georgie trouser-crease business--but at this point it's already on the edge of belabored, imho (a shortcoming--or rather, since it's too much rather than too little, a "tallgoing"?--of the book in many other areas as well), so this is the last one I'll reproduce.]

***

At this point Major Flint usually said "Now, now" and if he found that did not answer, as generally it did not...then tried "There, there."

***

She could hardly say "How you all work me so" again quite so soon, so she contented herself with a sad little shake of the head.

***

Fortunately, as she grew angrier she lapsed spontaneously into Swiss-German, a language which Miss Flowers understood hardly at all and which seemed to consist largely of umlauts with a verb at the end every now and then.

***

Georgie stopped to cast an expert eye over the docking operations, as befitted a man who owned a yachting cap and had once stayed in a hotel in Folkestone.

***

Shouts of welcome quickly greeted Olga from her friends, who seemed mostly to be American, and were introduced to Georgie in a bewildering welter of middle initials.

***

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August 20, 2019 (permalink)


Jonathan Caws-Elwitt

unearths some literary gems.

From Poison in the Garden Suburb, by G. D. H. & Margaret Cole:

***

"Damask cheek!" said Miss Lydia, in a tone which left it uncertain whether the remark was intended as a repetition or an expletive.

***

[Hypothetical Lorgnettes dept.:]

The congregation...was not the kind which possesses lorgnettes; but if there had been lorgnettes available, one felt that at least fifty indignant pairs would have been turned upon Miss Lydia.

***

The little man made a gesture which seemed to indicate an almost violent lack of interest.

***

"Do you mean to tell me that that--Helen of Troy is married to that little sandy-haired fellow who knows all about something or other...?"

***

"I'd be glad if you'd tell me, ma'am, just what it was you yourself saw, without bothering about any one else. And be as quick as you can please; we've no time to waste."

This was exactly what Mrs. Fremantle was most unwilling to do.

***

Mr. Cayley had asked her at what time the lecture was going to start, and whether the lecturer was as much of a crank as the rest of them.

***

"Fellowship," said Miss Millicent..., "is heaven, and lack of fellowship is hell." And, to point the reference, she had hand-painted several copies of this sentiment in Gothic letters, and pinned them up at intervals round the room, so that, unless you kept your eyes firmly glued to your food, you must look either at the other residents or at an adjuration to commit fellowship with them.

***

"At any rate," she said with finality, "he doesn't want to be a psycho-analyst, and that's something at least."

***

"Ugh!" said the telephone disgustedly.

***

[Quantification dept.]

"You don't think then," said Wilson, mentally taking thirty per cent. off this somewhat coloured view, "that he did this thing?"

***

[Bonus: Mrs. Fremantle has a chauffer named Twaddle.]

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August 16, 2019 (permalink)


Jonathan Caws-Elwitt

unearths some literary gems.

From Murder as a Fine Art, by Carol Carnac:

***

The Minister's room was hung with works by obscure contemporary painters....The typists called them "the Minister's funnies."

***

"Edwin Pompfret....He spells his name with a p in the middle."

[And, we learn, Pompfret is indeed highly pomp-ous, a point the author takes pains to belabor.]

***

"If Puddletown-in-the-Pool wanted an exhibition of modern art, they could still have it."

***

"I'm only an average size in fools, not an outsize."

***

"There's such a thing as 'getting religion.' I maintain there's a similar variation from the norm when a man 'gets art.'"

***

Blackwell's "unk" (a term he had recently picked up which denoted his subconscious)....

***

"And he'd got a thing about his marble namesake, you know."

"I don't care if he'd got twenty things," said Michael.

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August 13, 2019 (permalink)


Jonathan Caws-Elwitt

unearths some literary gems.

Bill Nye snippets:

***

I leave those to gloat who are in the gloat business.

***

I had a large brown flower-pot once that originally held the germ of a calla lily. This lily emerged from the soil with the light of immortality in its eye. It got up to where we began to be attached to it, and then it died. Then we put a plant in its place which was given us by a friend. I do not remember now what this plant was called, but I know it was sent to us wrapped up in a piece of moist brown paper, and half an hour later a dray drove up to the house with the name of the plant itself. In the summer it required very little care, and in the winter I would cover the little thing up with its name, and it would be safe till spring. One evening we had a free-for-all musicale at my house, and a corpulent friend of mine tried to climb it, and it died. (Tried to climb the plant, not the musicale.)

***

The comet is a kind of astronomical parody on the planet.

[...]

Astronomers say that the tails of all comets are turned from the sun. I do not know why they do this, whether it is etiquette among them or just a mere habit.

***

Even bonnets seem to be less grotesque this season than heretofore, although the high, startled bonnet, the bonnet that may be characterized as the excelsior bonnet, is still retained by some, though how it is retained has always been a mystery to me.

[...]

Straw hats will be chased down the streets this spring by the same gentlemen who chased them last spring, and in some instances the same hats will be used. Shade trees will be worn a little lower this summer, and will therefore succeed in wiping off a larger crop of plug hats, it is hoped.

***

BONUS: In a book co-authored with Nye, James Whitcomb Riley speaks in a poem of "the stars like printed asterisks—."

Also: Though I reproduce no examples here, Nye seems to rely on "Etruscan" as a funny word.

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August 9, 2019 (permalink)


Jonathan Caws-Elwitt

unearths some literary gems.

From The Affair of the Thirty-Nine Cufflinks, by James Anderson:

***

Among the projects they came up with were tortoise farming in North Wales, a speech training school for parrots and a company producing reconditioned pencils from the glued-together stubs of old ones.

***

"It's not as though anybody could have mistaken it for something else, even in the dark. A tube of toothpaste doesn't feel like anything except a tube of toothpaste."

***

[Bonus: A jolly old woman who directs her solicitor to have her heirs sing "She'll Be Coming 'Round the Mountain" at the reading of her will--and who subsequently indulges in some more "Coming 'Round the Mountain" business as a ghost!]

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August 6, 2019 (permalink)


Jonathan Caws-Elwitt

unearths some literary gems.

From The Affair of the Bloodstained Egg Cosy, by James Anderson:

***

Gerry popped out like an indignant cork.

***

[A lecture on the estate's history is joined in progress and interrupted. This is ALL we get of this anecdote!]

Deveraux crossed to the centre of the room, just as Lady Burford said: "...and after that episode, I need hardly add, Sam Johnson was never invited to Alderley again."

***

Richard said: "Great Scott!"

Lady Burford murmured weakly: "I don't believe it."

Hiram Peabody exclaimed: "Jumping jehosaphat!"

The monocle dropped from Algy Fotheringay's eye.

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