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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July 10, 2020 (permalink)


Jonathan Caws-Elwitt

unearths some literary gems.

From Fall Over Cliff, by Josephine Bell:

***
The audience rustled and coughed, and looked about to see which of its members was the most anxious to ask Sir Arthur a question. But...the embarrassing fact became evident that no one had anything at all to say. The Friends of Health looked at one another during a silence that developed through suspense into a kind of terror.

***
The young man in the book seemed to have no pursuit in life but that of his own soul, and as this was obviously a very small and anaemic thing, it was not surprising that it constantly eluded him.

***
An idea that had just come to him began to unfold and expand itself like a large glittering balloon. It billowed and sank, rose again and tightened, until, reaching its full magnificence, it took to the air and sailed up and away, with David hanging on to it, breathless but triumphant.
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July 7, 2020 (permalink)


Jonathan Caws-Elwitt

unearths some literary gems.

From A Virgin on the Rocks, by Michael Butterworth:

***
The man allowed his monocle to fall, more or less of its own accord, to the full extent of its ribbon, where it swung, pendulum-wise, at the end of its moiré ribbon, till the law of Newton and gravity took over.

***
"What I possess...is the characteristic of the Complete Artist: I will do anything for money."

***
[This pedestrian passage presented my mind's eye with a fanciful--and much improved, imho--image, until I realized that "rowing" here meant quarreling, and not oaring. I'd been imagining one of those romantic boating picnics taken to the next level!]

Sanson and his wife were still rowing, as they had been continually since halfway through the expensive dinner that had been her birthday treat.

***
"With that kind of dough, he can pull up the drawbridge, lower the portcullis, shut himself in his ivory tower and cock a snook at the world. Or...he could buy himself a paradise island in the South Seas and cock his snook from there."
***
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July 3, 2020 (permalink)


Jonathan Caws-Elwitt

unearths some literary gems.

From Conduct of a Member, by Val Gielgud:

***
Sir Giles found the greatest difficulty in believing his eyes. This was true to the extent that one of his contact-lenses burst from its socket and skittered by way of the opened Book on to the carpet.

[I see this passage as a sort of update of monocles and pincenez that jump out of place with astonishment; the book is from 1967. Interestingly, though, there is a different character in the story (see below) who actually wears a monocle.]

***
"I didn't say a thing," complained Humphrey.
"Your face shouted, dear boy."

***
Marmaduke Greville-Smith, the only actor in the Club...was popularly supposed to have been elected by mistake for someone else of the same name.

***
The drawling voice which, together with his eyeglass, had earned him a quite false reputation for sophisticated mannery-of-the-world.
***
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June 30, 2020 (permalink)


Jonathan Caws-Elwitt

unearths some literary gems.

From Mr. Pinkerton at the Old Angel, by David Frome:

***
"Pamela Gwendoylyn Watkins, dau. of Sir Wathen Watkins Watkins."

***
[I didn't know (though Hilary did) that Rye's crooked chimney, as replicated in Tilling, really exists! However, you'll note that the claim below runs directly contrary to Benson's premise. The present book was published in 1939, whereas Benson, I see, was giving his version ("The expert artist would draw it rather more crooked than it really was...") at least as early as 1922.]

The little man stopped short by the house with the crooked chimney that everybody who paints comes to Rye to paint, they say because it is impossible to get the chimney any crookeder than it already is.

***
[Pathetic Fallacy dept., Seat-of-Trousers div.]

He shot out into the room on the surprised seat of his trousers with something of a crash.

***
["Throat" Is Too Vague dept.]

He stood there in the dark, his heart precisely where his epiglottis normally was.

***
[I never realized that a devil's advocate has to look right!]

He realized that as Devil's Advocate he cut a rather sorry figure, sitting up against the cold head of his bed, the covers drawn up to his chin.

***
Catching the image of himself in the mirror over the mantelpiece, he felt sure for the first time of the precise appearance of a whited sepulchre.

***
Mr. Pinkerton took an enormous breath of relief, or rather a breath of enormous relief.
***

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June 26, 2020 (permalink)


Jonathan Caws-Elwitt

unearths some literary gems.

From The Cursed Canoe, by Frankie Bow:

***

[Turnabout Is Fair Play dept.]
"Ma, the Blarney Stone would kiss Molly if it could!" [I.e., Molly is such a liar that she could teach the Blarney Stone a thing or two.]

#blarney stone
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June 23, 2020 (permalink)


Jonathan Caws-Elwitt

unearths some literary gems.

From Swiss Family Manhattan, by Christopher Morley:

***
Although so young, Otto was a persistent arguer; he rarely assented without reservation to anything his brother said, and so often began his sentences with "Yes, but"--which he pronounced Yebbut--that the word had become his nickname.

***
"Dictate to me!" she cried at last. "I don't mind dying if I can take dictation."

***
[Mannequin dept.]
Like birds of paradise rich millinery idols perched in caves of glass, looked out in a bright fixity of simper.

***
I was no longer just the perplexed father of a castaway family and the conscientious breadwinner. I was a thoughtwinner.

***
[Things pick up when we meet a Jeremy Edwards female protagonist type called Gazelle(!). (I thought there might be a Giselle in Swiss Family Robinson, which this would be meant as a play on, but I found no evidence of that, so I think "Gazelle" is just pure whimsical aptness.)]

"I am usually the most conventional of men, but circumstances very extraordinary--"
"That's the kind of circumstances I like."

***
[Instead of messages in bottles...]

"So I considered," she said, "that in such an emergency it was more than ever desirable for us to get in touch with the more thoughtful class of the inhabitants. I could think of no more certain way of doing so than by throwing out some of your index-cards."

***
"O noble hyperbole, said I (addressing the Empire State Building), I will be worthy of thee!
[N.B. The parenthetical there is Morley's, not mine.]

***
It boasted "the largest Little Theatre in the world."

***
"Voltaire at Ferney, like an electric refrigerator secreting his crystalline cubes of clear reason!"

***
Congenially squeezed into Gazelle's yellow car, the Scrambled Egg, we three drove downtown to the address given us.

***
[Living Punctuation dept.]
The rising fragrance of Gretchen's admirable grilled kidneys or veal cutlets broiled in Gruyère put a period to my application. [I.e., his work came to a full stop.]

***
That is what a philosopher should be, a windshield wiper for humanity.
***

[Bonus: The nickname "Moonlight Saving," borne by a minor character who comes to life after dark.]

[Incidentally, I could find no literary evidence of those two dedicatees whom Morley calls "Practitioners of Laughter." Maybe he meant it literally, and they were professional first-night claquers!]

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June 19, 2020 (permalink)


Jonathan Caws-Elwitt

unearths some literary gems.

Where's the emphasis?
1. Front cover: "MR. PINKERTON AGAIN/!/" (Only the exclamation point is italicized.)
2. "Half-title" page: "Mr. Pinkerton Again!" (Nothing is italicized.)
3. Title page: "/Mr. Pinkerton Again!/" (Entire subtitle is italicized.)

Also, WHY the emphasis? (Granted, subtitles are sometimes set in italics just for show, or so that they don't feel slighted by being in smaller type.) Why the astonishment? This was book 9 in the series, and at this point (1937) they'd been coming out with great regularity. I'm not sure that anyone would have been surprised at this stage of the game to find that David Frome had written about Mr. Pinkerton AGAIN(!). They might have been more astonished in 1934, when, according to Goodreads, THREE Mr. Pinkerton books were published within the year. However, books 4 through 8 all had Mr. Pinkerton's name in the primary title, so I can understand why they wanted to supplement the Pinkerton-deficient title of #9 with a subtitle that namechecked him. And "Mr. Pinkerton Again!" is more fun than just "A Mr. Pinkerton Book," right? And maybe we're just kind of excited about it.  I suppose it might represent the attitude of Pinkerton's co-star, Humphrey Bull. Bull is the Scotland Yard inspector, and Pinkerton is his old civilian friend who is always popping up innocently but intricately in the midst of some tangled mystery that Bull is investigating. So there may be an implied "[Oh no,] Not" in front of "Mr. Pinkerton Again!"

 

From The Black Envelope, by David Frome:


***
In the cinema people in his position usually took it on the lam. He would gladly have done so too, except that he had no clear notion, really, of what the lam was.

***
[Dr. Johnson Or Just Some Other Dr. Johnson dept.]

"[The Brighton Pavilion is] dreadful, isn't it? Dr. Johnson said it looked to him as if St. Paul's had come to Brighton and pupped."
[...]
"I'm not interested in what your doctors say about anything!" the old lady snapped.

[But there's more! Now, a chapter later, a tour guide is doing his spiel.]

"Sidney [sic] Smith said it looked as if St. Paul's had come to Brighton and..."

[So I did some quotation research on this. Smith is the standard attribution, though I found no evidence of a documented primary source or context for the quip, only people claiming he said it--so he probably didn't. (Incidentally, I also observed that Frome is not the only one who spells Sydney Smith's name wrong.) In any event, I love Frome's sly planting of mutually contradictory attributions among her characters.]

***
It was best to make haste slowly.
[Ah, I see that making haste slowly is a "thing": https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Festina_lente]

***
[And this novel, which is set in Brighton and London, ends with a completely unexpected cameo by a proverbial farmer's daughter! Here Mr. Pinkerton, whose understanding of American idioms is limited to what he's been able to glean from the cinema, is speaking with Andy Read, an American friend, about the future of a fortune hunter, Quentin Sellers, who is now destined to work for a living. Pinkerton is sort of jokingly telling Read to tell Sellers that he's seen a suitable position advertised.]

"And he hasn't got to have any particular training. Why, they need a traveller in portable water softeners..."
Andy Read grinned.
"OK," he said. "OK for Mr. Sellers, that is.--But what does it make the farmer's daughter?"

[And that's the last line of the story! Pinkerton, we are to assume, won't get the "farmer's daughter" allusion because it's presumably an Americanism (and a bit racy for the sheltered Mr. Pinkerton). So we just leave him there puzzling over it!]
***
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June 16, 2020 (permalink)


Jonathan Caws-Elwitt

unearths some literary gems.

From Pandora Lifts the Lid, by Christopher Morley and Don Marquis:

1. The map on the frontispiece shows an evidently fictitious, Janusesque "Thatcher's Island," whose profile includes two symmetrical peninsulas called West Whisker and East Whisker.

2. The book is dedicated to a *room*: "To Room 515, the Traymore"

3. Among the characters are a pair of twins who are "not only twins, but...facsimiles."

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June 12, 2020 (permalink)


Jonathan Caws-Elwitt

unearths some literary gems.

From PRINVEST-London, by Val Gielgud:

***
[I believe this is our second encounter with a French "Mr. Somebody." (I don't think the previous one was from this same author, though I could be wrong.) The genericized gentilhomme in the dialogue below is a rhetorical straw man running a hypothetical correspondence course in hairdressing. And no extra charge for an Uncle Bob!]

"Send five guineas to Monsieur Whatsit, and Bob's your Uncle!"

***
"She gave me the sort of look that novelists call 'withering,' and I thought her nose was going to coincide with her chin."

***
Perhaps later he might make the effort to stroll as far as San Zanipolo....Perhaps he might make his way to one of those other squares....Perhaps he would hire a gondola, and go to sleep. Most likely he would do none of these things. It was enough for Humphrey to know that he could do them if he would.

***
[Eating Someone Else's Hat dept.]
If those two aren't suddenly mortally afraid, thought Pellew, I'll eat George Cartwright's hat.

***
[Yes, the semicolon does help. Nonetheless, I confess I got an accordion-playing dachshund on my first trip through this sentence! (:v>]

He cherished a long-haired dachshund, which never left his side; and would frequently enliven his periods of duty on the bridge by playing gently on an accordion.
***

Bonuses:
"the susurrus of sandals"
a character named Francis Pinecoffin
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June 9, 2020 (permalink)


Jonathan Caws-Elwitt

unearths some literary gems.

From Requiem for a Blonde, by Kelley Roos:

***

[Sure, law-practice-partner-name humor is old hat, but I like the way the "Lenley, Thompson, Dixon and Lenley" gags roll out here.]

"It has something to do with a client of ours..."
"Of ours?"
"Lenley, Thompson, Dixon and Lenley."
"Oh."
[...]
"Are you a good lawyer?" she asked.
"I don't know. Lenley, Thompson, Dixon..."
"And Lenley?"

[A little later]

For the first time in his life he felt stirred to send a post card, perhaps even four, one to each Lenley, one to Thompson, one to Dixon.

***
The party zoomed through the evening and, at one in the morning, it collapsed like a tired tent.

***
[The protagonist is speaking to a mysterious person in a dark corridor.]
"Who is it?"
A voice whispered back. "Elsa Maxwell."
He wasn't certain he had heard correctly. "Who?" he said again.
"Dr. Spock," the whisper said.
Brady laughed. "Anybody else?"
"The Rhythm Boys. Won't you join us?"

***
"What is this, please?"
"The Illumination. We have it every year."
"I don't blame you," Zita said.

***
"Clear your throat, speak up! What? What did you say?"
"Nothing, sir. I was clearing my throat."
[...]
"Where?"
"Menemsha."
"Are you clearing your throat again, Smith?"

***
She seemed...like something out of Ibsen, sensationalized by Elia Kazan.

***
"There's nothing like seeing a man fall into a swimming pool to bring a girl to her senses."
***
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June 5, 2020 (permalink)


Jonathan Caws-Elwitt

unearths some literary gems.

From To Save His Life, by Kelley Roos:

***

"I was reading and watching television and I fell asleep and I dreamed that I was reading and watching television."
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June 2, 2020 (permalink)


Jonathan Caws-Elwitt

unearths some literary gems.

From Double Blackmail, by G. D. H. and Margaret Cole

***
[No sentiment wasted on the minor characters in the final wrap-up.]
What happened to Fanny East and James Arbuthnot history tells not, nor cares.
[Ouch!]
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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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