Saving Fubsy from Lexicographical Caliginosity

Cousin Stephen, you will never be a saint. Isle of saints. You were awfully holy, weren’t you? You prayed to the Blessed Virgin that you might not have a red nose. You prayed to the devil in Serpentine avenue that the fubsy widow in front might lift her clothes still more from the wet street. O si, certo! Sell your soul for that, do, dyed rags … (more–>)

Dictionaries: Concise, Compact, and dacoit

Dacoit: noun; one of a class of criminals in India and Burma who rob and murder in roving gangs. A member of a band of armed robbers in India or Burma. A bandit. Origin: Hindi and Urdu. I love dictionaries. I like opening them up to a random page and just reading, discovering words and uses that I didn’t know. I love finding origins of words … (more–>)

The Weird World of Plotto

I came across Plotto a few years back – references to it in other works, rather than the actual book. it sounded strange, complex and wildly over-reaching. I couldn’t find one – it was long out of print. It wasn’t until I got my own copy that I realized how really odd, clumsy – and delightful – it is. Plotto was first published in 1928, and … (more–>)

These Poolish Things…

Poolish. Levain. Banneton. Autolyse. Retardation. Lactobaccilli. Bassinage. Windowpane test. Crumb. Batard. Barm. A new vocabulary is building in me, one that brings the lore of breadmaking, the etymology of the loaf to my conversation.* It’s a necessary vocabulary, if one wants to fully understand the techniques and technology of baking bread. Knowing the names of things gives one power. It’s also a bit like being welcomed into … (more–>)

The Fretful Porpentine

Like quills upon the fretful porpentine. That phrase just makes the modern reader stop and wonder. What, you ask yourself, is a porpentine? And why is it fretful? We never learn, although later interpreters would knowingly tell us a porpentine is a porcupine in today’s argot. Porcupine itself dervices from the Old or Middle French term, “porc espin” or spined pig. Which it isn’t – it’s … (more–>)

The Circuitous Path from Bulge to Budget

[youtube=] If tinkers may have leave to live, And bear the sow-skin budget, Then my account I well may, give, And in the stocks avouch it. Autolycus in The Winter’s Tale,  Act IV, Sc. III, Shakespeare These lines got me thinking about the town’s finances. Sow-skin budget? What does that mean? And how does that relate to the financial plan for the coming year staff is preparing … (more–>)

Words, words, words

Writing before the arrival of the internet*, Bob Blackburn commented on the nature of exchange on then-prevalent BBS (Bulletin Board Systems), words that could as easily be written today about the internet: “…the BBS medium reveals not only a widespread inability to use English as a means of communication but also a widespread ignorance of that inability, and, in consequence, a lack of interest in doing … (more–>)

1927: Ads, Layout and Typography

As promised, here are the first 20 scans of the ads from the 1927 North American Almanac I recently mentioned. If there is interest, I’ll do another set later this week. There are probably another 40 or 50 pages of ads in the book. I think these ads give us a wonderful window into the daily, household life of the time, into cultural views and medical … (more–>)

Why Spelling Matters

Sometimes I despair when I surf through the social media. Technology has empowered everyone to be able to comment, to post their stories, to share their opinion. Yet it has not enabled their ability to compose a sentence, or to spell the words correctly. It has not made us better grammarians, better spellers. And in my despair, I’m not alone. Others take exception to the general … (more–>)

Should Latin Return to Ontario Schools?

When I was a young lad, all I ever wanted to be was a paleontologist. Dinosaurs were the most important thing in my life until around age 14 or 15. That’s when I barely scraped through my high-school Latin course. After that, my interests shifted to other, more attainable career goals. Basic Latin was, at least back then, required for a career in paleontology. Greek, too*. … (more–>)

Archy and Mehitabel

I can’t recall exactly how old I was when I first cracked open Don Marquis’s book, archy and mehitabel, sitting there among the other books in the basement, black spined, stiff, yellowing pages.  That old book smell. Perhaps I was 11 or 12, but not much older, because we moved from that house in the summer after my 12th birthday. But I still remember it well.* … (more–>)

The Thousand and One Nights

I had no idea it was this sexy. The Thousand Nights and One Nights, aka The Arabian Nights, aka The Thousand and One Nights – it’s really wonderful, steamy stuff. Every tale is a cliffhanger and you keep wanting to read just one more to see how it turns out. Of course, that was the point of the collection.* The backstory is rather complicated, but to … (more–>)

Kill the Apostrophe? Rubbish! Keep it!

A site has popped up with one of the stupidest ideas about English I’ve read in the past decade or two. It’s called Kill the Apostrophe. Subtle. At first, I thought it was a joke, a spoof. After all, how can one realistically get rid of perhaps the most significant element of punctuation based on the rantings of a website lunatic? And some of the counterpoint … (more–>)

Putdownable books?

A recent article in The Independent said that J.K. Rowling’s new book and the abysmally-written 50 Shades of Grey were among the books most put down by readers as unfinishable. Putdownable. A description no author or publisher relishes. They joined titles like Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, Ulysses, Lord of the Rings, Moby Dick, Atlas Shrugged and Catch 22 as books readers gave up the struggle … (more–>)

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