Image via Wikimedia Commons
My last post was about Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest, a play that apparently isn’t done with me yet.
You will remember that the mystery of Jack Worthing’s birth is revealed in that play’s final moments—Jack turns out to be Ernest Moncrieff, Algy’s elder brother. Happy ending, three marriages, curtain. All the play’s puzzles have been solved.
Except for the matter of dung. We really do need to talk about the dung, Mr. Worthing.
The word worthing has a…
In the greatest English theatrical comedy of the 19th century, a peculiar series of events involving an infant and a handbag are the subject of an 11th-hour confession by one of my favorite literary inventions, a governess named Miss Prism.
There are many reasons to love Miss Prism, among them the fact that in her youth she wrote a three-volume novel. Like all of Oscar Wilde’s creations, she has more than a bit of the playwright in her (Miss Prism is given to saying things like “I speak hort…
Image via Wikimedia Commons
“My husband used to be the concierge,” announces the woman in the window, “but he’s dead. Now I’m the concierge.” Movie fans will recognize the moment in Mel Brooks’s The Producers when our hapless protagonists approach the residence of the furtive ex-Nazi and pigeon fancier Franz Liebkind, author of the soon-to-be immortal musical “Springtime for Hitler.”
Liebkind’s apartment building is nothing special. It doesn’t have anything as glamorous as a concierge, just an u…
Thomas Watson, the Puritan
(via Wikimedia Commons)
When it comes to innovations in language, give me a Puritan. Not a regressive, arch-conservative type, whose pleasures might be in the way things allegedly once were and forever should be, but a linguistically fun-loving fellow with buckled shoes and a closet full of black.
Poking around in Perry Miller’s classic anthology, The American Puritans, one might come upon many a tasty morsel of linguistic innovation.
To take just one example, in the M…
Erin Hamlin made Olympic history as the first American to medal in singles luge.
(AP Photo/Morry Gash)
The manufactured snow has barely melted at the Sochi Winter Olympics, but I’ll take a moment to reflect on what I thought was the rise of the verb to medal, meaning of course to win gold, silver, or bronze in Olympic competition.
If you’re an Olympic athlete, you want to medal. You want to medal even more than you want to win a medal. If you’re covering the Olympics, you want to use the verb t…
Ammelaphus imberbis, formerly Tragelaphus imberbis, the lesser kudu
(Image via Wikimedia)
Kudos: the Greek word κῦδος means, according to the OED, “praise or renown,” implying that the person who possesses that quality has done something to merit it.
On the rare occasion when I have to say it out loud, I find myself taking pains to pronounce the second syllable so that it rhymes not with nose but with MS-DOS. That reference gives you an idea how long it’s been since I’ve said it aloud.
“The Battle of Jericho,” Gustave Doré
“And the Canaanites slew the Amirites, because they had done evil in the name of linguistic brevity.”
That punishing thought may not actually show up in any of the Biblical accounts, but in recent months the amirites have invaded my social media. My first reaction (I’d been looking at a lot of Italian librettos recently) was that an amirite was some Italian or Latin second-person plural I didn’t get. But of course it isn’t, it’s just am I right reduced to …
Niagara Falls this month (Shaheen Karolia, via Flicker)
Unless you’re a specialist in such things, there’s no use pretending you really know what a polar vortex is. I know I don’t. I’m just sitting here, reasonably cold, and watching most of the rest of the Eastern United States being unreasonably cold.
It doesn’t help all that much to call it, as some do, an arctic cyclone or a snow pig (apparently due to the shape of the storm’s formation as seen from above). Vortex is the word that’s sticki…
Star cluster in the constellation Auriga, courtesy ESA/Hubble & NASA
It’s a new year. You’re a writer. The stars are in the heavens, and you’re not. Fortunately, like all horoscopes, this one is completely reliable. Pencils ready?
Aries. The ram is a little writing bulldozer this month. Open the laptop and spill. You can clean up the mess later (you’ll have to), but it’s better than another night of eggnog and Netflix. It’s a new year. Get the prose going.
Taurus. Taurines, time for some cl…
When (and why) did we begin saying—earnestly, everywhere—“I’ve got your back”? The phrase seems to pop up in conversations around me at least once a day, though that might be partly a matter of my working in higher ed, where backs seem to be unnaturally in need of protection.
I’ve seen the expression in New York subway ads. It pops up on sitcoms. On an episode of The Big Bang Theory, Sheldon promises to have Leonard’s back in the pursuit of a big gift for scientific equipment (wealthy widow, …