Genealogy and Porn

Two disparate topics, genealogy and porn, appeared together in a Time magazine article and yanked me away from researching my ancestors: a thrice-married great aunt, a well-known Kansas historian-journalist, and a Scottish boy who was kidnapped, transported in a ship’s hold, and sold as a slave to an East Coast family.

Teased by the magazine’s coupling, I wondered, what the strange bedfellows of genealogy and porn had to do with each other.Here it is: according to an ABC News study, porn sites are the most visited websites, with genealogy a distant second.

We all have a sense of what porn is, right? Some kind of pictorial or written depiction that aims to stimulate erotic rather than aesthetic feelings. And the effects? I like  what one author said in The New York Review of Books: “No literary genre can match pornography for initial excitement and fast-arriving boredom.”

Since I don’t read or watch porn, I can’t attest to its excitement or boredom, but I can attest to the continuing excitement and fascination of doing genealogy. Pornography may have a stranglehold on number one, but isn’t it grand that genealogy beats out every other topic.

I’ve accumulated many frequent flyer miles on multiple digital destinations: like Ancestry, Family Search, Cyndi’s List, and my local favorite, Ferndale Genies.

Never mind that sixty-years separated my initial spark of interest from my current serious pursuit. My interest began in the eighth grade, when Mr. Callaway, our social studies teacher, asked us to interview a grandparent and construct a simple family tree.

After school, I biked to my grandmother’s house, a few blocks away, where she lived with her two sisters, Anna and Jess. None of them, Louise (my grandmother, nicknamed Louie), great aunts Anna or Jess had married, each pursuing separate careers in different parts of California, and returning to the family home post-retirement.

I showed Gramma the family tree chart. She began to jot down birth and death dates for her parents, her two brothers, and her five sisters. Then, I interrupted her.

“Where were you born? What about the old, old people before you?”

“I was born in Louisville, Kansas in 1878. On Halloween, you know that,” she said, arising from her squishy, floral armchair, and disappearing into the back bedroom. She returned with a book and several typewritten pages.

“This book’s about Kansas. It was written by Aunt Carrie’s husband. We have a writer in the family,” she said, with proud emphasis on that last pronouncement.

I thumbed through the book. I was twelve and not particularly interested in history, but I did remember the author’s name: Noble L. Prentis. Then she handed me the typed pages which had lists of people, including a reference to a Scottish boy named Hugh who was kidnapped and brought to America. “I’m going to keep these items safe,” she said, “but you can have them someday.”

Next, I talked to Aunt Anna who had been a World War I nurse on the front lines in France. She showed me the journal she’d kept. “It’s yours when I die.”

I did not see any of these materials when the three sisters died and neither did my mother, Louie’s only daughter. In a sense, their disappearance was of no consequence then. Genealogical pursuits were pushed aside by the advancement of my life: college, marriage, raising seven children, and a career. Occasionally I’d fill in the blanks in my pedigree chart, the standard family tree form that genealogists use, but not until I was closer to the ages to Louie, Anna, and Jess had been, did I take up the subject with unfettered zeal.

And really, my genealogical work has been somewhat lackluster.

Genealogy—focusing on entering data on a pedigree chart—is the backbone needed for the broader subject of family history. I chase down the facts, but I’m more interested in stories, and the questions the biographic facts generate.

Did the thrice-married woman, known to me as “Aunt Paralee” discontinue the use of her middle name, “Lively,”  when she married Harold Waddle, Sr, at turns a Hollywood stunt actor, a private detective, and the guy who played Santa Claus to his grandkids and their cousins? Paralee was a chatty, animated person, the party girl of the eight children.

Paralee’s reputation included being a poor handler of money, which may explain why she extracted the remaining money from her sister Louie’s bank account shortly after my gramma’s death. My mother refused to speak to her and was furious when I visited Paralee in the hospital when she was dying.

But, I liked Aunt Paralee—she had spunk—and years later I think of her with gratitude. She passed those typewritten pages I’d seen as an eighth-grader along to her grandson Bill. He and I have reconnected, shared information, and rejoiced in our heritage. Those notes allowed me to find out more about the kidnapped kid, Hugh Fraser. His story is recounted in a slender reprinted book The Fraser Clan in America (1915) by Deirdre Duff Johnson:

“More than two hundred years ago one morning, there walked along the streets of Paisley, Scotland, a small boy of seven years on his way to school. He was accosted by two men wearing long cloaks. They invited him to go with them to buy candy…One of the men picked him up and carried him along under his long cloak. The next thing the boy remembered he was on board a ship, seasick, homesick and heartsick bound for an unknown port. That little boy was Hugh Fraser, your ancestor and mine…Arriving at last in America…with the rest of the kidnapped crew, he was sold…Hugh Fraser was fortunate in falling into the hands of a humane man who was kind to him. When he arrived at the age of twenty-one, he married his master’s daughter Miss Peggy Cummins. Like Jacob of old he had served fourteen years for the love of his youth.”

I sometimes wonder why I research this family line. I am not biologically related to the Frasers and their descendants. I was adopted. My mother was not genetically related to them. She was adopted.

Still, their stories are my stories, my identity shaped, I believe, more by my familial connection than my genetic one and I’m happy to be associated with the second most visited category of websites rather than the most popular.

Exit Stage Front and Center: Brian Doyle

One of my favorite writers died recently—Brian Doyle: a left-leaning story grabbing unapologetic Roman Catholic and one heck of a mentoring inspiration to students, writers and the readers who loved his work.

Did you notice that there were no commas in that post-colon, descriptive paean? Doyle had a habit of running words together, defying grammar’s guidance with great craft and lyricism, so I copied him per Oscar Wilde’s observation— “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery that mediocrity can pay to greatness.”

Doyle thought novels were like long dreams in which you ” take an idea out for a walk and the characters take over and you really run along behind them, typing as fast as you can.” After his first novel, Mink River (was published in 2010, his brother sent him a page full of commas and the note: “You might want to learn to use these.”

If you’ve ever heard Brian speak—and I did at one of the Chuckanut Writers Conferences—you know that a podium could not contain him. He moved across a stage, engaging his audience with relentless charm, boundless energy, and a rare degree of empathy.

He died of what he called a ‘big honking brain tumor,” diagnosed last November. There is more information in the obituaries listed below, but for now, I’d like to leave you with Doyle’s Last Prayer and the suggestion that you go to your local independent bookstore or library and buy Mink River, Ben Laden’s Bald Spot, The Wet Engine, Martin, Marten, or his newest, The Adventures of John Carson in Several Quarters of the World: a novel of Robert Louis Stevenson.

Last Prayer by Brian Doyle

Dear Coherent Mercy, Thanks. Best life ever. Personally, I never thought a cool woman would come close to understanding me, let alone understanding me but liking me anyway, but that happened!

And You and I both remember that doctor in Boston saying polite but businesslike that we could not have children but then came three children fast and furious! And no man ever had better friends, and no man ever had a happier childhood and wilder brothers and a sweeter sister, and I was that rare guy who not only loved but liked his parents and loved sitting and drinking tea and listening to them!

And You let me write some books that weren’t half bad, and I got to have a career that actually no kidding helped some kids wake up to their best selves, and no one ever laughed more at the ocean of hilarious things in this world, or gaped more in astonishment at the wealth of miracles everywhere every moment.

I could complain a little right here about the long years of back pain and the occasional awful heartbreak, but Lord, those things were infinitesimal against the slather of gifts You gave mere me, a muddle of a man, so often selfish and small.

But no man was every more grateful for your profligate generosity, and here at the very end, here in my last lines, I close my eyes and weep with joy that I was alive, and blessed beyond measure, and might well be headed back home to the incomprehensible Love from which I came, mewling, many years ago.

But hey, listen can I ask one last favor? If I am sent back for another life, can I meet my lovely bride again? In whatever form? Could we be hawks, or otters maybe? And can we have the same kids again if possible? And if I get one friend again, can I have my buddy Pete? He was a huge guy in this life—make him the biggest otter ever and I’ll know him right away, okay?

Thanks, Boss. Thanks from the bottom of my heart. See You soon. Remember—otters. Otters rule. And so: amen.

Links to Obituaries:

The Only Person I Know Who Owns the OED

A few weeks ago I blogged about the Oxford English Dictionary and I mentioned Ara Taylor as the only person I know who owns the print version of the OED. Is there anyone else out there with sagging shelves containing all twenty volumes?

Ara was prompted to use the OED a few decades ago when she was a student at the University of Wisconsin–Stevens Point (UW-SP) and took a class from Professor Leon Lewis whom she remembers vividly:

“He looked leonine, with a full mane of long black hair, and he paced like a lion in front of his blackboard. His delivery was rapid fire, like a slightly more focused Robin Williams. He had a dreadful way of keeping our attention. He’d spin around suddenly, point directly at one of us, and spit out ‘You! Present us the etymology of the word “x” by tomorrow.'”

This technique was not well received. Half of the class dropped out. Ara stayed. She described herself as “insulted,” when he commanded her to track down the word tic-tac-toe, but off she went to the library and its copy of the OED. That was the beginning of her obsession (that’s my word, not hers, and meant as a compliment) with the OED which led her to request it for a graduation present.

She’s used the OED throughout her life “in every way possible: as fascinating reading material. I’d open to a random word, which often led me on a hunt for related words. Sometimes for hours.” Also, “to deepen my writing” and to “inspire ideas.” She’s even used volumes to fetch books that were out of reach, give height to a chair, as ballast (she didn’t say for what!), and as a leaf press.

Professor Lewis required students to have an hour-long session with him, which accounted for 25% of their grade. Here’s how Ara described her experience:

“He was sitting at his desk when I entered and abruptly asked, ‘So, how do you like me?’ ‘I don’t,’ I replied. He rose from his desk, extended his hand, and said ‘Thank God! Congratulations!'”

She reflects: “Maybe I was the only student who’d ever been honest, but from that point on we had a wonderful if feisty instructor-student relationship.It wouldn’t be a stretch to say  I loved that man.” Ara got an A in the class.

Lewis retired from UW-SP in 1994 and moved to Whidbey Island. Described in his obituary as a “charismatic teacher” and “an artist in the classroom who used provocative wit and comic improvisations to illuminate his main passions: word and language,” I think he would be pleased that he spurred one student’s life-long interest in words.


Disovering Zyxt!

 Because I was three days behind in the A-Z Blog Challenge, my wife suggested—just before I wrote X—that I cover three letters in one blog.

“Do you think there’s a word that has X, Y, and Z in it?” she asked.

“Sure,” I said, thinking there must be one. But, nothing was listed in the Scrabble dictionary and my OED search was unsuccessful too. No cigar, no XYZ-word, and no shortcut with respect to my self-imposed deadline.

Today, I returned my library copy of Ammon Shea’s Reading the OED, and purchased a paperback edition. For grins, I turned to the Z’sZyxt leapt out at me. How had I missed it?! I went straight to my online OED. When I typed in Zyxt, what came up was see, v. I dug deep into layers of detailed etymology to finally find zyxt.

Shea notes that “it is the second-person singular indicative present form of the verb “to see” in the Kentish dialect. I went to the Britannica to find out about Kentish—one of four Old English dialects, this one spoken in the southeastern part of England where Canterbury is located.

Shea continues: “Given that in the new online edition it has been stripped of its headword status and moved to the middle of a heap of variant spellings of see, (aha!), it seems unlikely that it will ever return to vogue. I do not think that I will ever use it in conversation…However, it will always be a word I remember fondly, as it is the very last word defined in the Oxford English Dictionary.”

Zyxt is also the last entry in Shea’s book, and it’s the last blog topic in my modest A-Z blog foray, so I am fond of it too.

Yirns, Yahoos and Yorgans

Using this whimsical, multi-colored Y-alphabet letter encouraged me to find whimsical, multi-colored, or at least unusual words. How ’bout these from some of the sources I’ve used in the A-Z blog challenge?

Yirn v. “To whine; to pout, or show petulance by facial grimaces. Pronounced the same as yearn. ‘My husband is an idealist; he’s always yirning for something.'”—The Superior Person’s Book of Words by Peter Bowler

Ylem n. The primordial substance from which all the elements in the universe were supposed by early philosophers to have been formed. Thought by the ancients to have been water, by the moderns to be hydrogen, and by the Chinese to be monosodium glutamate.”—The Superior Person’s Book of Words

Yarwhelp n. the bartailed godwit—Mrs. Byrne’s Dictionary by Josefa Heifetz Byrne

Yex n. hiccup—Mrs. Bryne’s Dictionary

Yahoo. n. “There’s a good deal of the yahoo in every gang of adolescents that goes berserk, whatever their color…In Dean Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels, the Yahoos are a tribe of brutes having human form and embodying all the vices of mankind.”—I Always Look Up the Word Egregious by Maxwell Nurnberg

Yorgan n. a Turkish quilt; yaffle v. to eat and drink, especially noisily and greedily; yava n. an alcoholic drink made from the roots of the Polynesian shrub Piper methysticum—Foyle’s Philavery by Christopher Foyle

Demonstrating that word excavations have a practical application, I will now yaffle a yogurt while seated on a yorgan with nary a yex of satisfaction.


X Marks the Spot, J.M. Barrie, The Urban Dictionary, and Xystus

According to the online Urban Dictionary, “X marks the spot” was a symbol pirates used to designate the location of treasure. Then the British Army appropriated the phrase and the X for executions. They marked a piece of paper with a black X and positioned it on the heart of someone sentenced to death. The officer in charge would announce “X marks the spot” and the firing squad would shoot the x.

Bear in mind that, like Wiktionary which uses volunteers, the Urban Dictionary relies on its users to add content. One can vote on a word or phrase by choosing, “Add it,” “Keep out,” or “Can’t decide.”

This edgy database called the Urban Dictionary kinda does and kinda doesn’t take itself seriously as in this March 2017 definition:

“An outlet for word addicts, who can be grouped into six main characters: the rarely creative, the hypocritically cynical, the politically irreverent, the sexually depraved, the religiously racist, and the sarcastically narcissistic. On a lighter note, the Urban Dictionary motivates us not to take life seriously—let’s laugh at our idiocies and idiosyncrasies, not to say, our frailties and fatalities.”

Back to X Marks the Spot. The Oxford English Dictionary, which I never tire of accessing for quotations indicating usage over time, quotes J. M. Barrie’s 1918 line from Echoes of War: “In the rough sketch drawn for to-morrow’s press, ‘Street in which the criminal resided’…you will find Mrs. Dowey’s home therein marked with an X.”

We know Sir James Matthew Barrie not for his short story collections (Echoes of War) or for his theatrical productions (What Every Woman Knows) or for his sentimental novels (The Little Minister), but for Peter Pan, first performed as a play in London in 1904.

The letter “X” (24th in the alphabet) marks the spot, so to speak, where I shorten my blogs because I have three to write in one day to complete the A-Z Blog Challenge. My wife suggested that I write a single blog spotlighting a word that contained X, Y, and Z. Great idea, I thought, certain that I’d run into one in our Scrabble dictionary.

There were no words, other than long scientific ones, that contained all three letters. (Prove me wrong, if you know of one!) The closest I could come was the noun xystus which can also be spelled zystus.

The OED defines Xystus like this: “Among the ancient Greeks, a long covered portico or court used for athletic exercises; among the ancient Romans, an open colonnade, or walk planted with trees, used for recreation and conversation.”

Wrestlers also used Xisti. (Xisti is one of the plurals of zystus): “Zystus was a Place where the Wrestlers exercis’d.”—Phillips New World of Words, 1706.

In 1871, F. W. Farrar wrote in Witness of History, “Philosophers…aired their elegant doubts in the shady xystus.”

I leave this shady xystus, this shadowy blog, for the letter Y.

The Word Detective…Again

Way back on April 5th, I talked about John Simpson’s The Word Detective, a memoir about Simpson’s time as an editor at the Oxford English Dictionary. Meanwhile, I found The Word Detective by Evan Morris, published in 2000 by Algonquin, a most charming book, right there on my very own bookshelf.

The Word Detective is a collection of columns from Morris’ newspaper and internet columns. The format is Q and A. I opened the book to page one. Doris A. from Toledo asked about the phrase “run amok.”

I’ve been thinking about that phrase myself. Lately, our pastor’s sermons, always ebullient, as she herself is, have  contained the sentence  “The spirit is running amok.” I think she means that God-driven spirituality is on a fierce upswing in our congregation. Perhaps so, but to my discredit, I visualized some kind of unholy ghost cyclone touching down on the Peterson’s pew to awaken a dozing spouse or swooping up (kindly, of course) the ever cranky Matthews’ toddler.

Evan Morris explains that amok comes from the Malay word amuck—“a state of murderous frenzy.” The story goes that inhabitants of Malaysia were given to bouts of depression and drug use, a combination leading to murderous rampages. “Anyone in the path of the person running amok,” Morris explained, “was likely to be sliced and diced with a particularly nasty native sword known as a kris.” The word was also applied to out-of-control elephants who attacked humans.

Morris observes that the meaning in English has become diluted as the centuries rolled by and has become a metaphor used “to describe someone who was simply out of control in some respect and not necessarily chopping folks up.”

I feel much better now, but smile suppression will not work if I hear anything amok preached from the pulpit.

What I don’t feel better about—and now I’m quite serious—is my tardy discovery of Evan Morris. The Word Detective began 62 years ago as “Words, Wit and Wisdom”by  Evan’s father, William Morris, an editor in chief at both Grosset and Dunlap and American Heritage Dictionary.His column appeared in newspapers all over the country and abroad. After writing for thirty-five years, he announced at the dinner table one Sunday afternoon, that it was time for him to quit—unless one of his six grown children were interested in assuming it.

Evan heard himself say he’d take a shot at it. He did. Eventually, he posted the column online. Hundreds of discussions are archived. He has taken on obscure and common words and phrases—malaprops and mondegreens,  duck soup, kerfuffle, hara kirl, brouhaha, flesh out and flummoxed, Peck’s Bad Boy and the Pied Piper.

But now a great sadness. Unlike his father who chose to discontinue writing his column, Evan Morris is being forced to discontinue writing. He has advanced multiple sclerosis and stage four cancer. His last columns are witty and graceful explanations of his declining health and financial reverses. Take a look a look here at his website, Check out the archives, an amazing compilation of etymological dissections and whimsical digressions.  Contribute to his site. I’m going to.

You might even want to contribute to his cause which can be done through PayPal or by sending a check, small or large, to Evan Morris, P.O. Box 1, Millersport OH 43046.

I’m going to.

V is for a Vigilant Virago

I never know where I’m going to find a compelling word, in this case, a V-word—in, say, the OED,  from one of our 30+ word books, or in some random, unexpected place.

Since I had a hangover bad mood, triggered by yesterday’s two-hour wait for a mudslide-delayed Amtrak train and then, today, a 90-minute wait in a doctor’s office, I thought this self-description might apply. Virago: “a fierce, bad-tempered woman.” (Source: The Superior Person’s Book of Words).

Such an admittance of distemper (rare, I assure you, the distemper, that is) could qualify me as a veracious individual: “Habitually speaking or disposed to speak the truth; observant of the truth; truthful.” (Source: OED.) In  The Superior Person’s…Words, Peter Bowler points out that veracious is pronounced exactly like voracious: “Of greedy disposition.”

Just because I like the mellifluous oddity of English sentences from older times, I present a few illustrative quotations from the OED:

Virago: “And as to the Neutralities, I really think the Russian virago an impertinent Puss for meddling with us.”—William Cowper, 1781

Veracious: “I am a most veracious person, and Totally unacquainted with untruth.”— Percy B. Shelley, 1822

Voracious: “I had seen him about a year before…and had noted well the unlovely voracious look of him.”—Thomas Carlyle, 1850

V, I vouchsafe, is the beginning letter of negative descriptors on the glass-half-full spectrum of attitude and behavior: Vapulation; flogging; Vecordy: mad, obsessive;  vellicate: to twitch or cause to twitch: Varlet: Low, menial scoundrel; Venefical:  associated with malignant sorcery or witchcraft.

I was glad to find a v-word of a positive nature, Vigilant,  in one of those random, unexpected places, a museum bathroom. The Vigilant was a five-masted schooner that won a Hawaii-to-Bellingham race in 1930. Hence, its picture hangs in one of the less prominent, but much-used rooms, of the Old City Hall Museum on Prospect Street in Bellingham, Washington.

I will be vigilant—that is,”wakeful and watchful; keeping steadily on the alert; attentively or closely observant” (OED)”— with respect to language.  I hope never to describe myself as a vigilant virago.

U is for An Uber-Cool driver

Über, borrowed from the German, is a prefix that crowns a noun: A geek becomes an uber-geek, a runway fashion queen becomes an uber-model.

“An uber building came about…an enormous quasi-crystalline structure that reached out multicolored limbs of fiberglass and plastic.”—Stang, Three-Fisted Tales of ‘Bob,’ 1990

Or, uber commingles with an adjective to create uber-rich or uber-cool.

“‘I like to consider myself part of the new wave of couturiers,’ explains the Nashville-born Talbot from his atelier just off the city’s uber-chic Maximilianstrasse.”—Vanity Fair, 1992

Now we have a standalone noun in a black rectangle, without an umlaut, that we look for on the windshield or hanging from the mirror of a sleek, new model car.

Which is why my wife Amory and I and two friends, Peggy and Victoria, were standing in front of the Hotel Vetiver in Queens at the end of a five-day New York City vacation. We wanted to get to Penn Station and our train to New Jersey without navigating subway stairs in the rain.

Curbside, a shiny, black Nissan appeared and out popped Steve, a tall, handsome man with dreadlocks, a winning smile, and ready hands for holding doors and fitting suitcases in his car.

Conversation was easy. We found out he drives for three companies—Juno, Lyfft, and Uber. “You’ve gotta work twelve-hour days or it isn’t worth it. First, you have to buy an $800 license. Then you have to buy insurance on top of your regular insurance which can be $3000-$5000. So you gotta work long hours. I drink a lot of coffee. But, I love driving.”

” I grew up right here,” Steve continued, “right here in Queens.”

“Have you lived anywhere else?”

“Oh, everywhere. In Atlanta the longest, three years, but I’m a New Yorker.”

And now, I thought, there’s a New Yorker in the White House. I wonder how I can find out what he thinks about that.

“What was it like in New York when Trump was elected” I ventured.

Steve paused. I worried.”I just sat back and laughed,” he said. “The Ringling Brothers Circus closed and all the clowns were going to Washington. We’ve elected a shock jock. There’s no difference between him and Howard Stern. Except for money.”

“I just sat back and laughed,” he said. “The Ringling Brothers Circus closed and all the clowns were going to Washington. We’ve elected a shock jock. There’s no difference between him and Howard Stern. Except for money.”

I think we all relaxed, and soon, despite the bumper-to-bumper traffic, we were in front of Penn Station.

“I hate driving to New Jersey. Thanks for not making me go there,” he smiled.

We rolled ourselves out of the Nissan’s cozy confines. I pivoted and swooped up my suitcase, backpack, and some loose items belonging to my friends. I handed Steve a Starbucks card. Such a nice guy. He smiled and waved.The Altima, amidst a crush of yellow cabs and honking horns, pulled into the traffic.

“I got your stuff,” I said to my traveling companions. Blank looks. No one can do a blank look like Peggy, the only Ph.D. and scientist in the group.

For the first time, I observed what I had grabbed: a bag with protruding tissue paper, a canvas briefcase with an unfamiliar red log, and a large black leather jacket. Men’s.

Uh oh.

I had stolen Steve’s stuff. I was going to jail. Steve would be arrested. He had to turn in his rental car the next day. Without papers.  We would miss our flight. While I stood there in a welter of emotion, Amory and Victoria, searched through Steve’s briefcase and found papers with phone numbers.

“Leave a message” wasn’t helpful. Neither was a disconnected line or an Uber helpline. t Victoria, who had made the reservation, called Uber again, accessing a series of menus, and finally got an Uber person who listened and agreed to call Steve. Uber called back. Steve hadn’t answered. Victoria handed the phone to me.

I stumbled through an explanation. “I’ll call him again for you,” the pleasant voice said, “and let you know what he wants to do.” Again he didn’t answer, but she had left him a message with my phone number.

“Could another Uber driver pick up his belongings, or could we leave it somewhere for him to get them?”I queried. “We need to catch our flight.”

“We have a Lost and Found in Hoboken.”

“I don’t even know where that is.” Exasperation crept into my voice. “Do we just call another Uber and say ‘take us to Hoboken?'”

And then, Steve called. “OmiGod,” he said after I stumbled through my story. “I’m driving without my papers. Where are you? I’ll come get them. I don’t want you to miss your flight. Wait right there on the corner.”

He switched to texting. “I’m 20 minutes away. Is that okay or should I get out my batmobile?” Then he phoned again. “I don’t want you to miss your flight. My wife works two blocks from there. She might get there before I do.”

She did, a person as friendly and happy as Steve. We hugged, Amory took a picture, Steve’s wife went back to work, and we didn’t miss our flight.

Steve is an Uber-Guy.






Titular, Temulency, and Tetragram

What I really want to write about is the book I mentioned in yesterday’s blog, The Superior Person’s Book of Words, but neither the title, the author’s name, Peter Bowler, nor the publisher’s handle, David R. Godine, begin with a “T.”

So, to meet the minimal requirement and to showcase the wit of this Australian lexicographer, I’m  extracting three of Bowler’s seventeen listed T-words.

Titular a. “Derived from the holding of a title; nominal. Thus the titular head of a country is usually the President, Prime Minister, Dictator, etc, as distinct from the effective head, who is usually his wife, cleaning lady, golfing partner, etc. ”

Temulency n. “Inebriation, drunkenness. Another good one for sick-leave application forms.”

Tetragram n. “A word with four letters. Note that the phrase “four-letter word” is pejorative (q.v.), but that tetragram is not. Do what you can to remedy this situation.”

The Superior Person’s Book of Words was Bowler’s first book, published in 1979.  Everything about this book makes me smile, including the cleverly composed jacket copy describing him as some who

becomes noticeably tongue-tied in the face of questioning and indeed has been known to break down completely and admit to being just an easily confused fat man with a poor memory

and the author’s demurring stabs at humility in the Acknowledgments:

I cannot let these definitions go before the public without acknowledging the contributions made by Dr. Ernest Foot…who worked with me on the manuscripts and wrote several of the definitions. To me should go much of the credit for whatever virtues this book possess; the odium for any faults must rest entirely with him.”

Two more word books followed. The Superior Person’s Second Book of Wierd and Wondrous Words (1992), and The Superior Persons Third Book of Well-Bred Words (2001).In addition to Bowler’s erudite word books, he wrote a book about cults; The True Believer;  two novels, Human Remains and The De Reszke Record; a children’s book of verse, The Creepy-Crawly, and, a book on child development, Your Child from One to Ten.

His niche popularity (at least one of his word books has been in print since 1969) resulted in Godine’s publication of a three-box set In 2012. The author’s purpose was to give readers

a more finely tuned engine of the language they speak, so they may more readily assert their linguistic superiority over their fellow travelers at the traffic stops of life.

Who doesn’t enjoy Bowler’s pillage of the arcanum of archaic and obscure, esoteric and unusual words? On the Godine web page, his publishers say that Bowler has had a “Road to Damascus” conversion, prompting the return to simple, straightforward language. They published The Superior Person’s Field Guide to Deceitful, Deceptive, and Downright Dangerous Language in 2007— Ten years ago!

I think I better read it.

David Bodine