Sunday, December 28, 2008


Per the note of my last post, quarry happens to be a -y word that is striking both visually and aurally. It can go anywhere. It can stay in; it can go out. It’s well-formed and well-spoken.

Saturday, December 27, 2008


From an article by one Isabel Choat, in the Travel features section of The Guardian, December 27, 2008. The author is writing about a 22-mile hike across Dartmoor.

“My boot sank into the freezing peaty water.”

[Note to readers: when I choose these words ending in y, I do so as a reader. If these words were spoken aloud, they would not necessarily qualify for inclusion in this blog. There is eye sense and there is ear sense. I am choosing with my eyes and with (for lack of better words) my inner ear.]

Monday, December 22, 2008


Is it the word, or is it the way Anthony Powell sets it in a sentence? Below, from A Question of Upbringing, first volume of The Music of Time. By luck I am reading a volume printed at the Windmill Press, Kingwood, Surrey, and into the pages are pressed tiny flecklets of what I can only guess must be some kind of mica. (Book mica?) Reminds me of the year a building on Park Avenue and 79th Street went up; the owners laid a very sparkly sidewalk.

“His eyes began their monotonous, tinny glistening.”

Friday, December 19, 2008


Here a colloquial word that speaks visually to its French roots, from Joshua Rothkopf’s review of Revolutionary Road, in the December 18–31 issue of Time Out New York. I appreciate how seldom the reviewers award a film six stars.

“The movie is occasionally prestigey (it’s time to put composer Thomas Newton out to pasture), but no film featuring Bug’s ferocious Michael Shannon, as a neighbor’s mentally disturbed son who has weird insights, could be confused for mere Oscar fare.”

I am going to see the movie regardless.

Of Richard Yates’ books, Easter Parade is the bleakest, although the ending of Revolutionary Road is searing. Often I play over a part to myself, when Emily (now dating Michael Hogan) is reading the Times Book Review and stops at a photograph of Jack Flanders amid reviews of the work of various poets. Michael peers over her shoulder.

“What’s the deal?” he asked her.

“Nothing; just something here about a man I used to know.”

“Yeah? Which one?”

There were four photographs on the page, she could have easily have pointed to one of the others—even Krueger—and Michael Hogan would never know, or care, but she felt a stirring of old loyalty. “Him,” she said, touching her forefinger to Jack’s face.

“Looks like he just lost his last friend,” Michael Hogan said.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008


From, by a man named Jack Murnighan. You might know him from Currently he in traveling in Cambodia.

“The Netherlands are reputedly under sea level, and apparently huge chunks of Bangladesh wash away after a bad monsoon (killing dozens of times as many people as 9/11, by the way), but I’ve never seen a place as swampy or fen-ny or boggy or rice-paddy-y or however it should properly be described.”

What I like about fen-ny is the way Mr Murnighan, whom I have never met in person, but who (full disclosure), is editing something I have written, side-steps the (apparently) Early Modern English innovation that is the denominal diminutive (and, I think, feminine) suffix -y. (The Cambridge History of the English Language, 1476–1776 could be a tad more clear about this.) Anyway, appending -ny instead of -y enacts the double consonant rule; but by inserting a hyphen, the word blooms. (Punctuation can do more than bore fidgeting teenagers; Tom Wolfe has a fine time with colons in I Am Charlotte Simmons, doesn’t he?).

The book fen-ny brings to mind above all is William Gass’s gorgeous essay On Being Blue. Gass has a nice romp with the English language in that one.

Sunday, December 14, 2008


From The History of the Dividing Line, by William Byrd II.

“As it happen’d some Ages before to be the fashion to Santer to the Holy Land, and go upon other Quixot Adventures, so it was now grown the Humour to take a Trip to America. The Spaniards had lately discovered Rich Mines in their Part of the West Indies, which made their Maritime Neighbours eager to do so too. This Modish Frenzy being still more Inflam’d by the Charming Account given of Virginia, by the first Adventurers made many fond of removeing to such a Paradise.

“Happy was he, and still the happier She, that cou’d get themselves transported, fondly expecting their Coarsest Utensils, in that happy place, would be of Massy Silver.”

Tuesday, December 9, 2008


Is it just me, or does this word also bring to mind Argosy, arjun, Argos, and Fortuny?

From Natalie Angier's column in the Science section of the December 8th edition of my hometown paper, The New York Times. The article is titled “Primal, Acute and Easily Duped: Our Sense of Touch”, and its shiniest piece of jargon, the word vibrotactile, appears a little farther on.

“Long neglected in favor of the sensory heavyweights of vision and hearing, the study of touch lately has been gaining new cachet among neuroscientists, who sometimes refer to it by the amiably jargony term of haptics, Greek for touch.”

Thursday, December 4, 2008


Higgledy-piggledy, of the silent d, doesn't crop up so often anymore, but there it was in Adam Begley’s appraisal of Florence, in the New York Times Travel section on November 30.

Isn’t is nice to read a long sentence? Certainly it’s nice for me. This excerpt below is about being a walker in the city. (The cedilla is mine.)

“If you can visit one church and one museum before lunch and one more church or another museum after lunch (whatever you do, don’t miss the wealth of paintings piled higgledy-piggledy in the Palatine Gallery of the Palazzo Pitti), and then take a nap (Tuscan wine is cheap and abundant), and then stroll to dinner, perhaps along the Via de’ Tornabuoni, under the looming, illuminated façades of great, stern palazzos, and stroll some more after dinner when the crowds have thinned and Florence seems gentler and the multicolor Duomo seems less garish but just as huge and astonishing—you’ll find that after a few days of this routine, all your complaints will be forgotten, replaced with amazement and gratitude.”

Saturday, November 29, 2008


From James Wood’s review of Patrick French’s biography of V.S. Naipaul in the December 1, 2008 issue of The New Yorker. “She” refers to Naipaul’s first wife, Patricia Hale.

“Unassertive, Englishly reticent, a little milky and bland, she became steadily obsessed with his writing—even as she would half-mockingly call him ‘the Genius’ in private—and enjoyed being his spur and amanuensis.”

Friday, November 21, 2008


Its spelling goes a little way toward expressing its meaning.

From a short piece by one Beth Kracklauer in the December 2008 issue of Saveur:

“The russet is what is known as a floury or mealy potato—which is to say it’s high in starch and low in moisture.”

N.B. The OED dates the earliest use of the word to 1591.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008


Not sure if today’s found y word would be appealing were it not followed by clean (laying a serviceable rhyme corridor), but especially in light of Barack Obama’s vetting of potential employees, and also in light of ongoing marvels at the number of telephone conversations people hold in public—conversations that we once went home or to the office to have (Remember the winning phrase “Call you when I get home”?), it stands out.

From the article “What Was Privacy?,” by one Lew McCreary, in the October 2008 issue of Harvard Business Review. One of the best points in the article, about ARPAnet, appears in the timeline sidebar. Below is from the body of the piece.

“ ‘We’re so used to accepting a squeaky-clean, self-constructed résumé as a representation of a person, but that has little resemblance to the flawed, messy selves that we all in fact are.’ . . .”

Sunday, November 9, 2008


From a review of Unpacking the Boxes: A Memoir of a Life in Poetry, in the Book Review section of the Times (November 9, 2008). The memoir is by the poet Donald Hall; the review of the memoir is by Peter Stevenson.

"In 1969 he met Jane Kenyon, then a young poetry student; they married three years later and soon moved to Eagle Pond, where well-received verses and essays about rural life continued to pour out of Hall as he grew a beard and paunch appropriate to America's image of a rascally farmer-poet."

Saturday, November 8, 2008


Not that I meant to return to Franny and Zooey, but what can I say? I am re-reading the novel.

So, from Franny and Zooey.

"Use my handkerchief, for God's sake. What the hell's the difference?"

"No--I love that handkerchief and I'm not going to get it all perspiry," Franny said. . . .

Wednesday, November 5, 2008


The fact is, I didn't come across chanty in any particular work of prose or poetry. It squinched in on the same mind pew with plainte and plain song and Delphi (which I like to pronounce "Delphy," to rhyme with pelfy).

Somewhere in tonight's pew is also the line from A.R. Gurney's 1995 play Sylvia, which I read a couple of nights ago. (Sylvia was the play in which Sarah Jessica Parker played a dog named Sylvia. Reading the play made me realize how much I regret not having seen it, and it would have been entertaining to see SJP in the role.) Greg is Sylvia's owner; Kate is his wife.

GREG: Look, Kate. I liked manufacturing -- starting off in product development. I liked that. I could see what we were making, I could touch it, I could tinker. And I liked selling, too, when they bumped me up to sales. I still knew the product. I could still picture it in my mind. O.K. So then they acquire an investment company and tell me to trade. I try. I study up. I learn about oil, soybeans, corn. I read the forecasts, I figure the trends. I trade. And I do O.K. Not great, but I get by. But now they want me to trade currencies, Kate. Money markets. Derivatives. I can't do that, sweetheart. What's behind currencies? Other currencies. What's behind them? Who knows? Nothing to touch, to see, to get a purchase on. And that's what I mean when I say it's too abstract.

Monday, November 3, 2008


One of my favorite playwrights is A(lbert).R(amsdell). Gurney, known to many as "Pete" Gurney. His plays, in the words of a teacher I once knew, (and tip of the hat to Salinger), are, for me, very "happy making."

From his play Ancestral Voices: A Family Story.

EDDIE: (Reading) "Queen City of the Great Lakes . . . located at the mouth of the Niagara River . . . Named after a Seneca Chief named Buffalo, or possibly for the bison herds who originally roamed the area." (To GRANDFATHER) I thought Buffalo came from the French. Beau Fleuve, beautiful river.

GRANDFATHER: Where'd you get that?

EDDIE: Gram said it, actually.

GRANDFATHER: Some people like to gussy things up. Read on.

Saturday, November 1, 2008


From Anthony Lane's review of the film "Synecdoche, New York," in the November 3, 2008 issue of The New Yorker.

"One longs for the Hoffman of 'The Talented Mr. Ripley,' all crowing tones and carroty crew cut."

Perhaps the Y-est of Them All

syntaxy, from Franny and Zooey.

" . . . It may just be some kind of terribly fascinating, syntaxy droppings—excuse the expression. . . ."