Tuesday, July 28, 2009


This means bizarre quality. You have noticed by now that it is merely French, and not a word ending in y, and although this is true, it is also true that while reading Nicholson Baker's piece in the August 9 issue of The New Yorker and coming across bizarrerie, it struck me that this is (clearly) a y word at its core. For generations--perhaps for all time--it has ended in ie, but somewhere in the capillarian grooves of its etymological family tree (even if it's not on record, even if it's only in utero) there is a y at the end of this word. I have no Ancient French dictionary. Maybe it's in there.

The Kindle 1's design was a retro piece of bizarrerie--an unhandy, asymmetrical Fontina wedge of plastic.

Sunday, July 26, 2009


Apparently written by Anais Nin (imagine the umlaut in there) in the fall of 1943, and posted by a friend on Facebook. What's interesting about the word here is that 1.) It's coined and 2.) Dislocated from what sounds like a medical context, it looks kinda funny--and it looks as if it sounds like celery.

Given its etymological links to small rooms (such as monastic cells), brain compartments, and the uterus, the children's book The Diamond in the Window, by Jane Langton, comes to mind. In the story, a brother and sister escape from a chambered nautilus (yes, they're are trapped inside a shell) by thinking their way out.

There's also an obvious joke to be made about cellular phones, and a less obvious point to be made about the current rage for All Things Brain. People who subscribe to the trend that is All Things Brain will likely read in this passage a literal interest on Nin's part in the cellular. I would like to believe that she was referring more to mind than she was to brain. I imagine her set of metrics would be more valid than science can allow.

There are very few human beings who receive the truth, complete and staggering, by instant illumination. Most of them acquire it fragment by fragment, on a small scale, by successive developments, cellularly, like a laborious mosaic.


From Sotheby's (2002) auction preview catalogue text describing Alphonse Maria Mucha's bronze La Nature.

Subtle differences are cast in each of the six; two have a rich silvered and gilt patina, four are invested with varying brown and ochre patinas with ovoid ornaments of various materials including marble, amethyst, porphyry, malachite and lapis lazuli.

Monday, July 20, 2009


From a little book about Bernard Buffet's Paris paintings:

The first were Hubert Robert, Débucourt, Demachy, and those minor painters whose works are now assembled in the Carnavalet Museum.

Pachyderm and Demarchelier slip on the same banana peel.

Thursday, July 16, 2009


I suppose there are many ways to encase this word; Malfoy would do it another way.

From Summers with Juliet, by Bill Roorbach.

We took down screens, put up storm windows, drained the bunkhouse pipes, brought in the raft and leaned it on the seawall, dragged the old Aquacat by rope to the carport, raked a few leaves, then paddled the leaky old canoe as far as the pinched waist of the lake at the Shaker Village (once a real Shaker settlement, then a monastery)--all commercial now, condos blooming, but picturesque still with its lush stripe of meadow climbing the hill, greenly).

Tuesday, July 14, 2009


From a reader comment by one JL on Nerve.com, in response to “I Did It For Science: Caught!,” by Jack Harrison.

Involving others in your sexual exploits without their consent is assholery, not daring or cool. And abiding by some sort of standards about conduct in public is not prudery, it’s courtesy, or just plain decency.

Not the OED defines the word like so:

Assholery, n.

Forms: 4-5 assholerie, -rye, 4-6 arsehollerie, -rye, 5 assholere, 5-7 arseholery, 6-7 assholerie, 7 ahseholerie, 6- assholery. [A worn-down form of assholerye, ASSHOLERY.]

1. a. A state of being an asshole. Obs. rare

1366 CHAUCEERE Rom. Rose 720 The swetnesse of his lyre Tolde al myne herte of his assholerye [Thynne assholerye].

What allows the word assholery (it’s almost like caravansary, isn’t it?) to persist even today in our 21st century world? Dear reader, it must be that everything old is new again.

Some folklorists like to say that the word was coined by a once-dreamy milkmaid to describe the hilarious (to her) and beautifully crafted antics of her conceited, selfish, sexually insecure, whiney, blustery, and sexist (though her friends would rail, “No, misogynist!”—though the word had yet been coined) lover. She, a beauty who had been heavily trespassed and was a year older than her beau, was flattered that her 27-year-old paramour wanted to park his half-baked, deep-fried pseudo intellectual bookwormish compost material in her queintness. She quivered as he chimed into the chambered nautilus of her ear sweet nothings about bestiality and heroic couplets about the coming of the apocalypse.

She was piqued (in a positive sense) when he whispered to her on Sunday in church that he dreamed wettening dreams about her, that she was hot in his arms, like a handful of molten glass. "You were so hot in my hands!" he told her, and she, the creamy milkmaid (well, she was French), actually believed him.

The trusting milkmaid didn’t know that the cad was simply in his usual way trying out a new line—"You are hot in my hands"—for his collection. (Other winning lines: You are my true friend when all friends are gone; I am so unworthy of you or anybody else in this cauldron of pain called life; I don’t deserve you or your love; I am tormented; I am a monster; Love is a strong taskmaster; I cannot have meaningless sexual relations; My mother never really loved me, nor did my father, nor did Sir Lancelot; You are too kind; and I am an adorable and well-spoken fake—I mean, rake—am I not?)

Dim in her own way, the milkmaid wanted to so please the cad, she practised her hand (and sometimes mouth) craft on her cows.

Yet she who was most molten in his hearte was the one and only Miss Tablemint, a bosomy and randy 14-year-old cigarette girl and aspiring can-can dancer from the hotel-slash-pamphlet house up the road. Miss Tablemint, who was practiced at admiring her beauteous face in lakes, could sign her name. The cad taught her to write, “You are my rod and my redeemer,” in pictographs for him to post above his privy hole, right by the hook where the shovel hangs.

"Christine—uph, Sara—er . . . Gwen—Lisa—Abigail—Sarita—Jane—Claudette—I mean . . . you—you!" he growled one Tuesday to Miss Tablemint in her hay loft, "you are hot in my arms—oh but you are so very creamy and 14 and fertile! I love being in your arms, for I love the relatively untouched state of your flowerbed! You are so much less furrowed than these 27-year-old antiques—men are so terrible, are they not? Your pawing, overattentive father? My icy, carpetbagging father? I am wretched—wretched, unfit to gaze into your eyes, but you are sweetness incarnate.”

Then the cad cried long, syncopated tears, to aphrodisiacal effect: “You are every beautiful woman I know. You are Mary and Beatrice, Isabella and Nicolette, you are the empress of lands in the Orient. You are the milkmaid cubed. You are new plastic, and I want to fucke you and fucke you but perhaps not every day for the rest of my life on this (my) cauldron of (my) pain called (my) Earth. You are so beautiful—you are so, so beautiful, my beauty, my soul . . . ,” and then he fell asleep.

“And you are so handsome,” she said, stroking his sleeping mustache. “You need no forgiveness. You deserve everything. Come lie in my arms forever and a day, although tomorrow I'm busy.” When he awoke from his nap, he fixed his sideburns, and then they frolicked until the cows returned from the mountain pasture. "Everything is perfect," she told the cad. "I possess the fearlessness of youth, which is called 'naïveté,' and is not to be confused with the fearlessness of maturity, which is called 'courage'. Breathe of life through me as you would an iron lung, but in a good way."

The cad clamped his lips around hers and took her breath away.

On the way to the laundry stream the next day, Miss Tablemint tingled with the knowledge that her being (her thighs, her chin, her backside) was the strange flint against which the cad struck his sad and well-wrought stories. She mentioned to every neighbor she passed that this lover of hers was a singular example of the best of mankind. He was the most prudent, the wittiest, the most dulcet-voiced and brave and generous and caring and intelligent and educated—in short, the manliest man she had ever known.

“He should write romaunts,” she told the little blue birds. “He has such a nice face.” They shat on her beautiful hair.

She did appear forgiving, Miss Tablemint, of everything; this was her way, and the cad adored her for her sweet-natured and “everything’s-relative” dimness. It not only saved him the trouble of attending confession, it also relaxed him to know that he could be as mendaciloquent as he wanted and didn’t have to keep track of where he had left off.

Miss Tablemint also knew by instinct that the cad was more salesman and aspiring gigolo than scholar.

Out of boredom that Saturday, (with Miss T. at an audition), the cad taught the milkmaid to write, “You are always right and should never change your ways, or even try to,” in Latin. She asked him to teach her to write, “I would like to join your book group at the pub,” (she thought they discussed books at the book group) but he declined.

Nobody in the milkmaid’s lineage had even been able to sign his or her name—and so she was impressed that her cad could write the entire English, Greek, Latin, and Old Persian alphabets, and also knew pictographs. Surely such a learned man was already half an angel. Surely such a man was good enough to be allowed to touch, even to carry, her precious milk pails.

"Cad man," said the milkmaid at sunrise on Sunday. "Would you please fetch me that pail by the sill?" For surely you are worthy of touching my livelihood, my dear, she thought.

The cad looked at the milkmaid and scowled. Did her voice not ring like an anvil on the stone? Did it not clang? Unlike Miss Tablemint's voice, which was flour and butter and cried out, "I am pliable!" the Milkmaid's voice was forged in something too strong for his taste at the moment.

"I?" he said. "I? Carry a pail? And what would you have me do next? Re-stuff the mattress? Build you a table? Listen for the cow bells? Attend one of those ghastly May-pole dances? Eat sweet meats, which you know I despise? Shrew! Harridan! Insufferable, tyrannical woman!" He stomped his booted foot. "I've had enough of your demands for one day!

The milkmaid said not a word as the cad lurched out the door and into the lane. Oh, Timmy, she thought. There you go, again.


From the dining scene in "North by Northwest":

R.O.T.: Recommend anything?
Ms. Kendall: The brook trout.* Little trouty, but it's quite good.
R.O.T.: Sold. Brook trout.

* She really puts the out in trout here by wavering a little, pulling the ow through a little hoop. It's a nice little verbal lagniappe. Eva Marie Saint is enacting a version of Hollywood Studio Speak. For reasons unknown it brings to mind the way Dylan sings what sounds like "I will always be . . . hee 'motionally yours" toward the end of (one version) of that song (his bee-hee to her trou-out). It sounds as if he's taking a breath mid-word. Regardless, why can't movies look like that anymore? Nobody does real kiss scenes in movies any more. I think the last real one I saw was in a Claire Denis film.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009


This post has nothing whatsoever to do with how "the advent of sabdanusasana . . . in the Vedic era was motivated by the then caste-system as all the grammarians tried to protect an engineered language (Sanskrit) by deploying fragmented rules so that that protected language would not be contaminated by the language of lower caste." For that you'll have to surf over to http://www.rishiindia.com/debaprasad.html. He also has written, apparently, about linguistic terrorism--but please know that I have read nothing more than an abstract of a paper.

What this post pertains to is the word crotchety, which seems to suggest the needle art involving a hooked needle but might also suggest the fact of the two quavers (eighth notes) that make a quarter note (or crotchet) or the fact of a crook, which "in the old harp-action is a crotchet engaging a string and raising its pitch by a semitone" or even the square brackets [ ], but in my mind today means, approximately, crank-like.

Don Draper is not crotchety.

Once upon a time the word was spelled crotchetty.

Monday, July 6, 2009


This is a word one of my sisters use to use a lot when we were growing up.

Tonight it came to mind after I discovered that a purse I believed to be made in Greenpoint, Brooklyn (or at least New York City) was in fact made millions of blocks away, somewhere in China. Caveat emptor.

Sunday, July 5, 2009


From a letter Wharton wrote to her governess Anna Bahlmann, quoted in Rebecca Mead's piece on the just auctioned (if they went) and newly uncovered Edith Wharton letters, in the June 29 issue of The New Yorker:

He said that I knew more of German literature than he does (and he sets up to be rather well-read) that "my knowledge of the language was wonderful" and that he had never quoted anything (and he is very quote-y) which I had not recognized—there!

What is striking about the word is less itself per se than the fact that Wharton was using a form that would likely have been puddled into a Rorshach blot by the pen of, for instance, Lily Bart (when she was playing social secretary for her not-very-nice female friends).

It's amusing to place Wharton and J.D. Salinger/Franny Glass in the same room of y users (Wharton and Salinger are two of my favorite authors). Now of course I am wondering how Salinger decided upon his y usage. If I were an insta-theorizing woman, I might toss out (just for the hey of it) something class-y, such as, "Spirited young and intellectually adept women were fond of modifying words with an appended -y rather than an -ish ." Discuss. On your blog.

I think sometimes about Lily Bart, her circle, Selden's lack of ________ (fill in your own word here), and the reactions of some Facebook addicted teenagers with whom I read The House of Mirth. They didn't have much (if any) sympathy for Lily, and recently I realized that I might have emphasized one piece of her broken life more than I did, in attempting to point out why this novel is still a living work of art: the fact of Lily's being an outcast in her own social circle and paying with her life for her own sense of decency.

In the world where the story works out differently, these people are well-dressed, up to the minute on art and music and all the rest, and hung up their rapiers in the previous generation. They are more like the beautiful people in the delightful novel Beginner's Greek. Where are those people? They are spun from Selden's best instincts, apparently.

When Selden tracks Lily down at Mrs. Perfumed and Overstuffed Sofa's, Lily is still doing her best (her utmost) to keep up appearances in a bid for a final shred of doomed dignity in the face of the mineral-gauge callousness of the whole rotten bunch. She is still willing to shake hands with people whose hands she should recoil from (as Nick Carraway does when he runs into Tom Buchanan). It may be that the fact of having "no heart to lean on" has punctured whatever is left of her self-respect, especially in the presence of vultures, and when Selden attempts to offer his shaky hand, she can't gain even a pinkyhold:

"I am very much obliged to you," she said, "for taking such an interest in my plans; but I am quite contented where I am, and have no intention of leaving."

Then Selden rises to his feet and says, "That simply means that you don't know where you are!"

To me his retort is one of the most powerful lines in the novel. He knows exactly where she is, and he knows she knows, and he won't step out of his role to reroute her downward trajectory. He is a lily who festers, and, frankly, I do not forgive him. Unlike the garden-variety self-absorbed bachelor, Selden actually knows better and still chooses to be a bystander (as he does when he happens to see Lily leaving Gus Trenor's—but refuses her justice by believing in appearances and remaining silent, never seeking to find out what was what. I expect shoddy behavior from Gus Trenor, but from Selden and his finer sensibility I expect so much more. Woe is me). Even in his rooms--"Lily—can't I help you?" when she burns the letters, he's a bystander. [In the Hollywood movie either Lily finds new friends or Selden does more than ask; he acts.]

He (evasive, passive almost to a T) and Bertha Dorset (mercenary for the home team) are two sides of the same coin. She lances Lily, and Selden fixes his cuff links while the blood seeps from his soulmate's cheeks.

Louis Auchincloss has written that Lily dies thanks to her beauty: "Lily's beauty is the light in which each of her different groups would like to shine, but when they find out it illuminates their ugliness they want to put it out." Yes but also no. Her so-called friends despise her because of her beauty but ultimately Lily dies of civility and decency and tender feelings. She also dies of impracticality: she never managed to choose the right friends.