Thursday, March 25, 2010


One might think that such a word would be cited from an article about zaftig women in the films of Charlie Chaplin, but today it is taken from a partial quotation from the 13 March 2010 issue of The Tablet magazine. The speaker is Nick Chavasse, director of tourism and events at Coventry Cathedral. His words are occasioned by the opening of an exhibition focussing on John Lennon's "bed in" for peace, in Montreal, in 1969. "He" is Lennon.

"He wasn't the sort of peacenik, anti-religious hippy some have suggested."

I am surprised The Tablet stylebook goes with hippy and not hippie. For a British publication, especially, bizarro to me.

In Lennon's December 1970 interview with Jan Wenner, he says that Day Tripper was "a drug song" because "it was a day tripper. I just liked the word."

Wednesday, March 24, 2010


A reader (gentle? the jury's out) has written in about the word booty, seemingly seeking a prescription on the matter of using it as a euphemism for sex.

Here are some questions worth posing:

1.) How old is the person saying this word?
2.) Is English this person's first language?
3.) Is this person a woman? (The first time I heard this word, it was from the mouth of a woman referring to a "booty call"; the word call summons the take-out spirit of the phrasing)
4.) What is the speaker's tone of voice?
5.) What are the speaker's circumstances? Might the speaker have fallen down a crevasse on a high, forbidding mountain?
6.) Is it the speaker a very young child parroting something she or he has heard?
7.) Does the speaker live in Los Angeles?
8.) Is the speaker speaking ironically?

Personally, I don't like the phrase booty call--and I never will. My general reaction to hearing this from the mouth of anybody over the age of 21 is "Please go away" (or, for those who find that too high-toned: "Gross, get away from me.")

Now: why the reaction? I think it has something to do with the cutesyness of the phrase. Let me speak Consumer English. It's a little too Hello Kitty for my taste. Booty call is Magnolia Bakery, not Lady M. It's mat pilates, not machines pilates (yes, even if machines has roots in mat). It's credit, not cash. It's a jet ski, not a sailboat.

I vote for hookup or nooky. Nooky is short and to the point (tap water, not municipal water) and happens to rhyme with cooky.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010


From the "tabular account of the specimens found in" the Artesian Well at the Passaic Rolling Mill, Paterson," in the poem Paterson:

400 feet. . . Red sandstone, shaly

I like many parts of Paterson and tonight discovered "the grey secrecy of time." It makes me think of what I passed in Coleridge last night, Biographia Literaria, ch. VII:

The act of consciousness is indeed identical with time considered in its essence. (I mean time per se [it itself], as contradistinguished from our notion of time; for this is always blended with the idea of space, which as the contrary of time, is therefore its measure.) [that boldface should be rom.]

I like thinking about time, possibly dating to a year I worked on an encyclopedia on the subject. This whole fact of calendars and when it's the right time to set sail, or fish, or what not--kairos and fashionably late and clock-time. (I imagine William Vollman would have something interesting to say on the subject of clock-time.)

However which way, shaly is ponytail-like, and, thus, seemingly out of place in a scientific description.

Saturday, March 20, 2010


From the Skin Fruits blurb in the Museums writeup of The L Magazine's March 17–30, 2010, issue:

Love it or hate it, the controversial museum-wide show of works from the collection of New Museum trusty and billionaire Dakis Joannou, curated by Jeff Koons, will be a spectacular survey of that strata of contemporary art so ambitious/expensive that museums can't afford it.

Misspelled in such a way to summon the words toady and lackey, and, distantly, sidekick (Rocky, not Tonto). I'm also told that it brings to mind "prison trusty."

Tuesday, March 16, 2010


Today I post a quotation from real nonfiction, which is to say, from a letter written by J.D. Salinger.

Now: some people like pie and some like ice cream and some like Napoleons. Some like novels and some like histories and some like journal entries. I happen to like all of the above, but, I have always liked letters through and through. Even if they're part of a marketing ploy involving a Gutenberg Bible at the Morgan Library. Today was the first day his letters were exhibited to the public.

(Question: where are/what happened to the envelopes?)

It is difficult to read Salinger's May 22, 1951 typewritten letter without seeing a Holden Caulfield watermark. It sounds like Holden. Good letter.

Another letter goes on at length about his children; I didn't take any notes on the subject of Salinger's delight in his children, but this passed my personal watermark test, which is to say, this is what I remember second-most from the exhibit. There's a sentence about how he stayed up reading one night in the Sherry-Netherland and the children were sleeping, and he got such a kick out of that--being awake while his kids' sleeping bodies lay nearby. Then there's an anecdote about Peggy relating to him in great detail how she had vomited, and what and how and etc., and that she did it in such a way that the fact of her tossing her cookies actually came off as an accomplishment. So I imagine that there is quite a bit of young Peggy in young Phoebe.

Perhaps the best argument for Salinger's works to never be made into motion pictures or movies or films or video games or really anything that isn't printed matter alpha and omega is a postcript to his letter dated December 27, 1966: "One of Matthew's school papers enclosed, just for the sake of the way he spaces his signature on the line." If Salinger is paying attention to spacing--even if kerning isn't what he has in mind--then it's clear that he loves words the way so many of us do: for their physical address. Yes, he loves his son's unique signature, but he loves reading the words and viewing them. He likes their bodies. This is part of what makes Franny and Zooey (yes, they were stories first, so what?) such a pleasure to read. His story (okay, granted, stories) is the story it is because it is printed. It is not only told, it is written.

After I read the letters, I viewed the Hours of Catherine of Cleves exhibit. They had this nice supplementary audio component (I could have done with more non-English, however). The miniatures are of course exquisite and the bright blue Os and red As are, debatably, the ancestors of Matthews Salinger's spaced signature. They are pleasing to behold.

In any case, back to this blog. Salinger writes to his friend that he's having a "studio-house" built.

It's high, high up on the sedge-y and open high ground across the road from the house, set on ledge.

Almost in the spirit of horsey, though not quite.

Placing Salinger's letters in the same room as one of the Gutenbergs is, I imagine, supposed to bring on such expressions and headlines as "God bless J.D. Salinger," or "Gutenberg, Morgan, and Salinger: Three Men for the Books." But that really isn't what came to mind. Really nothing came to mind. No words came to mind. I read the letters, took the bus uptown, and later walked back across the Park and then sat in a sunny spot on the steps at the Met and peeled an orange.

One sentence from the October 16, 1966 letter did make me happy, though: "I'm so glad I have your address."

Isn't this great? Here it is again: I'm so glad I have your address.

Thinking of Salinger living in a world less insta-, imagining him not being able to Google an address--with all the variety and topographical drama that such a condition implies--and simply encountering a meaningful lifeline to that era: more than words can say.

Monday, March 15, 2010


From a recipe for Vyannd ryal (perhaps made for Henry VI), in the 1791 (Googled) book of 15th century recipes Antiquitates culinariae, by Richard Warner:

Take wyne greke, other (or) rynyfshe wyne, and hony, clarified therewith.

This is from the day when sugar appeared as fugar.

I am nearing the end "The Tudors." They served a blackbird pie (or a kind of bird pie) earlier on, when Henry was still in lust with Anne Boleyn. Things have not been going so well. Michael Hirst has made it clear how impoverished--mentally, spiritually, emotionally--the king is without Thomas More. As portraits of power dynamics go, this show is clear as a board game. Each character might as well be wearing a sandwich board saying what he or she wants and who is in the way.

Nobody on this show uses "Honey" as a term of endearment.

Friday, March 12, 2010


Multiples spellings of this word (apparently corrupted from the Urdu banjara), which means, according to the OED, "A travelling grain and salt merchant of the Deccan."

I believe some people on the Deccan Plateau know a little something about rainwater harvesting.

Sunday, March 7, 2010


The OED defines it as "Very good or fine; smart. Also spandy-clean, quite clean; spandy-bright, spandy new."

Consider new tennis sneakers. Those could be spandy-new.

Friday, March 5, 2010


Let me just say that it is my intention to cite The New Yorker but once or twice over the course of this year, because moderation is appealing.

So, from Patricia Marx's jaunty piece about shopping in Brooklyn (yes, I realize I am hopelessly unchic; what can I say? J. Mendel, Morgane le Fay, Marni, various Japanese designers, and Makola still hold some allure--though should somebody should tell Carolina Herrera that the dress currently in her window should be exchanged for another? Because window shopping for clothes--as readers of The Hundred Dresses know--should be even more satisfying than actual shopping, since actual shopping for clothes must be highly tedious, unless one is on--in?--Roman holiday, in which case, it's probably fun and involves a motobike. Shopping for food, is, of course, highly satisfying.), in the March 8, 2010, issue of The New Yorker:

A wedding gown concocted of bridal veils from the forties can be worn with the high neck in the front for the ceremony and then reversed for a more cleavagey look for the debauched party that follows [Ed.: store citation deleted]

Cleavagey is just a brilliant written word, bringing to mind cold weather, cleavers, savagery, wrought-iron, cages, vagary, and grass hacked with hand-forged scythes (not exactly Capability Brown). If one appends a y to, oh, roughage or bandage, the effect isn't nearly as nice. (Admittedly, roughagy is not bad.) The thing is, cleavagey throws off the light of a masculine ending and shines all the more because it makes such overt reference to the feminine. Phonologically speaking, it's so-so, but visually it's downright gorgeous.

(By the way, for several years now, I've been trying to recall the title of a novel whose main character is named Henry (?) "Gorgeous," except Gorgeous is spelled with a and i, and I can't remember anything more. I attended the reading, which was outré, and perhaps a vestige of a city that is dissolving. See: the recent New Yorker cartoon with the dial telephone and the phone gadget; also Ballade des dames du temps jadis.)

Tuesday, March 2, 2010


Has anybody noticed what a y-fest the Murray's cheese book is? Horsey, leathery, buttery, slurpy, cakey, bloomy, grapey, truffly, bacony, gamy, barny , barnyardy? At a certain point, it threatens to short out my Adjectives Meter (could somebody please dance a little Bernard Berenson or Joan Didion through this hall?).

From the description of Pecorino Toscano:
Aged for six to twelve months, with a sheepy, nutty, olivey edge and a slight degree of sharpness that can come only with age, it has less of a briny sting than pecorinos from other locales.

Be that as it may, sheepy is winning and has little in common with creepy. Sheepy is puffy; creepy is more semantic.