Tuesday, March 31, 2009

'Waterproofing Your Child' ?

And the Bookseller/Diagram Prize for Oddest Book Title of the Year is:

"The 2009-2014 World Outlook for 60-Milligram Containers of Fromage Frais."

I'm slightly disappointed in that if I had known beforehand about this contest I might have wisely (or wickedly unwisely) submitted a title or two or three from the reports that cross my desk (actually, right now, my desk consists of a TV tray table upon which my laptop rests).

The shortlist included:

  • "Curbside Consultation of the Colon" (pleasant alliteration, aye?)

  • "The Large Sieve and Its Applications"

  • "Techniques for Corrosion Monitoring"

As I say, my clients can gladly top these any day of the week, with gusto, if they so choose.

Nominees and winners from other years:

  • "100 Years of British Retail Catering"
  • "50 New Poodle Grooming Styles"
  • "Proceedings of the Second International Symposium on Nude Mice" (a winner, hands down, or by a tail)
  • "Versailles: The View From Sweden" (one of my faves; a past winner; was Sarah Palin the author?)
  • "Weeds in a Changing World"
  • "Reusing Old Graves"
  • "A Pictorial Book of Tongue Coatings"
  • "Sex After Death"
  • "Waterproofing Your Child"
  • "Cheese Problems Solved"
  • "People Who Don't Know They're Dead: How They Attach Themselves to Unsuspecting Bystanders and What to Do About It" (pardon me?)
  • "Greek Rural Postmen and Their Cancellation Numbers"
  • "How to Avoid Huge Ships"
The Times made a big hahaha of several titles, including the last one, which I would find eminently practical were I a sailor on a little sailboat or skiff. A bit condescending of The New York Times, eh?

Carry on.

Laugh. Or...


Monday, March 30, 2009

Monetize This

Tempting though it is, I will not click on the tab titled "Monetize" on the new Blogger settings. Why? First, monetize is an imperative verb. Being the knee-jerk, left-handed rebellious sort, I tend to disobey orders, at least orders from cyberstrangers. True, another tab uses an imperative verb ("View Blog"), but this command harmless and utilitarian. Monetize?

Monetize? Blogger ain't fooling me. It's an attempt to get me to spend money via ads, allegedly to make money.


(I rule out the remote possibility that Monetize may mean to form, shape, or look like something painted by Claude Monet. HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAAHAHAHAHAHAHA!)

What about a Kierkegaard imperative verb? Kierkegaardize.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Sign Riposte

Later the same day, this sign, on one of those hand-drying devices featuring a revolving cloth towel:

WARNING: Use only to dry hands and face.
Any other use can be DANGEROUS.

1. Why "hands and face" and not "hands or face"?

2. Really?

3. Exactly what other use?

4. Did an attorney demand the installation of this sign?

5. What would Kierkegaard say?

6. What would Kierkegaard do?

Friday, March 27, 2009

Uncommon Scents

Handwritten sign seen today in bathroom of downtown Syracuse bagel shop:

Do not take air freshener

It has G.P.S.

We will track you down!

This raises the following intriguing questions:

1. Why no fuss over the theft of the missing period in line 1?

2. If there has been a rash of bathroom air fresheners stolen from this location, what is the severe odor emergency at the place in dire need of these devices?

3. Is there a hot black market for air fresheners? Why?

4. Do you believe their air freshener really has G.P.S.? (Maybe in this case it stands for "get poacher of scent.")

5. If and when the scent poacher is caught, what will "we" say?

6. Isn't the very invention and use of a so-called air freshener ludicrous and indicative of one of capitalism's fabricated "needs" in light of the fact that the greatest air freshener is, of course, well, more air?

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Going Batty

Fiberglass bat.

In editing a document the other day, I learned not a new word itself but a new (for me) meaning for it, which lexicographers call a new sense. When you think of fiberglass bat, you probably think of a tool of trade for a baseball or softball player. (I prefer the old-fashioned wooden bats, like Willie Mays's Adirondack Slugger, which was made in Dolgeville, New York.) (Did you know Fiberglas is a registered trademark of Owens Corning?) (And did you also know that the catcher's equipment is called the tools of ignorance, unfairly?)

But I learned that fiberglass bat has, for me, the unexpected sense of some type of roof or ceiling insulation.

Which got me to thinking.

Although our language is rich because of new layers of meanings for old words, like sand accumulating on a shore, perhaps we have not sufficiently tapped the humorous possibilities of same. (The Laughorist should never stray too far from his brand.)

We already have words such as invaginate. But why not penilize? As in, oh, I don't know, "stiffen with resolve" or "empower" or "act impetuously and driven by testosterone." (Stop. Calm down. I know I'm taking linguistic liberties [LLs].)

I'll posit (there's a pinkies-out word of Academe for you) a few more, with the full understanding that your Oxford English Dictionary (OED) is rife with these, rife for the picking.

diction -- pickup lines uttered by a male at a bar.

faction -- the act of positing something to be true, which becomes accepted as true in the popular imagination, despite evidence to the contrary.

insipid -- an unintended or subconscious hint of naughtiness or nastiness.

Others welcome.

Monday, March 23, 2009

A Penny for Your Thoughts, Redux

Two days in a row I walked by a penny on the sidewalk. I did not pick it up. Time was, out of a sense of good sense (and cents) and savings, one would pick up a penny, even if for good luck. I did not bother. This disappoints me. Not that I harbor sentimental illusions about how much I am missing out on, how much my savings potential is diminished. (On that note, I am diligent. I have a large change jar, sometimes two. The resultant savings have paid for trips. I have also started a savings envelope, to which I contribute sometimes more than once a day: for fun and emergencies. I highly recommend these pecuniary practices.) Would I stoop to retrieve a dollar bill? Yes. But my inaction reflects a mindset, a way of thinking that got us into this economic morass. Many would pass up a dollar, I'd wager (though wagering is against the spirit of saving). Would they sneeze at a five or a ten? Walking on the sidewalk, when I was in first grade or so, I found a five-dollar bill, on the grass, moored there waiting for me on a windy day, if memory serves. What a thrill! What would that translate to in today's dollars, or euros? There are unwritten conventions, or used to be, regarding such findings. If you are in a hallway of a building and you find, say, a benjamin, are you honor-bound to inquire if anyone has lost one? Is that naive? What do you do next: invite claimants to recite the serial number? Funny thing is, I don't know if the penny is still there, waiting. Maybe it's a 1909 S VDB penny.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Beheading the Head

We have beheaded our head.

Dethroned the throne.

Cannily canned the can.

Privatized the privy publicly.

In other words, we have a new toilet.

In America, dead toilets are forlornly put out to pasture at the curb, at least in my town (not having any alternative means of disposing of the great disposer, not to my knowledge).

It is, well, embarrassing, exposing this old friend, shockingly available for one and all to see.

There's no way to make it look good, not by art or vandalism; not by any simple means, saving smashing the porcelain to smithereens. (Smithereens, a lovely word).

The thoroughly entertaining Online Etymological Dictionary tells us a fascinating history of the word toilet, ultimately bringing us to meanings such as "dressing room" and "cloth." Shite, it all started so innocently.

But all's well that ends well.

Sort of.

p.s. I bought a Jacuzzi brand toilet. Strange. Not what one thinks of when one thinks Jacuzzi. "I'm in the Jacuzzi" now takes on new meaning in my household.

Monday, March 16, 2009

"Rabbit Remembered"

I finished the novella "Rabbit Remembered" by John Updike and found it rewarding if for no other reason than the light it shone on familial denial and the persistence of genetic traits. Oddly, this time (I had read this work years ago but in my old age or sleep-time reading of it forgot much) brought to mind some comparisons with Tony Soprano. Both Tony Soprano and Harry "Rabbit" Angstrom are pathological in their solipsism -- and yet, and yet, we somehow root for them, at least some of the time. Then we shake our heads and wonder how or why. And both the Soprano and Angstrom clans collectively collaborate in the pathological relationships that interweave; sometimes we even see glimmers of hope, new beginnings seemingly free of the tired strands of misery. And then those strands get restrung and interwoven once again. (Which is not to say the others, the lives that these people touch, are any better; often worse.)

I'm going to go out on a limb here and say this is the very first instance of someone showing similarities between Tony Soprano and Rabbit Angstrom. Calling all academics! Here's a great topic for a dissertation!

I like to dog-ear the pages of a book as I am reading it, to remember juicy quotes. (In this case, I have to de-canine-ear the marked pages, since it is a library book.)

Some tidbits from John Updike's "Rabbit Remembered":

Nobody wants war but men don't want only peace either.

If society is the prison, families are the cells, with no time off for good behavior. Good behavior in fact tends to lengthen the sentence.

At thirty-nine, everybody's their own problem.

A grin is held on his face like a firecracker ready to go off.

Being adult, it seems, consists of not paying much attention.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Grass-Mud Mutterings

Speaking of censorship, as I did a few posts ago, have you heard about the grass-mud horse?

The New York Times tells us that grass-mud horse in Chinese sounds a lot like an unmentionable obscenity.

Consequently, millions of Chinese have flooded the Internet with blog posts and YouTube videos about the mythical grass-mud horse (which also was called the mud-grass horse in The Times article; is the mud-grass horse just as obscene, or worse?). They flooded the Internet with stuff on this invented creature to test the limits of authoritarian censorship. Censorship had the inadvertent effect of spawning creativity.

I mention this because my previous post discussed a different sort of censorship, one imposed by monetary authority.

In China there's a pro-democracy group called Charter08. The Times article notes that someone wryly suggested changing the group's name to the ubiquitous Wang. Since Wang is so common, like Smith, it would be terribly hard for the authorities to excise all instances of Wang on the Internet.

Incidentally, with Google and Yahoo and other search engines, it would not be hard for you to do a little research and therefore find out exactly how naughty a pun grass-mud horse is, something The New York Times did not touch with a 10-foot Pole (or a 6-foot Swede either).

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

The Price of Wording

This revisits a topic I've touched on before:

1. What if we bloggers had to pay for each word posted? Would we write less? Use more images and fewer words? Choose our words more diligently? Post less frequently?

2. Similarly, what if we we were charged for each word that we read? Would we be ever more selective in our online reading?

Would a censorship of this sort have a value? (Jorge Luis Borges once wryly commented that the political censorship he lived under forced him to be more creative and canny in expressing himself, though not endorsing or applauding the censorship itself.)

Talk about economies of scale!

Or is it economies of sale?

Would it all be so bad?

(Of course, my questions are brimming with the cock-sure assumption that the stuff of me, my, mine would be worth it, after all. But do we not all make that assumption to some degree?)

Updike Redux

Reading "Rabbit Remembered."

Actually, I'm re-reading it, as if I hadn't remembered reading it.

Such are the perils of either age or reading late at night, or both.

One does not hear much about this novella-length sequel to the four Rabbit books.

Worth the journey.

shoots shots shoots

after the meridian

shoots spied at the base

of the beech

pale stalks

not even verdant


just a bath of sun

and presto

lookie here

news of a shooting spree

shots fired

near Stuttgart

origin: stud garden, we are told

life lived

a few letters



all the difference

Saturday, March 07, 2009


the detritus of winter rising up like pacific atolls volcanic garbage not even a rousing rain can wash away can clean cleanse as in a rite of absolution ego te absolvo the melted snows dribble down the hill tipperary hill and you get surprised seeing anything a squashed plastic bottle invitations to subscribe the head of a child's smiling stuffed pal a flattened pancake fabric why the smile the vacant stare along with beer cans and bottle caps and runaway trash can covers branches leaves all tawny almost colorless not even teasing spring so monochrome so much dogshit on the curbs and near the sidewalks winter's borders dogshit being erased and dogshit not at all evaporated dogshit stubbornly still just dogshit some definition some definition called for here detritus I had thought it was pronounced more like the latin more like deh-tri-tiss with the accent on the deh now there's de treatise eh didn't know it almost sort of rhymes with detroit us unfortunately no disrespect implied inferred or insinuated to a town i've never been to and why does merriam-webster say the plural is detritus and not detriti as latin would dictate take a letter or two detritus funny how one word one flotsam jetsam sort of word can just set a laughorist off and running at the keyboard

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Biological Passport

"Biological passport" is a term being used by antidoping watchdogs in the world of sports. It refers to a blood profile of an athlete, which is compared with a baseline to see if he or she is employing some banned additive for a competitive edge, which is of course what athletes have always done, more or less, haven't they?

Biological passport.

As you know, The Laughorist is constantly alert to new and delicious words or phrases. I'm a one-man lowercase wordie, the way some call themselves foodies.

Biological passport.

Does it give me entry to another biological country hitherto forbidden?

Does a biological passport (with the proper visa) offer something meta-logical in the realm of life as we know it?

Is it the sine qua non of life embedded into our DNA at the moment of conception?

Alternatively, is it death, our transport to another realm beyond this one?

Who stamps the biological passport?

Who are its border guards, the polizei of polarity?

How do you apply for a biological passport, and what happens if your application is turned down?

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Constantine's Sword

I am just back from a spontaneous viewing of James Carroll's Constantine Sword.

I had brought along the DVD to a men's group at my church. At our last meeting, one of the men had talked about seeing it, so I retrieved it from the Hazard Library today (that's the name of the branch, named after a person, not a risk). So we decided to watch it.

There we were, seven or eight Episcopalian guys, none under 60, some war veterans, transfixed by a powerful documentary.

Left almost speechless.

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Solipsism, Exposed.

Today, Father Jim B., in a teaching before the Celebration of the Eucharist, quoted a phrase attributed to Martin Luther (some say it goes back to Saint Augustine):

incurvatus in se

This lusciously descriptive Latin phrase describes a life turned so inward upon itself as to exclude God and others: sin, by any other name (solipsism, if you prefer).


Above the fold. Under the fold. At the fold. You knew what was next:


I searched for folderol (Searching for Folderol, now there's a title for an autobiography!) at Merriam-Webster.com, and came up with the following:

One entry found.
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Main Entry:
also fal·de·ral \ˈfal-də-ˌral\
fol-de-rol, a nonsense refrain in songs
circa 1820
1 : a useless ornament or accessory : trifle
2 : nonsense

Don't you just love the BizRate ad?

"Save on Folderol"?

What's the going rate on folderol these days? With so much around, I'd think it was pretty cheap.