Bee’s knees

It’s that time of time of year again, when ESPN presents live coverage of an event where warriors exclaim, “Aw, darn it!” at the moment of their defeat. Yes, it’s the Scripps National Spelling Bee. And it can’t be here too soon.

At a time when the leader of the free world makes up words and can’t even fess up to a typo, where his supporters insist that he didn’t make a mistake but was actually speaking in code or in Arabic, I am supremely grateful for these young champions who care about words and their spelling and their meaning and their history. I salute them all, but in particular I’d like to give special recognition to:

  • Erin Howard, who has updated the “spelling the word out in the air with your finger” technique with her invisible keyboard
  • Varad Mulay, the tricky little tricker who asked for a word’s country of origin, its meaning, and then, “Can I have the spelling, please?”
  • Tejas Muthusamy, who is carrying a lucky rock and also spelled the word “bumicky” without cracking up
  • Paul Hamrick, who in his official profile photo looks like a child actor in a British Angry Young Man film from the ’60s
  • Nike-sponsored Shourav Dasari, who is the oldest and coolest on stage. Gets up, spells the word right, spins around
  • 6-year-old Edith Fuller, who didn’t make it to the finals but she still qualified for the Nationals and that’s kind of a big deal so there. Also her favorite animal is a cheetah

Hats off to you all, young ladies and gentlemen. I hope and pray that this year’s winning word isn’t “covfefe.”

Published in: on June 1, 2017 at 6:35 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Etiquette & superstition: voluntary and involuntary surrender of cream

“Etiquette & superstition: got milk?” actually would have worked quite well here as a title, but I couldn’t bring myself to do it. It’s 2017.

ETIQUETTE: If you’re having coffee or tea with someone and they ask you to pass the cream, the polite way to do this is to pick up the cream pitcher by the handle, transfer it to your other hand (grabbing it by the front of the pitcher), and offer it to the requestor with the handle facing them.

If you are at a coffee house, tea room, or diner and you discover that the milk or cream receptacle is empty (either by your actions or someone else’s), tell the waitstaff so that they may refill it. Do not leave a dairy carafe empty for someone else to discover. Seriously; even Urban Dictionary recognizes this as a faux pas. It’s barely one step up from when you were nine and you left the milk carton in the fridge with only a teaspoon of milk left in it.

SUPERSTITION: If you’re a Scandinavian witch, there are a lot of ways you can steal someone’s cream without getting caught.

  1. You can make a troll cat, which sometimes looks like a cat and sometimes looks like a cow’s hairball but totally isn’t, by rolling up a bunch of junk from the floor like fingernail clippings and sawdust and hair, then putting three drops of your blood on the ball and asking for help from Satan.
  2. You can make a milk hare out of an old sock and some wooden pegs for the ears.
  3. You can make a “til-beri” out of a dead man’s rib by rolling the rib up in stolen yarn, hiding it between your breasts, and dribbling Sacrament wine onto it over three consecutive Sundays. Once it’s strong enough from the wine, then you cut a little hole on your thigh and let it suckle from that for a while.

Now you’re ready for some milk-stealing. Just send your little helper out, and they will soon suck up a bunch of milk from your neighbors’ milk troughs and then come back and spit all the milk back out into your milk bucket. Ta da! Milk for days.

Home of the brave

This weekend I re-found a house that I first visited about 25 years ago but hadn’t been able to find since. At some point over the years I decided that the house had either been razed or had never actually existed outside of a dream, but it turns out it was only one block over from where I had been looking the whole time. Hooray!

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At first I was thinking it looked like that house in the 1980 TV movie of Brave New World, the lighthouse where Keir Dullea hangs himself.

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But then I started looking at stills of the movie and this house

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didn’t seem like it was that house at all, and then all the stuff in the story about the Alphas and consumption and conformity (not to mention the people worshipping a businessman and a big gold “T”) really started bumming me out and I had to stop looking at images from that film. Dang it. What beautiful futuristic dystopia did this house look like it came from? Then it hit me: Sleeper.

And that made me a little happier. Sure, there’s still a totalitarian society ruled by a despot who drugs his subjects into complacency, but at least the food’s better.

Etiquette & superstition: umbrellas

rainbowbrella
On our last night in New Orleans, Benny and I found ourselves in a bar in the Tremé neighborhood when someone thrust a parasol into my hand and strongly urged me to parade about with some other female patrons. I did the best I could, but I had no idea what I was doing and was scared the entire time that I was doing it wrong. Was I allowed to lower the umbrella, or bounce it up and down, or could I only twirl it? Could I pass it off to somebody else? Could I give it to a guy? Was I supposed to dance or just sort of strut around? I was immensely relieved when the whole thing was over. Our guide told me that I was taking all of this much too seriously.

ETIQUETTE: The underlying idea of most umbrella etiquette is that you should not be a space hog. If you’re carrying a full-sized umbrella and not using it to shield you from the elements, keep it close and parallel to your body. None of this “me ol’ bamboo” tucking it under your arm at a jaunty angle or twirling it or any such nonsense if you’re in a populated area.

When you are using your umbrella and another person with an umbrella approaches you, the taller person should raise their umbrella to pass. If both people are of similar height, the person with the larger umbrella should be the one to raise it.

SUPERSTITION: I don’t have to bring up the opening umbrellas inside thing, do I? No? Thank you. Let’s all agree that we know that one and move on.

Don’t put an umbrella on a table, on a bed, or give one as a gift. All unlucky, and as we’ve mentioned before, the umbrella gift will sever a relationship. If you drop your umbrella while you are walking, ask someone else to pick it up. If you pick it up yourself, you will soon find yourself in an argument. The fact that you have dropped your umbrella either means that you will soon meet a friend or you will soon lose your faculties.

 

Inky dinks

I’m reading this book. I’m reading this book that I got from the little library kiosk a few doors down from my house, a book that I didn’t know anything about but I picked it because I recognized the name of the author. My roommate in college liked this author a lot when we were in college, but I never really got into him. I picked up this book because I just started this office job where they have an hour lunch and I don’t really know what to do with myself having an hour lunch unless I want to go walking down to see the fake shark down the way, which I have done a couple of times already. This office job is at a movie studio, and my job is clearing music that the movie studio owns for use in other projects. Sometimes I clear music related to that fake shark but mostly other stuff. A couple of weeks ago I cleared something from Conan the Barbarian for use in some time-shifty scifi TV show.

I need something to read at lunch and I also need something to listen to on the commute, and my roommate from college, who is still a very close friend, tells me that this podcast about old-time Hollywood has just started posting some new episodes. All of the new episodes are about Charles Manson. This is interesting to me because Vincent Bugliosi, the prosecutor in the Manson murder trials and author of Helter Skelter (the book about the murders) just died, but this podcast series on Charles Manson started a week before he died. It’s also interesting to me because the first words on the first page of Helter Skelter are my birthday. August 9, 1969. When Vincent Bugliosi came to my college campus to speak, I got him to autograph my copy of Helter Skelter. I don’t think I said anything about my birthday, but I might have because that’s the sort of thing I could have done back in college.

Anyway, I’ve been listening to this podcast about the Manson murders on my commute to the movie studio. I am working clearing music in a building they have called John Ford, after one of the iconic directors associated with this movie studio. This is interesting to me because one of John Ford’s most famous movies is My Darling Clementine, and Darling Clementine is the name of the first album my band put out in the mid-’90s. A band I was in with my former college roommate. Also, in the mid-’90s when I was working in a video store, this guy who had been on about nine posters in my bedroom when I was in high school came into the video store and asked where the John Ford movies were. I was totally floored to be talking to this guy who had been all over my high school bedroom but I also couldn’t understand him through his British accent so I had to keep asking him what he was asking for. Johhhhn Forrrd. Johhhhn Forrrd. I wasn’t dumb about John Ford – I had been a film major in college – but I couldn’t understand him. He clarified with a film that John Ford had directed: The Molly Maguires*. This last point I am putting in here so you know I am not lying about the rest of this.

So I am working in John Ford clearing music and on my lunch break I am starting to read this book. This book is about some guy who travels to Hollywood because he’s a film freak, and he winds up in Hollywood on August 9, 1969 and he gets picked up a few days later by the cops as a suspect in the Tate (Manson) murders. He gets out of that, and then he gets some work as a set carpenter for films, and he has a weird encounter with a burglar who winds up talking a lot about John Ford and My Darling Clementine, and then after a big earthquake he meets some bearded fat surfer guy with a lot of opinions identified in the book as the Viking.

I immediately know who this guy is, even though he is identified only as the Viking. He is John Milius. John Milius, who went on to direct Conan the Barbarian. I know this because I met John Milius in college when I was a film major, and he talked a lot about surfing and he had a beard and he was fat. I read further on in the book and now he is being referred to as John. Well, then.

I come back from reading this book at lunch back to my desk, and the guy who I share an office with starts playing a song over and over for the next couple of days. Because I signed a confidentiality agreement for this job I cannot explain why he is playing this song over and over, but I think I can say that it was for work reasons. And the song is “Helter Skelter” by the Beatles.

So now I’m expecting something else to happen to tie all of this together. Either I’m going to meet the writer of this book or there’s going to be a big earthquake very soon.

*Actually, Martin Ritt. Why did he say John Ford?
Published in: on June 21, 2015 at 1:02 pm  Leave a Comment  

Word of the day for Thursday, April 9th

I just read a contemporary review of this great book The Lost Beauties of the English Language from 1874. In it, the reviewer complains about today’s word, saying that it is a lousy term that should just go away and die under a rock. The word is

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squintard: a person who squints. I don’t really see what is so rage-inducing about this word unless people are calling you a squintard day in and day out. Oh. There it is, then. Ha.

Mr. Reviewer, maybe you should just get some new glasses and this word won’t make you so very, very angry. It really is a perfectly fine word.

Published in: on April 9, 2015 at 6:01 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Etiquette & superstition: flannel

flannelmoth
Flannel is one of those words that starts looking funny the more you look at it. Flannel. Shouldn’t flannel be a dessert? A soft dessert? I can’t find any evidence that there is such a flannel dessert. The word “flannel” is derived from the Welsh word “gwlanen,” which I guess is also funny looking, but that doesn’t sound like a very good dessert at all to me.

ETIQUETTE: Flannel used to be one of those confusing fabrics where it seemed like it would be appropriate for winter wear just like flannel sheets and nightgowns, but it was actually used more often for tennis outfits and white suits that men would wear to garden parties. Suddenly around the mid-20th century or so, however, flannel stopped being primarily identified as a sporty fabric for summer gadabouts and started aligning its character with the conformist businessman. Geoffrey Beene even named a men’s fragrance Grey Flannel.

Regardless of this current identity, flannel is an excellent fabric that keeps one warm in the winter and cool in the summer, and if you don’t take your fashion cues from the Urban Dictionary, you should consider wearing it in seasonal-appropriate colors and weight whenever you like. Think of the wondrous thing that is summer-weight wool.

SUPERSTITION: If you want to cure gout, smear the afflicted foot with treacle and wrap it in flannel. Hard breasts can be remedied by applying mashed turnips mixed with rose oil to the breasts and keeping the area warm with a flannel wrap. If you wish to attract love, put a lock of your hair, a heart-shaped piece of dried lemon peel, and a piece of dried ginseng root into a pink or red flannel bag. Dedicate the bag to your purpose and wear it from a gold chain around your neck.

Photo of Stinging Flannel Moth Caterpillar by Andreas Kay on Flickr

Word of the day for Thursday, September 4th

I don’t usually feature athletes on Fancy Notions, and I don’t usually pick a proper name for the Word of the Day, but this athlete is special so I’m going to break some rules. Today we celebrate

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Potoooooooo! Otherwise known as Pot-8-os, this guy was considered the best racehorse of his time in the late 18th century. The story goes that the his owner told a stable boy to write the horse’s name on a stall door and the kid didn’t know how to spell Potatoes. I for one am very proud of that kid; he could have just chickened out and written Spuds, and then where would we be? We’d be in a world without Potoooooooo, that’s where we’d be.

Published in: on September 4, 2014 at 4:06 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Etiquette & superstition: champagne

champers
Go ahead; celebrate. It’s been a tough couple of weeks.

ETIQUETTE: The appropriate wine to serve with Chinese food is champagne. Clearly there should be more champagne delivery services, but maybe somebody is working on that. When opening a bottle of champagne, unless you’re a football player you don’t pop the cork out with the intention of maximum velocity and fizz. Twist the cork out carefully and pour the champagne into the glass at an angle to avoid a big foaming head (champagne people call the foam “mousse”) and a waste of bubble gas. And the glass you’re supposed to use? Unfortunately, it seems that the current preferred glass is the long and skinny flute. I find that a shame because I prefer the more old fashioned coupe-style glass pictured above. One reason is because you can’t use flutes to make a champagne tower and champagne towers are hilarious, and the other reason is I like the legend that the coupe was shaped in the form of Marie Antoinette’s left breast. I hope the champagne flute’s form does not mimick the shape of anyone’s breast.

SUPERSTITION: A new ship is supposed to be christened with the breaking of a wine bottle (preferably champagne bottle) against its bow. Supposedly it is a very bad omen if the bottle does not break, but considering the glass thickness of a champagne bottle, it seems a miracle that any ships are sailing at all. If you’re at the christening of a baby instead of a ship, or at a wedding, or some other celebratory event, you should make a slit in the cork after you’ve opened the bottle and put a coin in the slit. This will ensure good fortune for the people being celebrated. Some people put a gold piece into their champagne glass in the hopes of gaining wealth, but this seems to be more of a choking hazard than anything. Maybe some opportunistic ass somewhere choked on the gold piece and successfully sued the treasury for making a dangerous gold piece that someone could choke on, but that sounds like a pretty iffy gamble to take, and you don’t want to be that person anyway.

Photo by Maverick Liew on Flickr

Blowing our own horn

I think I’m sick of the Olympics already. All this focus on “medalling” and tallying what country is “ahead”, all these fanfarons fanfaronading… it’s just no fun. It’s not nearly as fun as saying the word

which is very fun indeed. Fanfaronade! Fanfaronade! I might just keep saying that instead of watching the Olympics. Oh, what does it mean? It means a blustering empty boast, although sometimes it just literally means a trumpety sort of fanfare. Toot!

Via Metafilter
Published in: on July 30, 2012 at 6:52 pm  Leave a Comment  
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