An Essay for Mrs. Malaprop

“A malapropism (also called a malaprop or Dogberryism) is the use of an incorrect word in place of a word with a similar sound, resulting in a nonsensical, often humorous utterance… The word “malapropism” (and its earlier variant “malaprop”) comes from a character named “Mrs. Malaprop” in Richard Brinsley Sheridan’s 1775 play The Rivals.” (Wikipedia)

Some examples of malapropisms are:

  • “illiterate him quite from your memory” (instead of “obliterate”)
  • “she’s as headstrong as an allegory” (instead of alligator).

A friend of mine recently posted this gem on Facebook; I had seen it before, but yesterday it rang a bell and I thought I’d just get it out here with its corrected version for future reference.

TRIGGER WARNING: If bad English offends you, look away now!

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Ow! Ow! Ow!

In text format, the monstrosity reads:

Acyrologia is the incorrect use of words – particularly replacing one word with another word that sounds similar but has a diffident meaning – possibly fueled by a deep-seeded desire to sound more educated, witch results in an attempt to pawn off an incorrect word in place of a correct one. In academia, such flaunting of common social morays is seen as almost sorted and might result in the offender becoming a piranha, in the Monday world, after all is set and done, such a miner era will often leave normal people unphased. This is just as well sense people of that elk are unlikely to tow the line irregardless of any attempt to better educate them. A small percentage, however, suffer from severe acryrologiaphobia, and it is their upmost desire to see English used properly. Exposure may cause them symptoms that may resemble post-dramatic stress disorder and, eventually, descend into whole-scale outrage as they go star-craving mad. Eventually, they will succumb to the stings and arrows of such barrage, and suffer a complete metal breakdown , leaving them curled up in a feeble position.

The only way to stop the pain is to read the paragraph in its proper form:

Acyrologia is the incorrect use of words – particularly replacing one word with another word that sounds similar but has a different meaning – possibly fueled by a deep-seated desire to sound more educated, which results in an attempt to pawn off an incorrect word in place of a correct one. In academia, such flaunting of common social mores is seen as almost sordid and might result in the offender becoming a pariah; in the mundane world, after all is said and done, such a minor error will often leave normal people unfazed. This is just as well since people of that ilk are unlikely to toe the line, regardless of any attempt to better educate them. A small percentage, however, suffer from severe acryrologiaphobia, and it is their utmost desire to see English used properly. Exposure may cause them symptoms that may resemble post-traumatic stress disorder and, eventually, descend into full-scale outrage as they go stark-raving mad. Eventually, they will succumb to the slings and arrows of such barrage, and suffer a complete mental breakdown , leaving them curled up in a fetal position.

I’ve written before about “Word Crimes” – one of Weird Al’s best efforts ever, and that’s saying something because just about everything he does is delightful.

The Wold Floof has Broken.

Two bees, or not two bees.

When I was younger I was enamored of flying, having learned how at Key West Naval Air Force base thanks to a brief stint as a military dependent. Flying lessons were at that time affordable, and I took the opportunity to learn how to solo a Cessna 150, and later at Hill Air Force Base Aero Club, a PA-28 140. After I turned 23 and lost dependent status, flight time became prohibitively expensive, so I never got my ticket – but I sure loved the experience.

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During that time I was subscribed to “Flying” magazine and read it religiously, drooling over the new Mitsubishi twin-engine planes that looked so beautiful, and one of the monthly features was “I Learned About Flying from That” – a humorous but educational look at the odd sorts of things that crop up.

I share with you here a portion of one that I always remembered, and which thanks to the eternal memory of the Internet, has been preserved for posterity.


Ridiculous things can happen when you least expect them. It was a beautiful, smooth CAVU day and I leveled off at 8,500, cranked the trim, settled back and opened a stick of chewing gum. It was all very peaceful, but while part of the gum was sticking out of my mouth, a bee landed on it.

I exploded the gum as far as the windshield. This must have put the bee in a bad mood, because he did an immelman and came at me out of the sun. As soon as he got me in his sights, he was joined by another bee.

I wade a rather haphazard attack with a folded low-level chart, but the situation deteriorated when the bees made a flank attack up my trouser leg.

By this time, I imagined I was sitting on a whole nest of bees and began looking for an airport. In answer to my screaming into the mike, a pedantic voice told me wind direction and velocity, barometric pressure, runway, and then, to report downwind. I was hoping for a straignt-in approach, so I began to shout about bees.

Of course, the tower said, “Repeat.”

I supposed I sounded something like “Blah blah blah, Comanche, two bees…”

“Comanche Bravo Bravo, go ahead.”

“Negative Bravo Bravo. Bees. I’ve got two bees.”

“You’ve got to what?”

“Seven-Five Pop has got two bees!”

The tower somehow got the idea that I wanted to use the facilities, and cleared me straight in. I went literally buzzing up to the wire fence beside the terminal, leaped madly out on the wing and took off my pants. Not until there was a burst of applause from a Girl Scout troop did I realize how totally I had been routed by the emergency.

Now bees are on my checklist, just like birds.

From “Flying” magazine, October 1972. “I Learned About Flying from That,” No. 389, by Guernsey Le Pelley

Full text here: https://books.google.com/books?id=aMXZoqvRpaIC

I could tell you about the time that I was at about 10,000 feet practicing cross-control stalls in a Piper and learned exactly why one should be aware of this danger by going into a dead spin, but perhaps another time…

The Old Wolf has spoken.

Even the best cartoonists repeat now and then.

I grew up on Peanuts™. I learned how to read with the first Peanuts book that appeared in 1952, and read them voraciously as other volumes were published. Over time my collection was sold or given away (heresy!), and when I came to my senses decades later I began collecting them again.

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The challenge with the original books was that Schulz was very selective about what he allowed to be anthologized, and many of his strips vanished from the public consciousness. Happily, later arrangements with Schulz and his estate allowed the entire collection to be republished either by Fantagraphics (beautiful but very expensive) or online at GoComics (colorized but free.)

I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the GoComics edition, and read it faithfully and daily. But recently I came across a strip that rang a loud bell:

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I remembered this strip clearly, but something about it seemed “off.” When I finally had some time to do a deep search of the internet, I was able to find the one I remembered:

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Same gag, re-drawn, slightly different punchline. According to comments at the GoComics site, there may also be a strip where Linus tells Lucy that if you cut a PB&J sandwich, all the flavor runs out.

Why the re-do? Could be any number of reasons. Maybe Schulz liked this punchline better and wanted to see it published. Charles M. Schulz created a total of 17,897 Peanuts strips; maybe he just forgot he had done this one and the idea stuck in his head, so he “re-created” it. Maybe he was stuck for an idea on a given day. Whatever the case, if this is the only true duplication of a gag that he ever did, that’s a prodigious feat.

Other cartoonists repeat occasionally (and not just re-runs for vacations or filler.) I’ve seen one or two examples, but most of them keep coming up with fresh ideas (or in the case of some comic strips, not-so-fresh ideas) for years or even decades. Schulz was undeniably one of the masters of the genre, and an inspiration for countless cartoonists who followed.

The Old Wolf has spoken.

Two lessons from bees

1) The Unwise Bee

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Elder James E. Talmage

Sometimes I find myself under obligations of work requiring quiet and seclusion such as neither my comfortable office nor the cozy study at home insures. My favorite retreat is an upper room in the tower of a large building, well removed from the noise and confusion of the city streets. The room is somewhat difficult of access and relatively secure against human intrusion. Therein I have spent many peaceful and busy hours with books and pen.

I am not always without visitors, however, especially in summertime; for when I sit with windows open, flying insects occasionally find entrance and share the place with me. These self-invited guests are not unwelcome. Many a time I have laid down the pen and, forgetful of my theme, have watched with interest the activities of these winged visitants, with an afterthought that the time so spent had not been wasted, for is it not true that even a butterfly, a beetle, or a bee may be a bearer of lessons to the receptive student?

A wild bee from the neighboring hills once flew into the room, and at intervals during an hour or more I caught the pleasing hum of its flight. The little creature realized that it was a prisoner, yet all its efforts to find the exit through the partly opened casement failed. When ready to close up the room and leave, I threw the window wide and tried at first to guide and then to drive the bee to liberty and safety, knowing well that if left in the room it would die as other insects there entrapped had perished in the dry atmosphere of the enclosure. The more I tried to drive it out, the more determinedly did it oppose and resist my efforts. Its erstwhile peaceful hum developed into an angry roar; its darting flight became hostile and threatening.

Then it caught me off my guard and stung my hand—the hand that would have guided it to freedom. At last it alighted on a pendant attached to the ceiling, beyond my reach of help or injury. The sharp pain of its unkind sting aroused in me rather pity than anger. I knew the inevitable penalty of its mistaken opposition and defiance, and I had to leave the creature to its fate. Three days later I returned to the room and found the dried, lifeless body of the bee on the writing table. It had paid for its stubbornness with its life.

To the bee’s shortsightedness and selfish misunderstanding I was a foe, a persistent persecutor, a mortal enemy bent on its destruction; while in truth I was its friend, offering it ransom of the life it had put in forfeit through its own error, striving to redeem it, in spite of itself, from the prison house of death and restore it to the outer air of liberty.

Are we so much wiser than the bee that no analogy lies between its unwise course and our lives? We are prone to contend, sometimes with vehemence and anger, against the adversity which after all may be the manifestation of superior wisdom and loving care, directed against our temporary comfort for our permanent blessing. In the tribulations and sufferings of mortality there is a divine ministry which only the godless soul can wholly fail to discern. To many the loss of wealth has been a boon, a providential means of leading or driving them from the confines of selfish indulgence to the sunshine and the open, where boundless opportunity waits on effort. Disappointment, sorrow, and affliction may be the expression of an all-wise Father’s kindness.

Consider the lesson of the unwise bee!

“Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths” (Prov. 3:5–6).

2) You can’t escape death

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Visit anythingcomic.com, and someone please think of the bees!

The Old Wolf has spoken.

“Indian Counting” – Een, teen, tether, fether, fip!

OK, caveat here: it’s may not be Native American counting, but that’s how it was presented to me by my math teacher (Mr. Sommerville, go ndéanai Dia trócaire air) in high school, around 1967. On the other hand, maybe it is.

The entire schema as he presented it was:

Een, teen, tether, fether, fip,
Satra, latra, co, tethery, dick,
Eendick, teendick, tetherdick, fetherdick, bump,
Eenbump, teenbump, tetherbump, fetherbump, didick!

Being testosterone-soaked boys, everyone laughed at hearing the word “dick” used as a number, and then life went on. I had heard it once, and remembered fragments of it forever.

Then came the Internet, where almost everything arcane has a tendency to show up if you wait long enough. I would search occasionally, and over time, bits and pieces appeared; now there is a full-blown Wikipedia article entitled “Yan tan tethera,” and the real story becomes quite complicated.

Over at Wovember Words, the matter is treated thusly (the whole page is worth a read):

The only reference we could find anywhere confirming connections between the counting words of Native Americans with those used in the North of England is in a musical written in 1957, called The Music Man. There is a scene in this play where the wife of the Mayor exclaims “I will now count to twenty in the Indian tongue! Een teen tuther featherfip!” Is this line in the play responsible for the idea that Native American peoples were using these old counting words with their Gaelic origins, or does it reflect that through the dark mechanisms of Imperialism the counting words were imposed onto Native American culture by the time the play was written?

Lincolnshire Shepherds counted:
Yan, tan, tethera, pethera, pinp,
Sethera, lethera, hovera, covera, di,
Yen-a-dik, tan-a-dick, tethera-dik, pethera-dik, bumfit,
Yan-a-bumfit, tan-a-bumfit, tuthera-bumfit, pethera-bumfit, figgit.

At the same time, around 1890, Native Americans were also using:
Een, teen, thuther, futher, fipps,
Suther, luther, uther, duther, dix,
Een-dix, teen-dix, tuther-dix, futher-dix, bumpit,
Anny-bumpit, tanny-bumpit, tuther-bumpit, futher-bumpit, giggit, Anny-gigit.

If you listen to the soundtrack of the movie version of “The Music Man” carefully, there’s a bit more:

Eulalie begins: Een teen tuther feather fip!
The chorus chants: Sakey, Lakey, Corey Ippy Gip (This may not be 100% accurate as these words do not appear in the screenplay)
Eulalie continues: Eendik Teendik Tetherdik Fethertik … (she is interrupted by a firecracker)

So we can see that it’s entirely possible that these counters, very similar to the Brythonic counting systems – too close to be coincidental – may have been transmitted very early by some oral channel to Native Americans, and that by folklore tradition a knowledge of these counters worked their way down cultural pathways to be included in the play and movie.

Language and its history are curious things, with enough puzzles and questions for lifetimes of study – even the whimsical bits.

The Old Wolf has spoken.

Coin collecting – nobody makes money but the dealers.

I learned this lesson the hard way as a kid, as I sank endless amounts of allowance and paychecks and tips into a coin collection and various and sundry offerings from the Franklin Mint, touted as “brilliant investments” and “guaranteed to be coveted”. Yes, some of the things I gathered were very pretty, but 50 years later when it came time to divest myself of the items for this reason and that, I found out that most of the stuff was worth: melt value. That’s just the sad reality of the collecting world.

The same holds true for stamps: the mint sheets of things like the Mercury mission

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Face value: $4.00. Dealer price today: $18.40. Hardly a brilliant investment over time, and that’s for a mint sheet. Certainly not what my father envisioned as he gathered sheets like this which I ended up inheriting. Individual cancelled stamps collected from envelopes will fetch you… well, kindling, really. With the exception of a few very rare beauties, stamp collecting is a hobby for amateurs (in the original sense, meaning “those who love”) rather than investors.

Not that dealers out there are not still trying to flummox the unwise and the uninformed. Look at this beautiful collection of Liberty Seated coins from PCS stamps and coins, offered for only two payments of $295.00:

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Yes, it’s very attractive. Here’s the potential breakdown of value, taken from the PCGS website – you can be sure that the coins you get will be the commonest (hence cheapest) varieties out there, and all in “Very Good” condition, or between grade 8 and 10.

1877 CC Liberty Seated Half Dollar – grade 8 – $59.00
1876 CC Liberty Seated Quarter – Grade 8 – $60.00
1876 CC Liberty Seated Dime – Grade 8 – $29.00

Total $148.00

That pretty little case probably costs about 30.00 or less from a dealer in China – so for a premium of $400.00 you can have someone put together a set of coins that you could own for 1/3 the price. Even 50 years down the road, don’t expect your investment to appreciate anywhere near that much.

Old US coinage can be beautiful, and top specimens command insane prices from the wealthy bidders who buy them at auction – but if you want to make money from collecting coins… become a dealer.

The Old Wolf has spoken.

Try Moxie, they said.

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My first introduction to Moxie came as I read Stuart Little in the 1950s. Stuart, on his journey to find his lost love Margalo, stopped at a gas station and asked about something to drink.

“Have you any sarsaparilla in your store?” asked Stuart. “I’ve got a ruinous thirst.”
“Certainly,” said the storekeeper. “Gallons of it. Sarsaparilla, root beer, birch beer, ginger ale, Moxie, lemon soda, Coca Cola, Pepsi Cola, Dipsi Cola, Pipsi Cola, Popsi Cola, and raspberry cream tonic. Anything you want.”

At the time I had no idea what Moxie was, but was delighted to find out later that it was a real thing, unlike the Dipsi, Pipsi, and Popsi colas mentioned. And yes, it’s definitely an acquired taste. It’s reminiscent of root beer or sarsparilla, but the dominant flavoring is gentian root, which brings a bitterness to the drink not found in other soft drinks (unless you’re fond of Campari soda, not usually found outside of Italy.) God forbid anyone should make a soda version of Fernet-Branca!

But Moxie is different, and refreshing. The bitterness doesn’t bother me, in fact it makes the concoction more satisfying on a hot day than something that’s just overly sugary. I may like it for the same reason I like chestnut honey, which I discovered on a trip to Slovenia – wonderfully full-bodied, with that same distinctive bitterness which offsets the sweetness nicely.

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Originating around 1876 as a patent medicine called “Moxie Nerve Food,” Moxie is closely associated with the state of Maine and was designated the official soft drink of Maine on May 10, 2005. Its creator, Dr. Augustin Thompson, was born in Union, Maine. (Extracted from Wikipedia)

For the longest time, Frank Anicetti ran the Moxie Museum in Lisbon, Maine; this year saw the closure of the store, which was at the heart of Maine’s annual Moxie Festival since 1913.

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Frank Anicetti serves up Moxie ice cream

But even though the Kennebec Fruit Company store is gone, Moxie will stay close to the hearts and stomachs of Mainahs; there’s still the Matthews Museum in Union, which has an entire wing devoted to Moxie.

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The Moxie Wing at the Matthews Museum in Union, Maine

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Now in the interest of full disclosure, I’m still a Pepper, and always have been. In my years sojourning in Europe, I discovered that Europeans – while they find Coke and Pepsi palatable – generally look upon Root Beer and Dr Pepper as tasting like medicine. With that in mind, I suspect Moxie wouldn’t find much of a market in Vienna or Ljubljana… in fact, it might be just enough to turn even our best European friends into a torch-and-pitchfork waving mob.

But such is life. The poor souls probably wouldn’t appreciate nattō either. They have my sympathy. For the moment, I’m happy to be in Maine, where Moxie is readily available.

The Old Wolf has spoken.