Saturday, June 27, 2009

An Okay Kurt Vonnegut Resource

Anyone who knows me knows that one of my favorite authors — one of my favorite people — is fellow Hoosier Kurt Vonnegut. I've already read everything by him and a lot of things about him, so I really didn't have a great need to look for further resources about his life and works. I can't even remember now how I stumbled upon (maybe through Stumble Upon), but stumble I did.

The site hasn't been updated in quite a while (Vonnegut's death hasn't been registered there yet), but since Vonnegut didn't write a whole lot in the last decade of his life, that doesn't leave a lot of holes in his coverage. For Vonnegut lovers like myself, this is a good place to find some of his lesser-known writings and commencement addresses, as well as the standard biographical and bibliographical info.

Perhaps if the owner of VonnegutWeb starts to see more traffic, he'll feel the urge to update it. (Or give it to me?)

Friday, June 26, 2009

Today's Word: stroganoff

stroganoff: A culinary term denoting that a food has been prepared with sour cream, onions, mushrooms, and noodles, though I can't be positive that the noodles are mandatory. I've only ever heard it applied to beef stroganoff, but would love to hear if you've eaten anything else that has been "stroganoffed."

The culinary term is believed to named after Sergei Stroganov, a Russian aristocrat, founder of the Stroganov Moscow State University of Arts and Industry in 1825, and governor general of Moscow in 1859 and 1860. (Maybe one of you older language lovers can tell me whether beef stroganoff had a "more patriotic" name during the Red Scare?)

I post this not because I think you'll be interested in beef stroganoff (though it is a nice little bit of trivia), but because of my recent experience with beef stroganoff — specifically generic beef stroganoff made with ground beef and flat pasta. This is the generic, boxed version of the Hamburger Helper beef stroganoff, which is itself a genericized, box version of real beef stroganoff made with strips of yummy steak.

Anyway, I whipped up a batch of doubly generic, boxed beef stroganoff the other day and was struck by how disgusting it looked. It's papier maché with meat. I thought to myself that this might be the most disgusting-looking food on the planet.

A couple days later I discovered my error. The one food that looks even more disgusting than generic beef stroganoff is leftover beef stroganoff. Somehow, the second time around, it not only looked bad but was completely inedible.

Oh yeah. Beef stroganoff is also the punch line to the horrible joke, "What do you call a masturbating bull?"

Monday, June 22, 2009

Today's List: Top Ten Words that Almost Rhyme with Orange

A great list for all you budding poets out there:
  • old hinge
  • strange
  • phalanges
  • beluga
  • courage
  • incorrigible
  • fornicate
  • Galapagos
  • G.I. Joe
  • Florence Henderson
You can thank me later.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Douglas Adams and the Meaning of Liff

I was probably in the seventh or eighth grade when I first read The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy and fell in love with Douglas Adams. Since then, I've read everything he's written. Well…with one exception.

In the list of his works in the front of some of his books, I'd keep seeing the title The Meaning of Liff. I always kept an eye out for it in bookstores, and I'd try card catalogs and, later, library databases trying to find this book and see what it's all about. Eventually, I gave up looking and started reading Neil Gaiman.

Anyway, thanks to my old friend Dolph for pointing out that The Meaning of Liff is available for free (and in need of a good proofreading) online. I don't know that it's legally available for free, so follow the previous link at your own peril: the ghost of Douglas Adams may come back and start hiding your towels, dropping your cufflinks behind the refrigerator, or teaching your disgruntled parrot some sailor lingo.

From the intro on the Web page, The Meaning of Liff appears to be Pseudodictionary-like collection of definitions for common elements of life and living it assigned to placenames found on signposts, especially throughout the United Kingdom. Many of the definitions are quite useful for concisely referring to something that doesn't currently have a "real" definition. For example, I'm a skilled alltamist and kalamist, I once limerigged my leg so hard in college that I was in an air cast for three weeks, and I'm a horrible abinger (though I don't own a cheese grater).

Other definitions are a little too specialized for general usage, though all definitions are perfectly brisbane. Check it out! Is it worth reading from start to finish? Yesnaby!

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Today's Word: mugwump

mugwump: In the late 19th century, mugwump was a disparaging term for New York Republicans who supported Democrat Grover Cleveland in the 1884 presidential election. It stems from an Algonquin term for a "person of importance" — a high muckety-muck.

The epithet was supposedly given by Charles Anderson Dana, editor of the New York Sun, who claimed that the party-crossing Republicans had their "mug" on one side of the fence and their "wump" on the other.

More recently, William Burroughs commandeered the term for his own purposes. From Naked Lunch:

On stools covered in white satin sit naked Mugwumps sucking translucent, colored syrups through alabaster straws. Mugwumps have no liver and nourish themselves exclusively on sweets. Thin, purple-blue lips cover a razor-sharp beak of black bone with which they frequently tear each other to shreds in fights over clients. These creatures secrete an addicting fluid from their erect penises which prolongs life by slowing metabolism. . . . Addicts of Mugwump fluid are known as Reptiles. A number of these flow over chairs with their flexible bones and black-pink flesh. A fan of green cartilage covered with hollow, erectile hairs through which the Reptiles absorb the fluid sprouts from behind each ear. The fans, which move from time to time touched by invisible currents, serve also some form of communication known only to the Reptiles.

During the biennial Panics when the raw, pealed Dream Police storm the City, the Mugwumps take refuge in the deepest crevices of the wall, sealing themselves in clay cubicles and remain for weeks in biostasis. In those days of grey terror the Reptiles dart about faster and faster, scream past each other at supersonic speed, their flexible skulls flapping in black winds of insect agony.

The Dream Police disintegrate in globs of rotten ectoplasm swept away by an old junky, coughing and spitting in the sick morning. The Mugwump Man comes with alabaster jars of fluid and the Reptiles get smoothed out.

The air is once again still and clear as glycerine.

In David Cronenberg's movie adaptation of Naked Lunch, the Mugwump's "erect penises" sprout not from between the legs, but from the top of the head. Here's a picture of William Burroughs with a movie mugwump.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Misquoted: Palin and the Exploitation of Mirrors

Found in an online article from the NBC Bay Area News. In quoting Sarah Palin's hockey-mask-mom letter to David Letterman — concerning some jokes that Dave made about Sarah and her daughters visiting New York — the Web site printed this as part of her letter:

"…acceptance of inappropriate sexual comments about an underage girl, who could be anyone's daughter, contributes to the atrociously high rate of sexual exploitation of mirrors by older men who use and abuse others."

I could go on about the fact that every underage girl is someone's daughter, making Palin's "who could be anyone's daughter" statement redundant, or I could rant about the ridiculous idea that listening to or telling a bad joke contributes to child molestation (in the same way that glimpsing Janet Jackson's nipple can emotionally scar a child for life?), but I don't have time. I'm too busy prying the mirrors from the ceiling over my bed.

Today's Word: puisne

puisne: Of a lower rank; an associate justice as distinguished from a chief justice. Before you hurt yourself trying to figure out how to pronounce it, here's a little help: it's French. From the old French puis (after) + (born), it literally, or at least originally, designated someone born after someone else, hence younger. Puis is pronounced "pyoo."


Got the pronunciation yet? It's pronounced puny. In fact, puny and puisne come from exactly the same place etymologically. Of course, you can't refer to someone as puny in any official discourse without sounding unprofessional and egotistic, but referring to your underlings as puisne, well, that just makes you well-educated and intellectual.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Today's Word: prevaricate

prevaricate: Not what happens right before you varicate. To prevaricate means to sidestep the truth, either through doublespeak and misdirection or through outright lies. Politicians have for a long time been the top candidates for the epithet prevaricator, but more recently, big business CEOs and CFOs have been gaining ground on legislators, though they're more likely to be called a host of other things before prevaricator makes it to the list.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Today's Word: schlemiel

schlemiel: A Yiddish term for a bungling, gullible idiot. "That schlemiel just put a $500 check in the mail and is now anxiously awaiting word from the Nigerian prince who needed the money." Schlemiel is identified in the Talmud with a prince who met an unfortunate end.

Don't be a schlemiel!