Monthly Archives: May 2019

What my fingertips tell me of books

Paper, in general, is hard.

We may be used to thinking of paper as soft. It bends, doesn’t it? But take a dozen or a score of pages, a quire or even a ream, and pinch. It doesn’t give. Not most kinds of paper, anyway. Crumple a sheet of printer paper and rub it against your face. Not exactly pillowsome, is it? Run your finger along the edge of a single page. Oops. Feathers don’t cut you like that.

But not all paper meets the fingers the same way. And while the paper in many books is merely functional, cool and flat and impersonal and barely textured under my fingers like an institutional wall, some paper has a rich texture. Some has a soft give. And, yes, some bends more than other. But the bend and the texture and the softness are entirely separate things. Continue reading

get-there-ativeness

This is a word with a lot of get-up-and-go, but all of it has gotten up and gone. Behold a word that is simultaneously an annoyingly clumsy and cute new confection and so old and out of use that even the obelisk declaring its obsoleteness has a layer of dust on it. Thank heavens for historical dictionaries such as my perennial friend the Oxford English Dictionary, which still let me get there to it. Continue reading

lissotrichous

Our idea of mothers is very much shaped by the way our own respective mothers were when we were young. My mother, in the 1970s when I was in my most formative years, was winsome, sanguine, sage, easily amused, gastronomically expert, mellifluous of voice, statuesque, and lissotrichous.

No, I did not know the word lissotrichous at the time. I may have been a boy genius and super annoying and all that but come on. Here, though, see her in the summer of 1976: Continue reading

Voodoo Child

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The house special

Listen to the audio of this on Patreon

I mean, you pretty much know what you’re getting into just from the name of the place, don’t you. But if that doesn’t tell you, look through the window or walk right in and see the narrow space, the bar on one side and the three little high-tops against the other wall, the one medium and one large table up in front. See the surfaces made from reused wood with peeling paint and engraved foliage. See the bottles behind the bar, which include many cute liquors but pointedly do not include vodka. See the floor, which is wood in a condition every bit as bad as the counter and tabletops. And if you still don’t get it, order their signature drink, a Voodoo Child, which is like a tighter version of a flat white served in a little glass skull. Continue reading

birdbrain

It’s bad to be a birdbrain.

We know this. Birdbrain has been a term of abuse since at least the 1940s, bird-brained since at least the 1920s. Sure, some birds can fly halfway around the planet and find their way back. Others can spot a fish below the waves from hundreds of feet up and nail them in a dive. Small birds have brains that are fully 1/12 of their body weight (compared with 1/40 for humans). But – with mynah exceptions (ha ha) – birds are not known for being creative problem solvers.

Take this little one here (see it on the counter?). Continue reading

Boston pronunciation tip: Quincy Market and Faneuil Hall

I lived in Boston for several years in the ’90s. I was back briefly recently, so I took the opportunity to make a quick pronunciation tip. Most things in Boston present no pronunciation challenges, but there are a couple worth knowing…

Tory spring

You know what an “Indian summer” is, I presume, though it’s a phrase I would avoid using (and one that isn’t used as much these days): A bit of fall that is recidivistically warm – which is to say, a few days that might make you think summer isn’t over yet, though it is. Well, have you heard of a “Tory spring”? Continue reading