Search us!

Search The Word Detective and our family of websites:

This is the easiest way to find a column on a particular word or phrase.

To search for a specific phrase, put it between quotation marks.

 

Ask a Question!

Puzzled by Posh?
Confounded by Cattycorner?
Baffled by Balderdash?
Flummoxed by Flabbergast?
Perplexed by Pandemonium?
Nonplussed by... Nonplussed?
Annoyed by Alliteration?

Don't be shy!
Send in your question!

 

 

 

Alphabetical Index
of Columns January 2007 to present.

 

Archives 2006 – present

Old Archives

Columns from 1995 to 2006 are slowly being added to the above archives. For the moment, they can best be found by using the Search box at the top of this column.

 

If you would like to be notified when each monthly update is posted here, sign up for our free email notification list.

 

 

 

 

Trivia

All contents herein (except the illustrations, which are in the public domain) are Copyright © 1995-2011 Evan Morris. Reproduction without written permission is prohibited, with the exception that teachers in public schools may duplicate and distribute the material here for classroom use.

Any typos found are yours to keep.

And remember, kids,
Semper Ubi Sub Ubi

 

TWD RSS feeds

November 2014

Semper Ubi Sub Ubi

readme:

Alrighty, then. At the risk of turning this site into Weird Cat Blog, I have two new CatCat phenomena to report. I hope such details will eventually enable investigators to piece together exactly what this critter is and how (and why) she arrived on our planet.

Number One: CatCat is not afraid of vacuum cleaners. At all. All of our cats are at least a little afraid of vacuums, and even the most placid among them will walk in a dignified manner to the nearest exit when one starts. Most of them run for their lives, even though they’ve never had an actual scary experience with one. But you can run a vacuum cleaner right up to CatCat’s front paws and she won’t blink. That ain’t normal.

 

Artist's conception of space cat

Number Two: liquids. CatCat drinks lots of water from her bowl, and will sit sedately on the edge of the sink while you run the tap. So last week I took her a plate of Iams canned cat food with a little can-juice (whatever) on the plate. It was one of her favorite flavors. But when I set the plate down in front of her on the floor (which slants slightly, as does the whole house), the liquid flowed around the edge of the plate, seeking the low point. This is Life on Earth, Chapter 1, right? CatCat was terrified. Completely flipped out. She stared at the liquid as if it were alive, crouched in alarm and backed away, stared some more, tracking the slowly-moving fluid in wide-eyed horror, and then ran out of the room. Um, wow. This is not a kitten. The vet estimated that she’s at least four or five years old. And she’s never seen this before? Riiight.

Tell me more, Earthling.

And then there’s the fact that she likes to look at herself in the mirror (unusual in a grown cat), but she does it very intensely, like she’s checking her costume. She’s also a very deep sleeper, and you can tell when she’s running in her dream because her legs move. Maybe she’s just a very small, very strange dog. From Mars.

Onward. Until a month or so ago, Netflix Streaming offered the first nine years of Law & Order, Original Recipe, Lennie Briscoe Edition, which I think is absolutely the best cop show ever produced (apart from The Wire, which was a very different kind of show). Unfortunately, Netflix pulled it from their lineup  before I made it to the end, but several basic cable channels are carrying reruns of the entire series, so there’s that. The fun of seeing Briscoe and Logan/Curtis/Green for me (apart from the plots “ripped from the headlines” and Jerry Orbach’s quips) is seeing Manhattan in the 1990s, when we lived there (having migrated from Brooklyn). In episodes centered on the Upper West Side (which is to say many of them), I got to revisit our old neighborhood and even caught a glimpse of the guys from Zingone’s, our favorite deli (@ 82nd & Columbus Avenue), standing on the sidewalk in the background of one long scene.

The Man.

Jerry Orbach’s Lennie Briscoe is a classic performance, of course, but judging from a few retired NYPD detectives I knew, still in the ballpark of realism, including the sardonic humor. I actually have a “Certificate of Appreciation” around here somewhere from the NYPD Detectives’ Endowment Association (essentially the detectives’ union), but I can’t for the life of me remember what I did to deserve it. I probably wrote something for their magazine.

The notable difference between L&O in the 90s and cop shows now is the prevalence of sadistic violence and gore in current shows. I’ve never been able to take any of the L&O spinoffs and copycats (SVU, CSU, NCIS, et al.) for that reason, and even L&O itself veered sharply in that direction after 1999: more lingering shots of slashed throats, mutilated models, etc., ad nauseam, not to mention the rise of the ludicrous mannequin-cop (both male and female). The whole supercop/serial killer/autopsy shtick, as Lennie might say. I gotta say that I don’t understand the popular mania for serial killers in movies and TV, and I really don’t understand how anyone can voluntarily watch this insanely repetitive and moronic — and usually intensely misogynistic — drivel week after week. I sat through a full episode of SVU while trapped in a waiting room last year and it made me want to leave the country.

What else. Oh yeah, I have chronic optic neuritis, pretty much standard issue with MS, which produces blurred vision, transitory blind spots, pain in the eyes and flashes of light. Even on a good day it’s like watching an old TV with lousy reception, and I often see little white lights running up the edge of my field of vision, as if a film had jumped its sprockets in a projector. Very weird. Last week we were sitting on the couch, watching House Hunters on HGTV, and I noticed that there were suddenly strings of tiny colored lights running across my field of vision. Quite festive, actually. I guess my visual cortex was in the holiday mood. Anyway, there have been quite a few days lately when I couldn’t read much of anything, so there may be more than the usual delay in processing subscriptions, etc.

As always, your subscriptions and contributions keep this rickety boat afloat.

And now, on with the show

October 2014

Semper Ubi Sub Ubi

readme:

Special note: If you sent me a package at my PO Box in the past month, I didn’t get it. I got the notice in my box, but the PO droids only shrug when I ask where the actual prize is. I’m fairly certain this is not how it’s supposed to work, so if you did send me something, say the word (to words1@word-detective.com) and I’ll break out the torches and pitchforks. I know, I know, it was probably just a review copy of something, but sometimes people send me really neat stuff, and it must have been neat, because who steals books from a post office? Maybe it was a Thinkpad T-440, eh? That would figure.

Onward. Yeah, OK, there was no September issue. Keep in mind that most people hate September, so I was actually doing y’all a favor. It was a crummy month anyway, of which more in a moment.

Elsewhere in the news, Weird Cat is still weird. I mentioned last time (can’t really say “last month,” amirite?) that we had been followed home from a nocturnal walk by The Implacable Cat, a strange little creature of no discernible provenance who was apparently firmly convinced that she was fated to live with us. We fed her on the front porch for more than a month while we searched for her real keepers, with no success, and finally let her in when the weather changed and the only alternative was feline hypothermia. She doesn’t have a proper name because we’re still trying to find her a home, so we’ve been calling her CatCat. We seem to be having a problem with cat names around here; CatCat joins Little Girl Cat and Lady Cat in the pathetic name fails of our resident herd.

Worst-case scenario

The strange part of this saga is that we’re not entirely sure that CatCat is, in fact, a cat. She looks like a cat dreamed up by Edward Gorey, mottled brown and gray with orange patches and strangely piercing eyes, a very Victorian-looking critter. But her demeanor is the weird part. As Kathy says, she behaves like something else that is taking the shape of a cat at the moment, but doesn’t have “catness” down quite right. She’s exceptionally placid; within a day of letting her inside we found her stretched out on the living room couch on her back, sound asleep, while several of the resident cats sat nearby staring at her. Sit down and she’s instantly in your lap for a nap, purring with a strange low hum. When dinnertime comes, she doesn’t mill around yowling in the kitchen with the mob, but zips into the other room and waits sedately by her plate. (If she decides to leave a room, she doesn’t walk or trot — she scurries in a weirdly robotic fashion, like a wind-up toy, moving very quickly with no apparent effort.)

Edward Gorey and cat (© Jill Krementz, 1972)

She never fights with the other cats — if they try to intimidate her, she looks at them calmly and hisses softly and they back off. She doesn’t even put her ears back or crouch in a fighting stance; she just sits there. I think it’s safe to say that the other cats are seriously weirded out. Even Marley, who regards himself as the guardian of my office and frequently chases his own brother out of the room, leaves and waits in the hall when CatCat wanders in. Anyhow, stay tuned. I can’t say more right now because she just walked in and I don’t wanna get wished into the cornfield so conveniently located right across the street.

Meanwhile, on the You-Call-This-a-Culture? beat, Homeland is apparently back on Showtime, taking a stab at rebooting after its ludicrous and repulsive third season. And at some point we’ll have another season of The Americans on FX. No one above the age of fifteen takes Homeland seriously (I hope), but I’m sure we’ll be treated to more glowing articles in the Washington Post and NY Times praising The Americans for its meticulous attention to detail in its portrayal of the struggle between Soviet spies and the FBI in the mid-1980s DC suburbs. That is, of course, insane, because the show is a bad joke, mixing wooden acting with absurd Tom Clancy-esque melodrama. Nearly every episode involves someone being tortured in one of the multitude of vacant warehouses that apparently dot the DC landscape. It’s a painfully stupid show, which is sad, because US/USSR espionage during the Cold War has produced some riveting stories (e.g., those by John le Carre).

The real Aldrich Ames in FBI mugshot

All of which brings me to an eight-part ABC TV miniseries called “The Assets,” now available on Netflix Streaming. It originally aired in January 2014, but was, get this, cancelled after two episodes. Ouch. ABC ran a few more parts last summer at odd hours, but ratings stank and the remaining episodes were never aired. This is a crime. The Assets is a truly fascinating “docudrama” about the detection and exposure of Aldrich Ames, a CIA counter-intelligence analyst who sold secrets (mostly the identities of CIA “assets” working inside the Soviet military and KGB) to the USSR in the 1980s. As for authenticity, it’s based on a book by the two female CIA analysts who actually led the effort to unmask Ames. This series is better than Homeland or The Americans by a country mile, and if it had been on a cable channel it probably would have gained the large audience it deserves. I honestly think the show went over the head of the average ABC viewer; it required a willingness to listen closely to dialogue. It lacks car chases, shoot-outs with automatic weapons, supermodels, bombs with big red countdown timers, and all the other cartoonish accoutrements of successful network TV. It does offer a strikingly realistic portrayal of the spycraft actually used in that period and a nuanced and humane view of the Soviets spying for the US who were betrayed by Ames. It’s a very well-made series. You should watch it.

OK, so why was September such a bad month? I’m not really up for explaining what happened yet, but the bottom line (literally) is that our income, already anemic due to my disability, has abruptly been cut by about 70%. We were strapped before; now we’re totally screwed.

And there are, it turns out, limits to how many lights you can turn off, both literally and metaphorically. One of the reasons we want to find a home for CatCat is that now we really can’t afford to feed another cat. And all the things were were working on fixing in the near future (car, my teeth, water softener, computer, etc.) are now in the column marked “maybe never.” So your subscriptions and support, in whatever amount you can afford, will be deeply appreciated.

And now, on with the show…

August 2014

Semper Ubi Sub Ubi

readme:

Well, there you go. Sic transit gloria Aestatis. As Groucho Marx is said to have said, “Time flies like an arrow. Fruit flies like a banana.” Speaking of which, what the hell have they done to bananas? I know I’m late to the party on this, but when I was a kid bananas were a staple of my diet, along with baloney sandwiches on white bread with yellow mustard. I ate baloney sandwiches for lunch literally every school day until I was 14; according to my mother, I insisted on it. Eventually we must have run out of baloney, because one day I woke up in some tattered Dickensian academy where they expected us to eat huge meals of roast beef and potatoes while wearing jackets and ties. Not my style, though the Boston Cream pie was nice. Anyway, bananas today are truly awful. They used to be smooth and slightly sticky with a strong pure banana flavor. Now they taste like cardboard and have a weird, grainy texture like damp styrofoam. Don’t get me started on cantaloupe.

Elsewhere in the news, we went for a walk down our road about a month ago, just as it was getting dark. This road is a typical rural two-lane blacktop, fairly level and straight, houses separated by huge corn and soybean fields, and without a lot of traffic, so it’s a good place to walk for exercise. I have a hard time walking around in stores without a cane or cart to lean on, but I do OK in a straight line. I now walk more slowly than I have ever seen anyone walk, but I plan to keep doing it as long as I can. Sometimes I wonder how I’d get around if we still lived in Manhattan. I used to love to walk home from work (Midtown East 50s to Upper West Side) in all kinds of weather. I could probably manage on the sidewalks, but I can’t imagine trying to cross the street. Anyway, walking is my best bet to be able to keep walking and avoid a wheelchair.

So we were passing some of the houses down toward the state highway when a gang of three cats suddenly appeared next to us from nowhere. Very weird. They clustered around my feet, meowing, while Kathy, who was about 30 feet from me, trudged on. I shooed them away as best I could and kept going. Last I saw of them they were running into the yard of a nearby house. A few minutes later, however, as it became completely dark and we were nearly at our own driveway, I heard the patter of feet behind me and one of the cats — just one — came racing up next to me. She (as it turned out) must have run for quite a ways at top speed to catch up. I noticed she was wearing a braided cloth collar and didn’t seem at all feral, and she was purring so loudly I could hear it from six feet away. But the last thing we need is another cat, and this one looked like it belonged to someone, so I did my best to shoo it away, clapping my hands and shouting, “Go home!” in a stern voice. It didn’t work. At all. She moved sideways a bit but kept pace with us, and when we reached our driveway she marched right up like she was going home after a nice walk. So, long story short, she’s now living on our front porch while we try to find her owners (yeah, checked PetFBI.com, vet checked for a chip, yadda yadda). It makes me sad because she’s such a nice, placid lap cat. Purrs constantly, maybe 4- 5 yrs old. I’m afraid somebody died or moved and she just got booted out of a car. That happens a lot out here.

This looks very cool. It’s a $49 TiVo DVR that lets you schedule recordings of free over-the-air (broadcast) TV programs, as well as stuff on Netflix Streaming, Hulu Plus, etc. The digital OTA sub-channel market is exploding, primarily due to soaring cable and satellite charges in an economy where many people are experiencing serious financial hardship. We get five broadcast channels where we are, with a total of six sub-channels, most of which show stuff  like either Bachelor Father and Mister Ed or old movies you’ve never heard of — lotta minor noir, which is cool. I could definitely do without 99% of cable/satellite TV. I’d miss Al Jazeera, which does some very good real reporting, although in my darker moments I’ve taken to calling it The Misery Channel. But CNN is a bad joke, MSNBC & Fox are flat-out unwatchable, and that leaves what … House Hunters? It’s moot anyway, because we have to cancel the satellite next week.

As usual, thanks to all the wonderful people who support this little circus with subscriptions and donations. If you can spare a few doubloons, please consider subscribing. And yes, it mortifies me to say that every month. But your support literally keeps the lights on around here.

And now, on with the show….