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

May 2014

Semper Ubi Sub Ubi

readme:

Whaddaya mean May? I distinctly said to wake me in April. This is an outrage.

But wait! Look over there! A kitty! Apparently reading Slashdot. Odd. Anyhoo, this is Marley, one of the famous Garage Kittens from about eight years ago, now all growed up and permanently ensconced on my desk. Seriously. All the other cats wander around the house, find new favorite spots, look out the window, chase mice in the kitchen, but not Marley. Marley has a job: sitting on my desk, and he takes it very, very seriously. Marley never moves. Marley is bolted to my desk.

Marley on the desk.

Actually, Marley does sometimes wander off to eat, repel invaders, and so forth, and sometimes Marley will be standing on the couch or a table when he senses that I am about to walk past, headed for the desk. Marley waits until the last possible moment and then quickly leaps toward the desk so that he sails across my path, clearing me by mere inches. Actually, that’s on a good day. On a bad day, he either slams into my arm or misjudges the distance and lands on the floor.

Marley, incidentally, is discouraged from going out in the hall because he has a record of attempting to leap from the hall table to the banister above the stairwell and overshooting the mark. Marley apparently cannot fly, and is very lucky the stairs are thickly carpeted.

But mostly Marley just sits on my desk. Staring at me. For hours at a time. Staring at my face. Sitting or lying next to the keyboard, staring at my face without blinking or moving a muscle. I know he does this because he likes me (at least I hope that’s it). Occasionally he’ll make his signature noise, which is the sort of chirping trill usually associated with songbirds. (Marley can also say one word — “Hi” –  very clearly. This cat ain’t normal.) Every so often he’ll reach out verrrry slowly and tap me on the nose if he senses I’m not paying attention. Apparently I’m supposed to stare at him all day, too. If I finally can’t take it anymore and stand up and gently carry Marley over to the nice soft couch where the other kitties snooze, he flies back to his spot on the desk before I get back to my chair. I sit down and there he is, staring at me, now with a hurt expression on his kitty-cat face. Then I have to watch a half-hour of Maru videos with him to cheer him up. Marley loves Maru. He’s also the only cat I’ve known who really enjoys watching TV; he’s endlessly fascinated by Mister Ed.

Marley is not a small cat, and I’m always surprised by how heavy he is, a fact that suddenly became important about two weeks ago. I have a smaller writing desk behind my big desk, where I sometimes type on my laptop. I’ve been dragging this little desk around since 1969, so it has considerable sentimental value. But its real attraction lately has been that if I’m typing on it with my laptop, there’s no room for Marley. He has to stay on the big desk behind me. This understandably frustrates him, and he occasionally leans over and taps me on the shoulder to get me to turn around and pet him a little.

So one evening two weeks ago, I’m typing away at my little desk when Marley realizes he’s been patient long enough and decides to leap from the big desk to the little one, apparently planning to land in my coffee cup. Unfortunately, I picked the exact moment of Marley’s takeoff to swivel in my chair towards the big desk, and  Marley hit the side of my head going full tilt. He must have had a good bit of momentum, because I felt like I’d been beaned with a fur-covered bowling ball. Wow.

Continue reading this post » » »

March 2014

Semper Ubi Sub Ubi

readme:

Hey, it’s still March. And it snowed here the other day, real whiteout conditions. So there.

Today is Spring-like, which seems to lift the birdies’ spirits but fills me with dread. There’s four acres, more or less, of grass out there that’s going to start growing, and I am utterly incapable of mowing it. Our only working mower is a little push machine, the aged garden tractor having at last given up the ghost, and I can’t convincingly walk across the room, so using that is not an option. Neither can we pay the $75 bucks per week, minimum, to have it done. We also have five, count ‘em, five fallen trees scattered around the place, plus two that are ready to go. One would think that folks around here would like them for firewood, but apparently not, and tree services are ruinously expensive. I also am faced with having to buy dentures if I wish to keep eating, and that’s my priority (not that I have the money, but, y’know, just in terms of priorities).

The neighbors are already cranky about the fact that 3/4 of our land is wild brush, so this should be an interesting summer. Maybe I’ll just put a big sign in the front yard reading Fairfield County Pick-Your-Own Snake Farm.

Elsewhere, Richard Cohen, who is married to Meredith Vieira and has had multiple sclerosis nearly all his life, has been undergoing experimental therapy and reporting the experience on his blog. I admire his courage and hope it helps. My form (primary-progressive) doesn’t have any approved drug therapies, which is just as well, since I could never afford them and would be very leery of the documented side-effects even if I could.

Onward. I was browsing Netflix Instant recently, and came across a listing for John Huston’s last film, his 1987 adaptation of The Dead, which is, of course, the final story in the collection Dubliners by James Joyce. It’s widely considered one of the finest short stories ever written, and I still remember reading it for the first time decades ago. It stays with you. I’ve seen the film two or three times, and it’s a fine film, but the story, especially the last bit, is essentially unfilmable, and really demands to be read. Go on, I’ll wait here. (Whatever you do, don’t read the leaden synopsis on Wikipedia. It reads like a book report written by a sullen junior high student stuck in detention.)

Meanwhile, back at Netflix, I don’t know how I would have summed up The Dead in twenty words, but I sure hope I’d have done a bit better than:

“After a convivial holiday dinner party, things begin to unravel when a couple addresses some prickly issues concerning their marriage.”

Prickly issues… Oh, I get it. It’s the Irish version of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? with extra snow, right?

Speaking of Netflix Instant, people seem to have noticed that this kind of service (Hulu, Amazon Prime, Redbox Whatever, etc.) don’t exactly offer top-tier current fare (Netflix Instant Thinking About Adding Good Movie). There are apparently good reasons for this. Personally, I can do just fine without Gravity and the latest Seth Rogen crapfest if I can watch the entire run of The Rockford Files, the first eight seasons of Law & Order (Original Recipe), and such gooey schlock as the UK sci-fi-time-travel series Primeval (raptors in a shopping mall!) whenever I want for eight bucks a month.

Well, anyway, I’ll try to be on time in April. In the meantime, please consider subscribing or simply making a donation to our continued existence.

And now, on with the show….

February 2014

Semper Ubi Sub Ubi

readme:

If April is planning on being the cruelest month this year it has some catching up to do, because January and the first half of February have just about convinced me to move to the tropics, and I loathe even the concept of the tropics. Horrid places, full of sweat and bugs, sweaty, biting bugs, bugs building nests in your ears, spiders the size of poodles….  Anyway, I remember standing in our north field on a very cold winter day right after we moved out here from Manhattan, icy wind spitting freezing rain in my face, looking at the horizon across several hundred desolate acres of frozen corn stubble, and thinking, “Y’know, if I didn’t have that nice warm house to go back to, I would die rather rapidly out here.” (Yes, I can be hired for parties.)

So when I innocently clicked on my weather widget the other afternoon and discovered that it was 20 degrees below zero out there (actual temperature, not “wind chill”), I started to freak. I grew up in suburban Connecticut, and lived in New York City for more than 20 years. I can count on the fingers of one hand the times the electricity went out. That’s fewer than the number of times it’s gone out here, often for days, in the past year. In warm weather, it’s merely a colossal drag. But if the power goes out in this kind of weather, we’ll be in serious trouble within about 1/2 hour. A few years ago, we had to squeeze five cats and two dogs into a tiny flea-bag motel room (on Christmas Eve, no less), and I’m here to tell you that it doesn’t work. Not an option.

Meanwhile, in the world of popular culture, we finally caught up with the third season of Homeland last month after dodging spoilers for weeks and, boy howdy, the Nattering Nabobs of Negativity were absolutely right. Utterly moronic, the entire season. It started stupid and went downhill from there. Don’t get me started. It probably didn’t help that they killed all the interesting people and left us with the most relentlessly unpleasant troubled teen in TV history. Whatever. I hadn’t paid any attention to Mandy Patinkin since The Princess Bride, but now he’s the only conceivable reason to watch the show, which probably means he hasn’t long to live.

Anyway, in an attempt to reboot my mind, I decided to re-read John le Carré’s so-called Karla Trilogy, consisting of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy; The Honorable Schoolboy, and Smiley’s People (Karla being the pseudonym of the head of Soviet Intelligence). Unlike the idiots who cook up nonsense like Homeland, le Carré was an actual intelligence officer, running field agents for MI6 until his cover was blown (and his career thus ruined) by Kim Philby, a Soviet “mole” (le Carré popularized the term) who spent decades in the highest precincts of British intelligence. Tinker, Tailor, not coincidentally, centers on the detection and capture of a Philby-esque Soviet mole in MI6.

Continue reading this post » » »