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

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 » » »

January 2014

Semper Ubi Sub Ubi

readme:

Oh look, it’s 2014. The future has arrived! Happy New Year. Yay. Last week it was 27 degrees below zero around here, and the past month has furnished a graphic demonstration of why they stopped insulating houses with horse hair. Unfortunately they didn’t stop until a few decades after our house was built in the 1860s. On the bright side, the refrigerator rarely comes on.

Sorry about November. I foolishly accepted an invitation to be the Guest of Honor at some hinky Wodenfest up in the UP, and ended up fleeing from bio-engineered dire wolves chasing me across a frozen hellscape of burnt-out strip malls and abandoned Bitcoin mines. I finally took refuge under the old abandoned UMich campus in a cave occupied by a clan of elderly, un-tenured and very disgruntled adjunct profs who lent a new dimension to “bitter cold.”

Yeah, that’s all I’m gonna say about November. Dreadful month. Always. It’s pure twisted genius that they put Thanksgiving near the end of a month consisting entirely of endless bleak, gloomy days punctuated by icy rain. Me? I’m thankful for me boils, Sir. I’ve named ev’ry one, Sir. This one ‘ere is Nigel. Say ‘ello, Nigel.

December was a blur, probably because it seemed that every time I went outside I managed to fall down. I’m about ready to give up on this whole walking business. I was carrying some groceries in from the car last night when I tripped for no good reason and landed on our concrete walk, nearly bashing my brains out. I am now under strict orders not to go outside without first notifying Management, lest I turn up as a lawn ornament with the Spring thaw.

In any case, I am profoundly grateful for the wonderful folks who have so generously contributed to our upkeep here at Downscale Abbey, where every crisis is welcomed as an old friend and all the servants are played by cats.

By the way, I’m going to have to stop watching that show. We were perched on the settee with our microwave scones and marmite, cats in their little tiaras, all set for the season opener, when we heard Laura Linney say, “And now the two-hour season premiere…” and we both fainted dead away. Actually we just shuddered, but that was enough, and we clicked off. Two hours in that suffocating cultural coat closet? A few days later we watched the first hour of the thing, during which nothing even remotely un-totally-predictable happened, and I, personally, threw in the towel.

Downton really seems to be aimed at the sort of people who get all tingly when they see a Ralph Lauren commercial, a cohort from which I am gladly absent. I actually had occasion to proofread Ralphie’s rather baroque last will and testament many years ago, so I feel a sort of remote kinship for the guy (I surreptitiously wrote myself in as a nephew, in fact), but enough’s enough with the WASPstalgia.

But life, which is to say, of course, television, must go on, and here at Word Detective World Headquarters we’ve been catching up with Homeland. I must admit that the first season was better than I expected. The second season was a bit incoherent, and the shocking finale produced more consternation than shock. We’re just now getting started on season 3, and the whole shebang definitely seems to be coming apart at the seams. Hope I’m wrong.

There does seem to be a problem with cable series reaching a point where all the interesting characters are randomly expunged; I’ve always thought that the Sopranos killing off both Richie Aprile and Big Pussy early on was a huge mistake, and if I’d ever really liked Downton Abbey I’d say that not having the central actors nailed to long contracts was the show’s doom. Now there’s quite literally no one interesting left.

Onward. I’ve been hearing for years that HBO’s The Wire is the best TV show ever made, so I’ve been watching that in small bits here and there. I think they may be right; it is an amazingly well-made show. The second season in particular is a slam-dunk masterpiece. And there’s always Omar. Omar is awesome. I hadn’t realized that Richard Price, one of my favorite novelists (his excellent Clockers was made into a so-so film by Spike Lee), was an advisor/contributor to the show (he actually appears early on in a scene set in a prison library). At the rate I’m watching it, the five seasons may take me ten years, but that’s OK. It beats watching TV.

I imagine that it sounds as if we watch a lot of TV, but we actually log way less than the national average. Name your favorite show and I can practically guarantee I’ve never heard of it. And I like it that way, dagnabbit.

Bookly-speaking, I finished Pynchon’s latest, Bleeding Edge. and I would give it three Mehs on a scale of five. Some nice bits but it never reaches escape velocity. I’m starting to think that his future reputation will rest entirely on Gravity’s Rainbow, a definite outlier in his oeuvre. Hey, outlier and oeuvre in the same clause. Not bad for someone surrounded by frozen soybean fields as far as the eye can see. Anyway, at the moment I’m reading some John LeCarre. I don’t remember the title. Good books with forgettable titles.

So here’s January. Please consider subscribing or otherwise contributing to our survival. And now, on with the show….