Friday, November 21, 2014

Sinclair + Babbit (for Sinclair + Babbitt)

On Leave It to Beaver the other night (which is also to say, 54 years ago), Wally gets offered a summer job as a lifeguard (though it later turns out he's too young to take it). Beaver is beside himself with reflected glory. Ward seems a bit wary at first, but is equally impressed. June teases him about it, but her husband denies any undue parental pride. When Eddie Haskell drops by and affects surprise at the news, Ward says: "Coach Driscoll recommended him for the job. I suppose the fact that he'd lettered in three sports had something to do with it." "Yes, sir," says Eddie. "Athletics are fine, Mr. Cleaver. Of course, my father prefers me to develop in a normal manner." Ward grits his teeth and sighs as Eddie heads upstairs. "I thought you took these things in your stride," June reminds him. "Well, usually I do," says Ward, "but there's something about that Eddie that brings out the Babbitt in me." Sinclair Lewis's most famous novel, published in 1922, brought out the Babbitt in much of mid-century Middle America. George F. Babbitt's name eventually became synonymous with "a person and especially a business or professional man who conforms unthinkingly to prevailing middle-class standards." We found seven cases of this author-title typo in OhioLINK this morning, and 98 in WorldCat.

(Sinclair Lewis, 7 March 1914, from Wikimedia Commons.)

Carol Reid

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Trukey* (for Turkey*)

Tomorrow is the Great American Smokeout, so if you've been thinking about quitting, this might just be your day. (The true key to liberation, one could say.) It's apparently easier for some people to envision "cutting down" on cigarettes, though many experts believe that going "cold turkey" is best. So where does the expression "quitting cold turkey" come from? One theory is that it was based on an earlier one—"talking turkey"—which meant speaking plainly and frankly. Therefore, it's argued, to quit something "cold turkey" is to give it up with the same sort of unadorned directness. According to Mental Floss: "Another possibility is that it stems from actual cold pieces of turkey. To make cold, leftover bits of the bird into a meal requires very little preparation, as does abruptly quitting smoking." A third one suggests the somewhat chilling comparison between an addict going through withdrawal and the carcass of a plucked turkey: both are "clammy, pale, and covered in goosebumps." One final, if I may, and more facetious theory could be that Turkey has traditionally been full of smokers and that if all of its citizens were to have suddenly put down the hookah, as it were, it might have actually lowered the ambient temperature of that country, resulting in a cold Turkey! Best of luck to all of you quitters (as you focus solely on your health and disposable income, while trying to ignore the growing tyranny of the obnoxious anti-smoking lobby) and maybe you'll have a new thing to be thankful for in a couple of weeks, as you enjoy your leftover stuffing, baked yams, pumpkin pie, and cold turkey. We found three cases of Trukey* (for turkey*) in OhioLINK today, and 31 in WorldCat.

(Men and two children sit smoking pipes in a Turkish coffee house. Lithograph by J. Nash after D. Wilkie, 1840. From Wikimedia Commons.)

Carol Reid

Monday, November 17, 2014

Femins* (for Feminis*)

Last week, for the first time ever, I completely completed (excuse the redundancy, but I'm very excited) the Sunday New York Times crossword puzzle. I mentioned this to a friend and said that one of the clues had been "Koala bear, e.g." (Answer: "Misnomer.") He observed that people sometimes use the word misnomer to mean "misunderstanding" and that, furthermore, such a usage is "self-reflexive!" Or rather, he said, upon further reflection, "doubly self-reflexive!!" He meant that the speaker was misunderstanding a word he or she thinks means misunderstanding. I agreed that that was cool, and added that I prefer the word misapprehension for a "failure to comprehend." (To me, the former has a slightly different connotation: "We had a little misunderstanding.") Later in the day, another friend sent me a link to an article about a Time magazine poll concerning which word or phrase its readers would most like to see "banned" in 2015. Along with contenders such as bossy, sorry not sorry, bae, basic, and om nom nom, they also included the word feminist. (Hardly a neologism, boys, but widely hated, apparently, nonetheless.) The onomatopoetic phrase om nom nom put me in mind of my "misnomer" conversation earlier that morning and led me to our picture for the day. Feminists might not have a prayer if Time magazine has anything to say about it, but I have to say I love the idea of a praying mantis saying "Om" before dinner. We found 26 examples of today's typo in OhioLINK and 259 in WorldCat.

(Om nom nom, Mantis religiosa devouring a cricket, from Wikimedia Commons.)

Carol Reid

Monday, November 10, 2014

Centruy* (for Century*)

Although autumn is my favourite season, it always makes me think of mortality: the shortening days, the leaves falling and decomposing, squirrels gathering seeds as if the world is ending, and my own aching back after raking leaves. Autumn does feel like it’s about finality.

So I was amused when I came across a study from the University of Chicago in 2011 that suggests people born in the fall actually live longer. Researchers looked at people who lived to be 100, and compared the birth months of those who lived a full century to those who died younger. They found that people born in the fall (September, October, or November) had a higher chance of becoming a centenarian.

As a September baby myself, I quite like this finding: perhaps it means I will live to see flying cars invented, or an elevator to the moon. 

Leanne Olson


(Photo of Baltimore graveyard in autumn by Huw Williams, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

Friday, November 7, 2014

Sprit* + Spirit* (for Spirit* or Sprit*)

I recently attended a tour of Albany's Cherry Hill Mansion that included the reenactment of an infamous 1827 murder. John Whipple had been shot while sitting at his desk in the house on the Hudson where he lived with his wife, Elsie, and other members of the Van Rensselaer family. The assailant was a man named Jesse Strang (aka Joseph Orton), the newly hired hand and his wife's secret lover. Elsie was the niece by marriage of Philip P. Van Rensselaer and the granddaughter of Abraham A. Lansing. (The Lansings and Van Rensselaers, along with the Schuylers and Knickerbackers, were Albany royalty and often intermarried, mixing business with pleasure.) A spirited, attractive, and apparently amoral young woman (anxious for an inheritence to which she wasn't legally entitled while her husband was still alive), Elsie is widely considered the impetuous impetus and criminal mastermind behind the murder. She was ultimately acquitted of conspiracy, however, while her paramour, who had earlier confessed, paid the ultimate price. Strang was hanged on what is now the Empire State Plaza; the glamorously grisly event drew close to 40,000 onlookers. As a result of this unprecedented spectacle, it would be the last public execution ever to be held in the city. Elsie Whipple, who at the age of 24 had already been married for ten years, was equally restless and reckless. Upon meeting her one night in a local tavern, Jesse described her as "sprightly, playful, and giddy," advising his companion: "I would not mind passing a night in her chamber." The rest, as they say, is history. The day after taking the tour of Cherry Hill (along with whatever spirits still haunt it), I happened to catch an episode of Andy of Mayberry, which concluded, according to the closed captioning, with a bout of "sprightly whistling." I have also been thinking lately about planting some daffodils, which were once called "sprightly" by William Wordsworth in the poem "I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud." ("Ten thousand saw I at a glance, tossing their heads in sprightly dance...") The adjective sprightly comes from the word sprite, a sort of fairy-like creature. (The rather odd word fey has a similarly spiritual, although distinctly more sinister, connotation.) Spritual* was blogged about in 2010, but because it's such a high-probability typo, and because I couldn't think of a better one just now, we're resurrecting it in slightly different form today. There were 105 cases of this folie à deux in OhioLINK, and 1311 in WorldCat. But watch out: there may be a few sprites among them.

(Tossing Their Heads in Sprightly Dance; 18th March 2007 was a very blustery day in Colchester Cemetery. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.)

Carol Reid

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Lonliness (for Loneliness)

I just saw another Lon Chaney film over at the public library and am now more enamored than ever. The Penalty (1920) was directed by Wallace Worsley and based on a pulp novel by Gouverneur Morris (who also wrote The Ace of Hearts, giving rise to another great Chaney vehicle in 1921). Blizzard was a man consumed by bitterness, bad intent, and loneliness. His story was about as chilling and bizarre as it gets, and yet you still sort of sympathized, even as he plotted to destroy the city and wreak revenge on the surgeon who had maimed him. As a review by Fritzi Kramer puts it: "Who wouldn’t want to see a movie about a double amputee criminal mastermind who plans to take over San Francisco with a gang of anarchists wearing stylish straw hats?" Chaney, who was dubbed "The Man of a Thousand Faces," gets to portray the Devil in this one when he answers a classified ad from a local sculptress hoping to gain fame with a bust of Satan. At least a few of his horrifying grimaces, it would seem, may have been genuine, since in order to play his character realistically, he insisted on strapping his legs into painful leather stumps, which could only be worn for ten minutes at a time and actually left him with permanent knee damage. In light of our last blog entry (citing a 1920 article about Alice Trask and the San Francisco League for the Hard of Hearing), I should note that Lon Chaney's parents were both deaf and had met at the Colorado School for the Education of Mutes, founded by Lon's grandfather in 1874. As a likely result of his upbringing, Chaney developed an early facility for pantomime; his equally amazing aptitude for voices at first startled those who had previously known him only as a silent screen star. Lon Chaney was certainly willing to suffer for his art. He died at the age of 47 after contracting a lung infection from fake studio snow made of cornflakes. His death, writes Wikipedia, was "deeply mourned by his family, the film industry, and his fans." Today's typo is hardly a lonely one, with 51 hits in OhioLINK, and 434 in WorldCat.

(1923 Lon Chaney portrait, from Wikimedia Commons.)

Carol Reid

Monday, November 3, 2014

Heard of hearing (for Hard of hearing)

A colleague recently showed me a catalog record containing our rather delightful typo of the day, along with its bracketed correction. The misprint was on the work itself, a 1994 New York State Assembly document. The title field read: Public hearing on communication barriers in health care for persons who are deaf, deaf-blind or heard [i.e. hard] of hearing. It more or less spoke for itself, but my coworker added the following for amplitude: "A little tone-deaf considering the topic, no?" Yep, I hear ya, and so, I'm sure, would have Alice N. Trask, a woman who might've been hard of hearing, but once you have heard of her, is pretty hard to forget. (The hat and stole alone speak volumes. Or at least one lovely, slim volume or two.) In 1915, Trask was appointed the head of the New York School for the Hard of Hearing; she later founded and presided over the San Francisco League for the Hard of Hearing, as well as the San Francisco School of Lip-Reading. An "Appreciation" published in the Volta Review in 1920 describes her influence thusly: "She realizes that the ideal teacher of lip-reading must more nearly approach a metaphysician than any other class of instructor, dealing, as she does, with so much that is intangible; that it requires so much intuition, such fine sensibilities and nice adjustment to get en rapport with natures so oversensitive and unapproachable; and also that it is very necessary that the teacher be blessed with enough of their infirmity (deafness) to inspire them with courage and hope. There is nothing so cheering to the deafened as to find some one who is deafer. Mrs. Trask is very cheering in this regard." You may or may not be cheered to hear that we uncovered seven cases of today's typo in OhioLINK, and 122 in WorldCat.

(Alice N. Trask, from The Volta Review, V. 23 No. 11, Nov 1921, p. 478, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.)

Carol Reid