My Library Would Like a Word With You

I’ve got a filing problem. Some would say a book problem. But I like my books and I’ve acquired quite a few shall we say . . . “quirky” titles over the years. Now, with my computer if I’m not sure where to file, say, a cartoon, I just dupe it and file it in multiple places. But you can’t do that with a physical object.

Let’s start with this gem…

This is basically a collection of a certain genre of tales from “A Thousand and One Nights” — Middle Eastern folk tales compiled in Arabic during the so-called Islamic Golden Age, supposedly narrated by Scheherazade. *

So: Literature? Urban legends, Islamic literature, Eros?

Now: Bertrand Russell’s very short philosophical/political “alphabet”…


Politics? Humor? Dictionaries? Each letter gets a word and snarky definition, so it’s kind of like Bierce’s 19th century Devil’s Dictionary, but with just one word per letter.

I particularly like “nincompoop” and this illustrated page for “L” featuring “liberty.”





This next one offers tips from Jesus for tackling key moves in a dozen athletic events from surfing to bowling to shot put (with help from Samson and others).

Best of all…it’s holographic!

Of course I could just file it with my copy of Dancing with Jesus: Featuring a Host of Miraculous Moves but that doesn’t really solve the overall filing problem, eh?

I’ve had this next book since my days as the advertising guy for a big steel company in Warren, Oh. and the closest I’ve ever figured out where to file it is in a cardboard box where it unceremoniously revealed itself a month ago.Yes, it’s really a genuine metallurgical guide to alloy steel, as you can see from the first page of the Table of Contents — everything you need to know about electric furnaces, annealing, ingot rolling and quenching and tempering (my fave). Did you know that as early as the 8th century, the process of drawing wire through a die…well, never mind.


The 2005 iPod book comes inscribed with a dedication from someone whose name I can’t quite make out, but it’s definitely meant for me, referencing my alleged “iPod addiction.” I have to confess, I’ve never made it all the way through, having blocked my eyes at the chapter on “iBondage.” But: “Computers”? “Technology”? “Biography”?

Gitomer’s “Little Black Book” is actually more helpful than you might think, fascinating even, on the subject of entrepreneurial networking.

In addition to sporting a graphically sophisticated layout** in terms of typography, judicious use of color, subheads, it has some dang clever cartooning on each theme.

From my bookshelves’ point of view though, we don’t really have a “self-help” or “business advice” section.

And now, the highlight of my quirky book collections, before we finish up with weird stuff.

(pssst: Don’t buy this)

Fans of Last Week Tonight with John Oliver will remember the delightful hoopla about this children’s picture book about a “Very Special boy bunny who falls in love with another boy bunny” — a delightful satire, with a message of tolerance and advocacy, replacing the rather inane, noxiously unfunny picture book by Charlotte and Karen Pence about “Marlon Bundo,” a lonely bunny who lives with his Grampa, Mike Pence.

And now on to the weird stuff!

Needless to say, this first one is actually a satire of gun rights activists…


…but the others? Well, you decide.


So, librarians and book lovers: Where do I file these gems? (And please don’t say “Goodwill.”)

* Speaking of which, one of my favorite Egyptian writers, Naguib Mahfouz, who died in 2006, compiled a set of tales playing on the those themes, called Arabian Nights and Days. I in turn, having pilgramaged to his ancient Cairo district, developed a semi-improvised take on one of his short stories, “Ma’rouf the Cobbler.”  My version, which runs anywhere from an hour to installments over several days, contains elements of Jinn (genies), the Ring of Solomon, civic corruption, hashish, coffee, sex and magic — all originating in Mahfouz’s “Cafe of the Emirs.”
**Typical page layout for the Little Black Book





“Fibology” or, analyzing Trump’s “double negative”

Say you’re a 7-year-old and you’ve been caught in a fib.

Maybe you got a poor grade on a test and you smeared the score on the paper so your parents can’t read it very well. Or you say, “Billy Peters said it would be OK to jump in the pool without our clothes. He got permission! Honest.” And my favorite:

Mom: “Jimmy, who crayoned your bedroom wall?”

Me: “Wall?”

The lie is pretty transparent to everyone involved and we eventually learn to cover our tracks more cleverly. “Darn, I’d love to help at your garages sale but I’ve got this dang work deadline.” Or “Did you think I said I would drive you to the airport? I’m sure I said wouldn’t be able to, yeah, that’s it…wouldn’t.

OK, you see where we’re going here.

Now, let’s talk about double negatives.

The conventional modern rules of English grammar supposedly dictate that the two negative elements cancel each other out, in a sort of algebraic way, to give a positive statement instead, so that the sentence ‘I don’t know nothing’ could literally be interpreted as ‘I do know something’. But in ordinary use, we understand that the double neg used as slang is really a reinforcement.

In this way, two negative words (in bold below) in the same clause may express a single negative idea:

“We didn’t see nothing.” = We saw nothing.

“I can’t get no satisfaction” = I really cannot get satisfaction [in Kentucky* they call this “the Hillbilly Exemption,” aka the “Jagger/Richards Rule”]

I say conventional modern rules because some fussy linguists like John McWhorter or Richard Ingham like to point out that double negs were common in Old English (English before the year 1000), especially the West Saxon dialect, up to and including use by Shakespeare (“I cannot go no further.” As You Like It, c. 1600) I call this “The Appeal to Shakespeare Fallacy” — as though to say, “if it was good enough for old Will, it’s good enough for modern Bill.”

Here’s my own linguistic breakdown:

1.) True “double negative” — where one part apparently negates the other, leading to confusion.

“I don’t have no money.”  (understanding the sentence depends on how you read or hear it; possible candidate for Hillbilly Exemption)

“She won’t be not going.” (clearly unclear)

“I’m not sure some of the English tutors didn’t understand the assignments.” (actual student note)

2.) Slang/dialectal double negative — where we understand the phrase as a dialectal, jazz, “arch” or vernacular use

“It don’t mean nuthin’” = It’s nothing. It doesn’t mean anything: clearly qualifies for a Hillbilly Exemption.

3.) Two negatives yielding a grammatically legitimate milder positive

This is actually a pretty useful way of understating a proposition, but one has to be fairly facile with one’s abilities to pull it off.

“It’s not that I don’t want to go…” (I do want to go but can’t for other reasons)

“These students cannot afford college…not because they aren’t smart enough…” (they are, or may be smart enough but there are other reasons they can’t afford college — actual student comment)

There’s actually a fourth kind of negative, but it requires a certain eye-rolling skill:

4.) Single negative yielding a mild positive

“He’s not terrible at math…”

And now, to Trump

Original statement at Trump/Putin press conference:

“My people came to me, Dan Coates, came to me and some others they said they think it’s Russia. I have President Putin. He just said it’s not Russia. I will say this: I don’t see any reason why it would be. But I really do want to see the server . . . So I have great confidence in my intelligence people, but I will tell you that President Putin was extremely strong and powerful in his denial today.”

  • Transcript: Trump And Putin’s Joint Press Conference. July 16, 2018, 1:09 PM ET  NPR

Trump, next day:

“I thought it would be obvious, but I would like to clarify just in case it wasn’t. In a key sentence in my remarks, I said the word ‘would’ instead of ‘wouldn’t’. The sentence should have been: ‘I don’t see any reason why I wouldn’t, or why it wouldn’t be Russia,’ sort of a double negative. So you can put that in, and I think that probably clarifies things pretty good by itself.”

  • “Would or wouldn’t: how Trump’s claim he misspoke unleashed a meme-fest” The Guardian

In other words, it makes sense to him that Russia would be involved (he doesn’t see how Russian was not involved.)

Thus, we seem to have a case of #3 above. “It makes sense that Russia would be involved (but that’s as far as I’m going to go).” But this is not exactly right, since it doesn’t make sense to offer a “mild positive” with “I don’t see any reason.” Like, “I don’t see any reason why we wouldn’t be able to leave early. It’s a reasonable thing to do.”

(Aside from the usual Trump blathering, it’s interesting that he faltered, even in his correction, by saying “I wouldn’t” before re-correcting to “it wouldn’t.”)

Of course the real clunking sound of bad fibology is Trump seeming to blame “the sentence,” as though it was some disembodied thing that simply crawled out of his mouth without his knowledge.


Someone needs to re-take their 2nd-grade “Fibology” class.

* Reported to me by an actual Kentuckian
Child coloring wall adapted from “Mom’s Angels: Is your Child Coloring Walls?”
Trump photo modification by the author
“Jury of English Majors” cartoon, Mark Parisi, 2009, off the
Crying child image from “Child life: a collection of poems” (1871, John Greenleaf Whittier, p 221)

Welcome to the MAGA SWAG Store

Updated 6 July 2018*

Is Donald Trump trying to run a country…or a smarmy discount swag store?

3 July, 2018


You only have until tomorrow to get 40% off all OFFICIAL TRUMP GEAR for our 4th of July Sale.

Use coupon code “FREEDOM” before July 4th at 11:59 PM to save 40%.

As always — ALL of our merchandise is 100% MADE IN AMERICA. <>  3 July 2018 at 7:44 AM

2 July, 2018


President Trump wants to go BIG LEAGUE for America’s birthday this year.

That’s why we are making all our patriotic OFFICIAL Trump gear… 40% off!

Use coupon code “FREEDOM” before July 4th at 11:59 PM to save 40% on all our AMERICAN MADE [sic] clothing and accessories.

21 June, 2018




It is OFFICIALLY SUMMER. To celebrate, the Official Trump Store is offering 25% off all your summer needs.

Use the coupon code “SUMMER” before TONIGHT at 11:59 PM to save 25%.

Start your summer off RIGHT by getting all your official Trump gear here.

9 June, 2018


To celebrate all the Dads who raised their kids RIGHT, the Official Trump Store is offering 25% off all its merchandise.

Get a perfect made-in-America gift for the all-American dad in your life. <>9 Jun at 10:58 AM

Of course, this is a just a sampling of the near-daily emails coming from this desperate enterprise.

Note: All punctuation anomalies, including uppercase, hyphenation, bold face and highlighting in original.
*And this one just in:

6 July 2018, 8:06 AM

But with President Trump at the helm, we’re not going to stay quiet.
That’s why we’re launching a new ad to expose the Left to ALL of America, but we need your help getting it up.

Someone needs to give Trump for President, Inc. a little lesson in inadvertent double entendres.

More quirky phrases you (may) want to know…or not

(updated 21 June, 24 June 2018)

Gish gallop: a technique, named after the creationist Duane Gish who employed it, whereby someone argues a cause by hurling as many different half-truths and no-truths into a very short space of time so that their opponent cannot hope to combat each point in real time.

“A debate tactic of drowning your opponent in a flood of individually-weak arguments in order to prevent rebuttal of the whole argument collection without great effort.” (Wikipedia)

  • heard on “Oh No Ross And Carrie” (ONRAC) and “Skeptics Guide to the Universe” (SGU) podcasts.

Fisk (verb): somewhat related to a Gish gallop, but in the other direction: any point-by-point attempt to refute the other guy’s argument. The word has been around since at least 2004, referring to journalist Robert Fisk, but was resurrected by rightist NRA personality Dana Loesch promising, among other things, that she and the NRA would fisk The New York Times. The term “Fisking” (either upper or lower case) figuratively means a thorough and forceful verbal beating.

  • For various reasons, it was (mistakenly) thought at first that the term she actually used was “fist.”

serial fabricator: basically, an inveterate liar. However, use of the term “liar” has the downside of sounding like a permanent character trait, versus something someone does occasionally. According to some researchers, on average, people lie in some form or another, about 1.65 times a day.*

  • Presumably, this includes fibs and polite lies, like responding to “Do these jeans make me look fat?” or “Oh, you brought a Beringer white zinfandel…how nice of you. We’ll just save that for later.”

It’s like labeling someone a “criminal,” implying that that’s the person’s defining trait, whereas the person may have been caught ripping off a convenience store but doesn’t make it a habit. Serial fabricator, on the other hand, suggests someone with a continuing habit of not telling the truth, perhaps not even able to distinguish between truth and fiction, or having such low standards of truth-telling that they simply repeat whatever nonsense they hear from their aides and, having said it, double-down on believing and repeating it. The utterance may not, strictly speaking, even be a lie but a bit of blathering as in “I heard that…” The earliest reference I could find on this term goes back to 2003 referring to former New York Times reporter Jayson Blair. Also, see note below on Elizabeth Holmes.**

TCK – third culture kid (noun phrase): a child raised in a culture other than their parents’ (or the country on the child’s passport, where they are legally considered native) for a significant part of their early years. They’re exposed to a greater (often dismaying) variety of cultural influences. TCKs move between cultures (and languages!) before they have had the opportunity to fully develop their personal cultural identity. The first culture of such individuals refers to the culture of the country from which the parents originated, the second culture refers to the culWorld in Words logoture in which the family currently resides, and the third culture refers to the amalgamation of these two cultures. “You always feel out of place.” (The World in Words podcast, May 17, 2018)

Despoiling the Egyptians (phrase): Basically a sort of reverse “cultural appropriation” (the act of taking or using things from a culture that is not your own, especially without showing that you understand or respect this culture). The phrase has come to mean any use of another culture’s art and ideas for purposes that may wholly contradict their original intention.

From St. Augustine: In the Hebrew scripture, Exodus 3:21, God tells the Israelites to “despoil the Egyptians” as they left their bondage by taking gold and silver statuary or other works that had been pagan or profane and use the metal for their own, finer purposes. [On Christian Doctrine, Ch. 40, section 60; cited in Hecht, Doubt, 201]

“The Israelites are promised that they will leave Egypt not just with their freedom but with great wealth. “You shall strip the Egyptians bare,” goes the promise, in colloquial English of today. Sure enough, this week the Israelites prepare to leave by “borrowing” objects of silver and gold from their neighbors. Borrowing? Not exactly. Everybody knows, that they are leaving Egypt for good with no intention of returning.” [“Despoiling the Egyptians”: An Exercise In Moral LogicRabbi Lawrence A. Hoffman, Ph.D.]

bouncing compliment: disguising an attack by starting out with a compliment to the other side; that is, hiding your real message under layers of “disingenuous affirmations” to appear sincere. Also, the apparent or superficial acceptance of your opponent’s basic premises as a way of disarming them. The technique is part of 18th C. Irish philosopher/freethinker/satirist John Toland’s “recipe for subterfuge” along with “disguising the thesis” and using terminology that acts as a secret handshake to those in the know–what we now call a “dog whistle” statement. (Jennifer E. Hecht, Doubt, 336)

And in honor of the 2018 Soccer/Football World Cup, here are some multinational slang and jargon terms for various “skill moves” from Tom Williams’ book:

  • “cow dribble” (Portugese?) In the absence of a real soccer pitch or field, rural/village players improvised fields—usually on cattle pastures. Often, cows invaded the makeshift lawn, causing players to dodge their opponents as the animals that came up.
  • “walking on papers” (Andar aos papéis, Portuguese) when a dangerous “cross” comes into the “box” and the goalkeeper makes a complete hash of his attempt to deal with it. For some reason the Dutch call this Vrouwen en kinderen eerst: “women and children first” (UK: “Keystone Cops”)
  • Hawaiifootball is Norwegian for … Hawaii football
  • “big bridge” (in French, le grand pont)
  • “rabona” (Argentina)
  • “the mousetrap” (Dutch)
  • un crochet: “hook” (France)
  • en fuego (Mexico, “on fire”)
  • “Throwing stones at the wrench” (Mexico)
  • “bunny hop” (UK) aka “toad jump”
  • “shower of balls” (Portugese banho de bola): when a team has completely wiped out the opponent in every department


(Don’t be shy about adding your comments or about sharing this article. As always, sharing buttons are below. Thanks.)

Note, a few of these items appeared in an updated version of this blog originally posted as Quirky Words on 2018/05/25
* 22.7% of all lies were told by one percent of the sample, and half of all of the lies were told by 5.3% of the sample; thus the majority of lies are told by a relatively small portion of the population (Psychology Today report). “Age accounts for one of the most significant variables in determining a person’s propensity to lie. Lying peaks in adolescence when children begin to test their independence.” (National Geographic)
One notable personage who busts the demographic average is reported to make nearly 6.5 false claims a day
** Another notable serial fabricator (sf) is the now-notorious Elizabeth Holmes who was totally busted in 2015 for her Theranos blood-testing scam operation. Interestingly, her corporate style has been characterized with some familiar terms: secretive, authoritarian, arrogant, sociopathic, and heavily “silo’d” (that is, one part doesn’t know what any other part is doing, often with literal partitions)…but mostly by an outrageous, continuing, overt program of lying. (If the John Carreyrou WSJ story is not accessible, you can find a March 2018 report in Vanity Fair.) As Carreyou details in his book, almost every word coming out of Holmes’s mouth as she built and ran her company was either grossly embellished or, in most instances, outright deceptive.  “In fact, the company she built was just a pile of one deceit atop another.” Vanity Fair, June 2018.  Carreyrou said, “I think she’s someone that got used to telling lies so often, and the lies got so much bigger, that eventually the line between the lies and reality blurred for her.” [Hmm..who else does this all sound like?]
Whether Holmes is a serial fabricator outside her sham business operation, as other notable sf’s seem to be, is a separate issue.

It is believed…CVS

I was browsing through my neighborhood CVS a few months ago waiting for a prescription and ran across this peculiar device. Interestingly, the display was situated directly across from the pharmacy windows.

Several aspects of this quackery can be unpacked.

1. The packaging clearly indicates something about “magnetic” and “magnets” but it’s only in the smaller print that you actually learn what’s in the package. Maybe that’s obvious, but rather than label the package “Magnetic,” why not just say “Magic Magnets” or “The Power of Magnets” or “Here Be Magnets”?

2. The ad copy in the center says “Magnets” but only refers to them; that is, it only implies that that’s what’s in the package.

3. You have to actually look pretty close to see the contents: “4 magnets”

Of course that’s just quibbling about packaging.

4. So now, the coup de grâce: the ad copy only says that “it is believed” that magnets have certain healthful (but very vague) medical/physiological benefits.

Talk about your wishy-washy, FDA-skirting mumbo jumbo!

I was back in the CVS a couple days ago and tried hunting down the product display, but, to CVS’s credit, it was nowhere to be found. I actually asked the pharmacy folks about it but they just rolled their eyes and said they were unfamiliar with the product.

Kudos to CVS, not only for removing this ridiculous device but also for…drum roll...removing this celebrity quack from the magazine stand. (At least, I couldn’t find his mag, which is usually prominently placed on the stand.)

Or maybe he’s just between issues. Or getting ready for his next summoning before a Senate subcommittee.




Retiring the Tired “Word of the Year”

It’s time to retire the “Word of the Year” that various dictionaries publish each year — like “complicit” ( “youthquake” (Oxford), “feminism” (Merriam-Webster); and “fake news” (American Dialect Society, although their WTF Word of the Year, covfefe, isn’t too bad.)

As I understand it, the organizations have different criteria such as frequency, presumed significance, etc. But what are we learning of any real use by hearing that a lot of people are still using the word “feminism”?

Now, I’d make an exception for milkshake duck (“person or character that is deeply loved until problematic behavior is revealed or unearthed” coined in a 2016 tweet by Ben Ward, an Australian cartoonist), or Boaty McBoatface, which is more of a name than a word, per se.

So how about using the Word of the Year to enlighten us about actual new trends that onboard us to the new year?

My proposed list from 2017 starts with:

Doxing: searching for and publishing private or identifying information about (a particular individual) on the Internet, typically with malicious intent. [from documents–>docs, originally “dropping dox” from 1990s hacker slang]

Dad jokes: corny pun-filled jokes; the most embarrassingly type of bad joke. Characteristics: “a joke told by a father, or of the type associated with fathers, especially one which is (1) hackneyed, embarrassing, or unoriginal (2) usually involving wordplay and (3) is told repeatedly, even to people who have already heard it.” — see Grammar Girl “A guy went to the dentist for false teeth and only had a dollar so they gave him a buck tooth.” (My dentist brother is fond of this one though he won’t admit it.)

Cell phone strut* ¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯↓

 Scaramucci (noun) a time measurement typically referring to a 10-day span. Neatly fills the gap between a “week” and a “fortnight.”

Normie: someone not in on the joke (typically used by “alt-right” folks)

Red-pill (verb): To red-pill someone is to explain the truth to them and open their eyes, to make the decision to understand reality, “find out how deep the rabbit hole goes.” (reference to The Matrix, also typically an alt-right term: “Remember, all I’m offering is the truth”)

FOMO: Fear Of Missing Out, e.g., the fear that if you don’t go to a wild party you’ll miss out on something great…even if what you’re actually doing (attending your BFF’s wedding reception on a beach in Bali) is obviously the hotter deal.  (“BFF” is now officially retired as well.) “John’s fomo got the best of him and he ended up at the party.”

Perma-cold**: a seasonal cold that just keeps going well beyond any reasonable length of time — like the one I have now.

*For some reason, the strut just doesn’t seem to work as well with men…



** OK, I just made up perma-cold to make you feel sorry for me.

If Donnie was in my Eng. 101 class

Donnie, Donnie, please check your work before submitting it. Just because a word seems important, you don’t need to uppercase it. And watch for sentence fragments. Also, try to stay focused—one topic per paragraph please.

You see, Donnie, when you grow up and have to write a college admissions essay or a cover letter to get a job, the people reading it will be judging your ability to put words together in a sensible, cogent manner.  But how much credibility do you think you’ll have if you don’t even seem to know the difference between “aid” (help) and “aide” (an assistant to an important person, especially to a political leader)? Or if you go around just randomly capitalizing words. Or inserting bizarre, meaningless one-word exclamations?

They may draw the conclusion that you make random decisions based on your current stream of consciousness and can’t be bothered to proofread, much less cofveve your paragraphs.

 Going forward, I’ll expect to see you in the Writing Center before you finalize your assignments. GL.