Tag Archives: language

When Hobbies Collide

Before I crash into bed for some serious reading, I spend about an hour every evening simultaneously hitting refresh hoping my internet will muster up enough gumption to allow me to write a post, watching old reality TV or BBC productions with my hubsters, sipping a glass of boxed merlot, and knitting.

I love to knit.  It’s calming in its rhythm.  It’s calculated in its patterns.  And most of all, it makes me feel productive during the laziest part of the day.

There are only two stiches in knitting:  the knit stitch, and the purl stitch.  Everything else is just a variant on one of those two.  In fact, if you want to get really picky, the purl stitch is nothing but the opposite of the knit stitch.

A knit stitch produces that smooth knitted fabric we’re all familiar with.

Knit Stitches

And the purl stitch produces those bumps that warn you that your sweater is inside out before someone else spots your tag.

Purl Stitches

But those purl bumps have other uses, usually to give garments dimension and interest.  And if you are as clever as Stephen Crane you can also be stitch them together into a rich literary fabric such as this one from the first paragraph of The Red Badge of Courage:

Purl quote.


Posted by on March 22, 2013 in The Red Badge of Courage


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Feeling a Little Quoggy

Did you notice that the Classic Word of the Day has been missing this week?

No?  Oh.  Well, that’s okay.  I hardly noticed either, but there’s an exciting part – it isn’t because I forgot.  Nope, I just ran out of words.

Do you find that hard to believe?  You probably should, there are a boatload of boating words that I didn’t bother to define.  In fact, I not sure I knew what a frigate or lee was until I read each of them 3562 times over the last month and a half.

In addition to the skipped jargon, there is an entirely unexplored class of word floating around in MD.  And I do mean entirely unexplored.  You see, one day as I was researching the meaning of the word quoggy I came across an interesting article on JSTOR.  In fact, it was so intriguing that I signed up for a free trial of JSTOR (an on-line academic journal database) so I could read full content.

Here’s a link if you want to take it all in for yourself (free trial and all), but if not, I’ll do my best to summarize.  In “Melville’s Contribution to English” published in Modern Language Association’s journal, PMLA, James Mark Purcell introduces his readers to a list of words and phrases from Melville’s works which were not found in the leading historical dictionaries of the day.

Brand, spanking new words.  Melvillisms.  And not just one or two.  In Moby-Dick, we’re talking 36 original uses of our language.  Or his language.  Or language.  It’s all a little quoggy.

Purcell gives an annotated list (I fall for annotated lists everytime, folks, everytime) of all the words from Melville’s works with definitions where necessary.  Many of them are definitely whaling words, but here are a few that we could probably reintroduce into conversational language today (oh, and these meanings below are pretty heavily my own, don’t blame Purcell, unless I do, too):

block – a haircut
crescentric – Do you think he meant concentric, or crescentic and just got confused?
curios – The New English Dictionary credits Melville with the earliest use of this word.
curvicues – involved figurations, sort of like curlicues, yes?
Earthsman – as opposed to a Moonsman
flukes –  an exclamatory word, “Flukes!”
footmanism – toadyism, which is the practice of flattering others to elevate yourself.  I had to look it up.
furious – well, he was the first to use it as an adverb.  He wrote furious furious.
gardenny – now really, I add “y” the to the ends of lost of words and no one ever writes journal articles saying that I’m geniusy.
quoggy –                       that’s right, Purcell didn’t give us a definition, maybe because he doesn’t know one
squilgee – a mop for cleaning the decks of whale ships
Tic-Dolly-row – that which disturbs the mind and feelings

Flukes! Let’s incorporate these words furious to all Earthsman, just make sure their use doesn’t turn into footsmanism or cause anyone Tic-Dolly-row.


Posted by on May 4, 2012 in Moby-Dick


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Reader’s Regress

Once there was which a Novel I did Day Dream.  In it did I see Reader that which carrying a Pencil and Journal did begin to make Lists and Summaries.  As he traveled along the turning Pages he was often misled by End Notes and Sides Notes.

End. then said End, Read me.  I am interesting and will tell you wherefore the Author has said These Things.

Read. but then Reader replied, I am to go on to the End and it is taking me ever and anon.  I must not go whithersoever into your Distractions, but stay on the Path that leads to the End.

Side. I bid you to read me, dear Reader.  For I will help you in overtaking your Reading Companions.  I follow the Short and Easy Path but will still tell you the Truth.

Then Reader told Side Notes, you may travel with me along the way to the End and you may continue to speak Truth to my Confused Ears, your Short Cuts notwithstanding.  For you art a Temptation to a Quick End which may cause my Reading Companions to bid me, ho, ho, So, ho and overtake me in the True Meaning of this Journey.

And then I woke up.  And then I Daydreamed again.  In my Day Dream Reader sought both Meaning and Plot.  Along the Way he espied many Characters on the Journey.  By the which he logged their Names and Pages into the Character List so as to remain Faithful to their Roles in the Journey.  But alas, as he approched Page 141 a Nagging Feeling doth overtake his Heart and soon he did meet up with Guilty Conscience who bade him look back in the Journal where dwelleth his Character List.  And alas, the list ended with Men from Page 65.  Reader began to weep and Lament his neglect.  He journeyed forth filled with Remorse, but unwilling to retrace his steps.  Just as Despair neared his overtaking in the distance he doth espy his good friend Editor.

Ed.  Why doth thou weep, my Dear Character.  Dost thou not know for what thou hast been laid at the back of thine Story?

Read. and Reader cried forth, I know of nothing that can fill up where I have left empty this Great List of Characters.

Ed. But do not despair, for Our Good Penguin Classics have prepared for you an Index wherein lie all the Characters and Page Numbers.  You will find them there, wrapped in Swaddling Cloths and Lying in a Manger.

And Reader was Greatly Relieved and continued on the Turning Pages of his Journey with Great Joy and Ease in his Heart as he neareth the End. But with some Trepidation at the necessity of Reading again this Journey for the sake of His Wife.


Posted by on July 20, 2011 in Pilgrim's Progress


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