Cosmic Quote(s) #35: President’s Day

“Politics is supposed to be the second oldest profession. I have come to realize that it bears a very close resemblance to the first.”–Ronald Reagan

“May God save the country, for it is evident the people will not.”–Millard Fillmore

Note: in order to get the quote number 42 in time for Towel Day, there may be a slight increase in the frequency of these quote posts.

It’s hard to believe Ronald Reagan actually said something I agree with.

It’s hard to believe Millard Fillmore actually said anything.

At any rate, if you want to know the true spirit of President’s Day, visit your local Target or Best Buy.   And if you happen to be a banker, postal worker, teacher or government employee, enjoy your day off.    Also, check out one of my favorite blogs,  BLAHS winner Millard Fillmore’s Bathtub.

The spirit of President's Day:  last chance to clear out the Christmas overstock

The spirit of President’s Day


Time Out: Lillian Mountweazel and The Incredible Jungftak

Note: The following post appears simultaneously–with a slightly different title–in my monthly guest post on The Blog of Funny Names.

“You could look it up.”–Casey Stengel

Lillian Virginia Mountweazel.  To be or not to be?

Lillian Virginia Mountweazel. To be or not to be?

According to the 1975 edition of the New  Columbia Encyclopedia,   ”Lillian Virginia Mountweazel ( 1942-1973),  was an American photographer, b. Bangs, Ohio. Turning from fountain design to photography in 1963, Mountweazel produced her celebrated portraits of the South Sierra Miwok in 1964. She was awarded government grants to make a series of photo-essays of unusual subject matter, including New York City buses, the cemeteries of Paris and rural American mailboxes. The last group was exhibited extensively abroad and published as Flags Up! (1972) Mountweazel died at 31 in an explosion while on assignment for Combustibles magazine.”

It’s an incredible story–at least, according to the 1975 edition of the New Columbia Encyclopedia– with  ”according to” being the critical phrase. Because, you see, no such person ever existed.  The entry was bogus–a common practice among publishers of dictionaries, encyclopedias and even maps.  It was designed to catch copyright infringement.  This practice was hardly new, as I shall proceed to report.  However, it caused enough of a stir  that The New Yorker coined the term Mountweazel to mean any such copyright trap in published material, and the name has stuck.  As things of this nature often take on a life of their own, the eponymous Ms. Mountweazel now has a page on Facebook and a memorial society on Flickr.

But as odd as this story sounds, the course of events that led me to this discovery is stranger still.  It was a three decade odyssey that started back in the mid-1970′s.  While playing the game of Dictionary at the home of a (much older) friend,  I came across the following in the 1943 edition of Webster’s Twentieth Century Dictionary:

jungftak, n.–a Persian bird, the male of which had only one wing, on the right side, and the female only one wing, on the left side; instead of the missing wings, the male had a hook of bone, and the female an eyelet of bone, and it was by uniting hook and eye that they were enabled to fly, — each, when alone, had to remain on the ground.

That was it; there was no pronunciation and no etymology.

Wow.  I was flummoxed.  How bizarre was this?  I had to find out more.  I went to the local library and searched every encyclopedia and every dictionary, but found nothing.  Figuring that this bird had to be mythical, I next went to books on Persian culture and mythology.  Still nothing.  I was puzzled, but not deterred, and I never forgot this bizarre word and definition.  Over the next several decades I sporadically recalled this incident and searched again, each time to no avail.  No avail, that is, until about five years ago.  Through the miracle know as the internet, the Google search term ‘jungftak’ finally bore fruit.  I uncovered a 1981 article by one Richard Rex in the journal American Speech. He had also discovered this word and had the same issues with it.  His conclusion was that the entry was an early example of what, by the time of this article, had come to be called a Mountweazel.  A copyright trap.  It was quite a letdown, but at least I finally had an answer.

I discussed this phenomenon with Martha Barnette and Grant Barrett as a caller to the NPR show A Way With Words originally broadcast in January of 2010.  You can listen to this archived broadcast here.  My segment occurs about 20 minutes into the show.      Have fun listening, and don’t take any wooden Mountweazels.


Cosmic Quote(s) #34

“I hate Disneyland.  It prepares our kids for Las Vegas.”–Tom Waits

My first ever trip to Vegas was an inadvertent one, way back in 1978.   Driving from LA to Zion national park on our honeymoon,  Cheryl and I stopped on the Vegas strip for lunch.   Today I am headed directly there–no side trips, nothing inadvertent.  Normally, I would not write about a trip until after I take it.  I’m making an exception for this as, after all,  what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas.    I’ll see you when I get back, assuming I don’t stay there.


Tales of a Veterinary Spouse #8: Doggone Pets

“Armadillos make affectionate pets.  If you need affection that much.”–Will Cuppy

“I…discovered you can get used to a man, much like you do a household pet.”–Terry McMillan

There is no greater futility in the Sackler household than to complain about the animals that share our home.   Not their numbers, their habits, their exotic variety nor their ruling of the roost.

“What did you expect?  You married me when I was a veterinary student ,” is invariably the response I get.

Heck, I married a vet; I did not marry the Bronx Zoo.  And , as I often point out,  I was a sportscaster when we met.  This has not kept her from complaining about all the games I watch on TV.  The least she could do is accept it and keep the chips and dip coming during the NFL playoffs.

Hermit crab.  You'd be a hermit, too, if you looked like this.

Hermit crab. You’d be a hermit, too, if you looked like this.

But I digress.  Our current pet count is nine, a rather typical number.  Six dogs in the house, two horses in the paddock, and one cat in the barn, appropriately named Barney.  In the past, our  critter count has numbered as high as 17 at one time, and not all of them with four legs.  Critter is an appropriate term, as it is a rather extreme stretch of the imagination to call some of them pets.   These have included rabbits, hedgehogs, guinea pigs, guinea fowl,  turkeys–both domestic and wild–chickens, hermit crabs a gecko and a donkey.  We’ve also had visits from–but thankfully not made homes for–an iguana, a boa constrictor, an African millipede and Madagascar hissing cockroaches.  The variety, and the stories that go with them are never ending.

One of the earliest tales  dates to our first apartment during Cheryl’s years in veterinary school.   We had a visit from a very special friend, Kate–the very woman who had introduced us in the first place.   She entered to find us in a frenzy.

“We can’t find Archibald.  Archibald got lose.  Help us find Archibald!”

Kate was all too happy to comply and began scouring the premises with us.  She looked under the couch, behind the dresser and basically mimicked whatever searching patterns she saw us following.

Ten minutes into this, she suddenly stopped, and stared at both of us with a quizzical look.

“Um, excuse me for asking, but what are we looking for?  What exactly is Archibald!?”

A good question, if a bit late for the asking.  Archibald was  a tiny hermit crab.  And it was Kate who ultimately found him–once she knew what she was looking for, the quest was not so daunting.

Guinea Fowl.  Proof that god has a sense of humor.

Guinea Fowl. Proof that god has a sense of humor.

From my perspective though, the most annoying of these fauna have been those that shatter the calm with odd and unusual calls.  Screeches, brays, cock-a-doodle doos.  The Guniea fowl screamed bloody murder during their spring mating season.  The first spring we had them, they did this while stampeding on the roof over our heads in the middle of the night.  Fun.   A donkey and a rooster on our premises made noises, while I worked from a home office, that must have sounded to my customers on the phone as if I was selling grain out of a silo in Iowa.   More on these lovely experiences in a future installment;  in the meantime, step a way from the barn.  You never know for sure what might be in there.

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