Pen and Ink

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Image: Wikimedia Commons

In 1980, after 30 years of drawing Beetle Bailey, comic artist Mort Walker published The Lexicon of Comicana, a lighthearted meditation on the many conventions that a reader of comic strips is expected to understand. He calls it a lexicon because he’s made up names for all of them:

  • A grawlix (above) is a string of symbols representing profanity.
  • Emanata are lines surrounding a character’s head to indicate surprise or shock.
  • A lucaflect is the distorted image of a window in a shiny object.
  • Blurgits are blurs of motion within a single panel, to denote frenzied action.
  • Sphericasia are lines tracking motion: a throwatron is a line following a football, a sailatron follows a wandering paper airplane, and a dashed staggeratron follows an intoxicated person. If the motion is particularly fast, these might begin with a dust cloud, called a briffit.
  • Plewds are flying droplets of sweat to indicate stress, hard work, or nerves.
  • An indotherm is a series of wavy lines to indicate rising heat.
  • Vites are fine vertical lines to indicate a shine on a floor. Strangely, a window or mirror bears dites, which are diagonal.

More: a light bulb represents an idea, Zs (or a saw cutting a log) represent snoring, distant birds are inverted Ws, patches denote poverty, all bones are the same shape, all new things have price tags, all injuries require bandages, all paint cans bear drippings. Who invented all these conventions, and how did we all learn to observe them?

Southern Exposure

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I forgot to mention that I donned a kilt for the Highland Ball at Glenferness. It was anxious work at first, as it is a garment with no notion of privacy, and delights in giving all present tantalising glimpses of things unseen. However, with careful manipulation and a pair of drawers, I got through the evening tolerably. It is quite comfortable to dance in, but should be a godsend to mosquitoes.

— Sir Alan Lascelles, diary, September 15, 1907

Everything Must Go

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When the Drury Lane theater was closed in 1709, Joseph Addison published a fanciful list of the properties for sale:

  • Spirits of right Nantz brandy, for lambent flames and apparitions.
  • Three bottles and a half of lightning.
  • One shower of snow in the whitest French paper.
  • Two showers of a browner sort.
  • A sea, consisting of a dozen large waves; the tenth bigger than ordinary, and a little damaged.
  • A dozen and a half of clouds, trimmed with black, and well-conditioned.
  • A rainbow, a little faded.
  • A set of clouds after the French mode, streaked with lightning, and furbelowed.
  • A new moon, something decayed.
  • A pint of the finest Spanish wash, being all that is left out of two hogsheads sent over last winter.
  • A coach very finely gilt, and little used, with a pair of dragons, to be sold cheap.
  • A setting-sun, a pennyworth.
  • An imperial mantle made for Cyrus the Great, and worn by Julius Caesar, Bajazet, King Harry the Eighth, and Signor Valentini.
  • A basket-hilted sword, very convenient to carry milk in.
  • Roxana’s night-gown.
  • Othello’s handkerchief.
  • The imperial robes of Xerxes, never worn but once.
  • A wild boar, killed by Mrs. Tofts and Dioclesian.
  • A serpent to sting Cleopatra.
  • A mustard-bowl to make thunder with.
  • Another of a bigger sort, by Mr. D—-s’s directions, little used.
  • Six elbow-chairs, very expert in country dances, with six flower-pots for their partners.
  • The whiskers of a Turkish Bassa.
  • The complexion of a murderer in a band-box; consisting of a large piece of burnt cork, and a coal-black peruke.
  • A suit of clothes for a ghost, viz. a bloody shirt, a doublet curiously pinked, and a coat with three great eyelet-holes upon the breast.
  • A bale of red Spanish wool.
  • Modern plots, commonly known by the name of trapdoors, ladders of ropes, vizard-masks, and tables with broad carpets over them.
  • Three oak-cudgels, with one of crab-tree; all bought for the use of Mr. Penkethman.
  • Materials for dancing; as masks, castanets, and a ladder of ten rounds.
  • Aurengezebe’s scymitar, made by Will. Brown in Piccadilly.
  • A plume of feathers, never used but by Œdipus and the Earl of Essex.

“Mr. D—-” is John Dennis, a critic. Elsewhere Addison wrote, “If we may believe our logicians, man is distinguished from all other creatures by the faculty of laughter.”

Love and Law

Writing in the San Francisco journal The Californian in 1865, Mark Twain answered this inquiry from a reader:

I loved and still love, the beautiful Edwitha Howard, and intended to marry her. Yet during my temporary absence at Benicia, last week, alas! she married Jones. Is my happiness to be thus blasted for life? Have I no redress?

“Of course you have,” Twain answered. He argued that intention is everything in the law — if you call your friend a fool, this is not an insult if you intended it playfully. And killing a man by accident does not constitute murder.

Ergo, if you had married Edwitha accidentally, and without really intending to do it, you would not actually be married to her at all, because the act of marriage could not be complete without the intention. And, ergo, in the strict spirit of the law, since you deliberately intended to marry Edwitha, and didn’t do it, you are married to her all the same — because, as I said before, the intention constitutes the crime. It is as clear as day that Edwitha is your wife, and your redress lies in taking a club and mutilating Jones with it as much as you can. Any man has a right to protect his own wife from the advances of other men.

But you have another alternative — you were married to Edwitha first, because of your deliberate intention, and now you can prosecute her for bigamy, in subsequently marrying Jones.

But there is another phase in this complicated case: You intended to marry Edwitha, and consequently, according to law, she is your wife — there is no getting around that — but she didn’t marry you, and if she never intended to marry you you are not her husband, of course. Ergo, in marrying Jones, she was guilty of bigamy, because she was the wife of another man at the time — which is all very well as far as it goes — but then, don’t you see, she had no other husband when she married Jones, and consequently she was not guilty of bigamy.

Now according to this view of the case, Jones married a spinster, who was a widow at the same time and another man’s wife at the same time, and yet who had no husband and never had one, and never had any intention of getting married, and therefore, of course, never had been married; and by the same reasoning you are a bachelor, because you have never been any one’s husband, and a married man because you have a wife living, and to all intents and purposes a widower, because you have been deprived of that wife, and a consummate ass for going off to Benicia in the first place, while things were so mixed.

“And by this time I have got myself so tangled up in the intricacies of this extraordinary case that I shall have to give up any further attempt to advise you,” he added. “I might get confused and fail to make myself understood. I think I could take up the argument where I left off, and by following it closely awhile, perhaps I could prove to your satisfaction, either that you never existed at all, or that you are dead, now, and consequently don’t need the faithless Edwitha — I think I could do that, if it would afford you any comfort.”

Misdemeanor

English wit Charles Stuart Calverley was “the hero of a hundred tales” at Cambridge. One Sunday, for no very good reason, he unhooked the inn sign from the Green Man at Trumpington and sprinted off with it toward the university. The innkeeper and several customers went after him, but Calverley gained ground and managed to escape to Christ’s College, where he ordered the porter to bar the gate and carried his prize to his rooms.

When the dean asked the meaning of the disturbance, he said, “Sir, an evil and adulterous generation seek after a sign, but no sign shall be given.”

Fowl Grace

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Dr. Goldsmith tells a story of King Henry the Seventh’s Parrot, which fell out of the window of a room in the palace at Westminster, into the Thames, and at once called aloud, as it had heard people do, ‘A boat! twenty pounds for a boat!’ A waterman passing, took it up, and saved the poor bird’s life; and, on a question arising as to the amount to be paid to the man as a reward for restoring the Parrot, it was appealed to, when it instantly screamed out, ‘Give the knave a groat!’

Zoological Sketches: Consisting of Descriptions of One Hundred and Twenty Animals, 1844

Exchange

It was after the battle of Ypres when many wounded were returned to home hospitals where they received numerous solicitous visitors.

One dear old soul went around the wards speaking to each soldier in turn and inquiring of each the nature of his wounds.

‘And where about were you wounded my dear man?’ she asked one soldier.

‘Ypres, ma’am,’ the man replied.

‘Yes, yes, of course,’ said the dear old soul, ‘But where about? That is, in what way?’

‘Oh, I see what you mean,’ the soldier said. Then after a pause he added, ‘Well, ma’am, it’s like this; if you had been wounded where I was wounded, then you wouldn’t have been wounded at all.’

— Arthur E. Wrench, In Lighter Vein, 1976

Provisions

https://www.ubereats.com/ca/toronto/food-delivery/good-fortune-burger-college/SlS7Rn6dQ1SVb59NxiWt5A

Good Fortune Burger of Toronto has named its menu items after office supplies so that customers can include them on expense reports:

Fortune Burger: Basic Steel Stapler
Diamond Chicken Burger: Mini Dry Erase Whiteboard
Double Your Fortune Burger: Ergonomic Aluminum Laptop Stand
Emerald Veggie Burger: Wired Earphones With Mic
Parmesan Fries: CPU Wireless Mouse
Ginger Beer: Yellow Lined Sticky Notes
San Pellegrino: Ball Point Black Ink Gel Pens
Build Your Fortune Burger: Silicone Keyboard Cover

“There’s no malice intended in it,” Director of Operations Jon Purdy told blogTO. “It’s all just fun and games.”

“Short Road to Wealth”

I’ll tell you a plan for gaining wealth,
Better than banking, trade, or leases;
Take a bank-note and fold it across,
And then you will find your money IN-CREASES!
This wonderful plan, without danger or loss,
Keeps your cash in your hands, and with nothing to trouble it;
And every time that you fold it across,
‘Tis plain as the light of the day that you DOUBLE it!

— Charles Carroll Bombaugh, Gleanings for the Curious From the Harvest-Fields of Literature, 1890

Fitting

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Image: Wikimedia Commons

What does the middle initial “B.” stand for in Benoit B. Mandelbrot’s name?

Benoit B. Mandelbrot.

In the Notices of the American Mathematical Society, Andrew Kern calls this “My single favorite math joke of all.”

(Intriguingly, Mandelbrot adopted his middle initial; it does not stand for a middle name.)

03/02/2021 UPDATE: Reader Dan Uznanski sent another:

What’s an anagram for Banach-Tarski?

Banach-Tarski Banach-Tarski.