Really Not Important

Sandwiched between articles on “A New Reason for Dehorning” and “Brown Coal” in the Kansas City Sun of May 6, 1921, one finds this little bit of whimsy – perhaps the editor was desperate for something to fill two column inches on a really slow news day.

Whatever the case, the text reads:

Really Not Important

An investigator claims to have discovered in some dusty archives that back in the days when the pilgrims landed each person coming to America from England was required to bring with them eight bushels of corn meal, two bushels of oatmeal, two gallons of vinegar and a gallon each of oil and brandy.
In view of the fact that nothing of importance hinges on the truth or falsity of this statement, not much time need be consumed to ascertain whether this is truth or fiction.


I was pointed to this gem by the inimitable XKCD, which cites a grudging respect for the fact-checker of the Kansas City Sun that day.

The rest of the page is viewable as a free clip here; some of the articles are stolid and mundane, others exude a hint of humor – such as this ad for the Peerless Bowling and Billiard Parlors:

Of course, like the green-coffee extract hawkers of today, the copywriter may have been deadly serious in claiming that bowlers never get appendicitis.

Perusing old newspapers can be just as entertaining as Netflix.

The Old Wolf has spoken.

BYTE Magazine: The April Fool Articles

Cross-posted from Livejournal

It was traditional for BYTE magazine to include one bogus article in their “What’s New” section each year in the April edition. Here are two years’ worth that I archived in my “what the Hell” file. They’re interesting not only because of the gag, but to see what was actually considered new in those years. Ah, history… see if you can spot the bogus articles.


1981
1982

It’s interesting to walk down memory lane and see how far technology has come for real in the last 4 decades.

The Old Wolf has spoken.

When disingenuous websites become funny… and a bit of Italian history.


Disclaimer: I do my best to keep this blog family-friendly, but this post delves into a couple of things that might be not suitable for young kids.

There are websites out there that will do anything for clicks. When you find one of these out there, the content is generally worth less than the electrons used to display them.

(Unless, of course, your electricity provider is Central Maine Power, and then you might be talking about some real money, but that’s a different conversation.)

Every now and then, though, that drive for clicks and eyeballs on ads results in a bit of humor. And in this case the journey was interesting as well. So bear with me.

At the Carnevale di Viareggio in Tuscany, one of the 1st-Class floats featured 45 as the God Emperor from Warhammer 40K. My first clue to this gem showed up at reddit:

If you want the entire video this screen cap came from, you can view it here.

And I wanted to post this elsewhere, with a simple heading, because I was so delighted with this exquisite rendering of The Thermonuclear Bowel Evacuation Currently Disgracing the Oval Office:

Having lived in Naples for a good amount of time, one sees things like this frequently – the “W” is short for “viva,” or “long live” or “hooray for” or some similar sentiment. There is a corresponding symbol for “Down with,” which looks like this:

Down with Galateo

But as I was working to find suitable examples, I began to wonder about the origin of these two symbols, and it turns out they arose during the time of Giuseppe Verdi. And if you’ve ever lived in Italy, you know that everything is political. From Wikipedia:

The growth of the “identification of Verdi’s music with Italian nationalist politics” perhaps began in the 1840s… It was not until 1859 in Naples, and only then spreading throughout Italy, that the slogan “Viva Verdi” was used as an acronym for Viva Vittorio Emanuele RDItalia (Viva Victor Emmanuel King of Italy)… After Italy was unified in 1861, many of Verdi’s early operas were increasingly re-interpreted as Risorgimento works with hidden Revolutionary messages that perhaps had not been originally intended by either the composer or his librettists.

So that “double V” for “Viva Verdi” came to symbolize “Viva” or “Up with,” and by analogy, an inverted VV, or M, became “Down with.”

Now that we know that, I can take you on the detour. It took me a while to get to that explanation, but while I was looking, I stumbled across this image:

W la Figa

I had never encountered this, but I had a sneaking suspicion I knew more or less what it meant. And I was right. You can see WLF all over photos and uniforms and stickers and hats relating to race car driver Valentino Rossi, and it stands for “Long Live Pussy.” Hey, I didn’t write it. La Figa, by the way, derives from a very ancient sign, “The fig,” which was common in Rome and other places:

Manu Fica –
It doesn’t take much of a stretch of the imagination to see this as representing female body parts.

So while I was researching that, I got a hit on Google from a page called “Names.org” that purports to provide origins for names. And while it may do that to a certain extent for legitimate names, such as my own, it does it mostly by randomly scraping content from the Internet, resulting in an unreliable hodgepodge of unedited information. For your gratuitous enjoyment, the meaning of the name “Wlafiga:”

I highly doubt they’ll publish the origins and meaning that I suggested.

Now, just to make absolutely certain that in some language somewhere “Wlafiga” was not a real name, I asked Names.org for the origin of “Bjørkmœð,” a nonsense string of phonemes that I created out of whole cloth. Here’s what I got:

Robotically-generated nonsense.

So if you want a laugh, go over to Names.org and search out your own, or make something up and see what you get. But the takeaway here is, never rely on a single website to provide you with accurate information – dig deep, and then dig deeper.

W the Internet!

The Old Wolf has spoken.

Malaprops and Malaphors

From Wikipedia:

malapropism (also called a malaprop or Dogberryism) is the use of an incorrect word in place of a word with a similar sound, resulting in a nonsensical, sometimes humorous utterance. An example is the statement by baseball player Yogi Berra, “Texas has a lot of electrical votes”, rather than “electoral votes”… Humorous malapropisms are the type that attract the most attention and commentary, but bland malapropisms are common in speech and writing.

The expression was named after the character “Mrs. Malaprop” in Richard Brinsley Sheridan’s play, “The Rivals.” Via linguistic back-formation,
the blending of idioms or clichés is called a malaphor.

These showed up somewhere on Facebook today – I think it was a screen cap of a twitter feed followed by a slug of suggestions from commenters. I found them delightful, and thought I would digest them for my readers here.

You can take one man’s trash to another man’s treasure but you can’t make it drink.
We’ll burn that bridge when we get to it.
It’s not rocket surgery.
Not the sharpest egg in the attic.
… until the cows freeze over.
… until the last banshee is hung.
You’ve opened this can of worms, now lie in it.
America was a tinder box with a hair trigger just waiting for the other foot to drop
It’s like icing on the gravy.
“They’re too many cooks in the broth”.
Even a blind squirrel is right twice a day.
Not the sharpest knife in the crayon box
An ounce of safe is worth a pound of sorry.
We’ll drive off that bridge when we get to it.
We’ll jump off that bridge when we get to it.
You’re making me want to drink like a fish out of water
“We’ll burn that bridge when we jump off it”
I am bound and determined not to use any more cliches.
We’ll cross that bridge when it hatches.
That’s where the butter meets the bridge!
Does the Pope 🤬 in the woods?
I don’t need a compass to tell me which way the wind shines.” (Mr. Furious, from the movie Mystery Men.)
Never look a gift horse in the peas and carrots
It’s 6 one way, a dozen another.
Well, that gets the monkey off my face.
Even a blind pig can find the sharpest whip in the drawer twice a day.
Sticks and stones will make hell freeze over.
…like stink on rice
A bird in the hand has no bite.

And my all-time favorite, from Pinocchio’s Jiminy Cricket: You’ve buttered your bread… now sleep in it!

The Old Wolf has spoken

Then there were those language cartoons.

Just a while ago I gave you some of the comic strips that made me laugh absurdly hard over the course of my life. The ones I present here were not always that kind, but they are ones that pleased my inner linguist. You don’t spend a lifetime playing with languages and not appreciate things like this.

(Some of the images enlarge when you click on them, others don’t.)

The danger of encountering a translator in the wild.
A rare skill.

On that note, I mentioned this joke earlier in a post about macaronics:


A professor of Latin at Yale, (sounds like a limerick in the offing, doesn’t it?) having ordered a meal at a fine New Haven restaurant, decided that he would like some wine with his dinner. So he summoned the wine steward and asked for a bottle of hock. Feeling clever, he added, “hic, haec, hoc.”

“Very good, sir,” replied the wine steward, and left.

Twenty minutes later, no wine. The learned man summoned the steward again, and asked, “Didn’t I order a bottle of hock?”

“You did indeed, sir,” replied the steward, “but then you declined it.”

Any part of speech can be verbed, up to and including entire paragraphs. “I don’t wanna go to bed!” “Oh yeah? I’ll ‘I don’t wanna go to bed’ you if you don’t get up those stairs!”

I, too, am very hung up on languages. And I have studied Hebrew, and Korean, and Serbian. They are all still “in progress.”

Fortunately, I never had to take “Bonehead English.” One of my favorite English classes was taught by Joe Boyle at Cheshire Academy. Hi, Joe! 😁
This one did double duty – it tickled my language bone and also made me laugh too hard. Sorry.
There’s nothing like a good language pun. Sandra Boynton is a mistress of the genre. This one is very obscure – you have to read “Aisle B loving ewe four heifers”
Johnny Hart was an inveterate punster.
This isn’t really a pun. It isn’t really a Mondegreen. I don’t even know what to call it, but it’s funny.
The Grammar Police are never far away.
If it’s Tuesday, this must be Belgium.

Ferd’nand had a similar problem. “My hovercraft is full of eels.” In passing, this is one of a very few strips where Ferd’nand actually says anything at all.
Missionaries from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints become fluent in the language of their assigned countries over the course of time, but getting there can be a challenge.
This one reminds me of “The Polar Express,” for some odd reason.
The Chinese reads ” Wǒ ài nǐ. ” (I love you).
This Mafalda is one of my favorite translation-related cartoons.
It all started somewhere.
Another classic by Johnny Hart. He’s right, you know.
I’ll see your nuclear physics and raise you my prescriptive grammar.
Thanks to “Y Gwyll,” I have no problem pronouncing “Aberystwyth” and a host of other Welsh place names. Wonderful show, by the way, I’m sorry it wrapped up.
Whatever you do, don’t think about a purple aardvark skydiver.
Alien languages can be a hassle. How would you order a pizza with ham and pineapple if all you could say was things like “Darmok and Jalad at Tanagra?”

Many others, there are in the world – but this will have to suffice for now.

The Old Wolf has spoken.

Merged Books

Cross-posted from LiveJournal

While searching for something else in my LiveJournal archive, I ran across this little gem which was sent to me by a translator colleague in 1999. It’s out on the net, but you have to know just what you’re looking for to find it.

Merge matic books from the Washington Post Invitational: Readers were asked to combine the works of two authors and provide a suitable blurb. Back to the books.

The overall winner is also the Rookie of the Week:

Second Runner Up: “Machiavelli’s The Little Prince” Antoine de Saint Exupery’s classic children’s tale as presented by Machiavelli. The whimsy of human nature is embodied in many delightful and intriguing characters, all of whom are executed. (Erik Anderson, Tempe, Ariz.)

First Runner Up:

“Green Eggs and Hamlet”
Would you kill him in his bed?
Thrust a dagger through his head?
I would not, could not, kill the King.
I could not do that evil thing.
I would not wed this girl, you see.
Now get her to a nunnery. (Robin Parry, Arlington)

And the Winner of the Dancing Critter: “Fahrenheit 451 of the Vanities” An ’80s yuppie is denied books. He does not object, or even notice. (Mike Long, Burke)

Honorable Mentions:

“2001: A Space Iliad” The Hal 9000 computer wages an insane 10 year war against the Greeks after falling victim to the Y2K bug. (Joseph Romm, Washington)

“Curious Georgefather” The monkey finally sticks his nose where it don’t belong. (Chuck Smith, Woodbridge)

“The Hunchback Also Rises” Hideously deformed fellow is cloistered in bell tower by despicable clergymen. And that’s the good news … (John Verba, Washington)

“The Maltese Faulkner” Is the black bird a tortured symbol of Sam’s struggles with race and family? Does it signify his decay of soul along with the soul of the Old South? Is it merely a crow, mocking his attempts to understand? Or is it worth a cool mil? (Thad Humphries, Warrenton)

“The Silence of the Hams” In this endearing update of the
Seuss classic, young Sam I Am presses unconventional foodstuffs on his friend, Hannibal, who turns the tables. (Mark Eckenwiler, Washington)

“Jane Eyre Jordan”: Plucky English orphan girl survives hardships to lead the Chicago Bulls to the NBA championship. (Dave Pickering, Bowie)

“Nicholas and Alexandra Nickleby” Having narrowly escaped a Bolshevik firing squad, the former czar and czarina join a troupe of actors only to find that playing the Palace isn’t as grand as living in it. (Sandra Hull, Arlington)

“Catch 22 in the Rye” Holden learns that if you’re insane, you’ll probably flunk out of prep school, but if you’re flunking out of prep school, you’re probably not insane. (Brendan Beary, Great Mills)

“Tarzan of the Grapes” The beleaguered Okies of the dust bowl are saved by a strong and brave savage who swings from grapevine to grapevine. (Joseph Romm, Washington)

“Where’s Walden?” Alas, the challenge of locating Henry David Thoreau in each richly detailed drawing loses its appeal when it quickly becomes clear that he is always in the woods. (Sandra Hull, Arlington)

“Looking for Mr. Godot” A young woman waits for Mr. Right to enter her life. She has a looong wait. (Jonathan Paul, Garrett Park)

“Rikki Kon Tiki Tavi” Thor Heyerdahl recounts his attempt to prove Rudyard Kipling’s theory that the mongoose first came to India on a raft from Polynesia. (David Laughton, Washington)

The Old Wolf has reminisced.

Hagga laughed, and kept on laughing.

Introduction

In James Thurbur’s miraculous foray into the realms of whimsical  and linguistic fantasmagoria, The Thirteen Clocks, prince Zorn of Zorna and his unique companion, the Golux, are tasked by the Evil Duke of Coffin Castle to find a thousand jewels and return, all in the space of nine and ninety hours, in order to win the hand of the beautiful princess Saralinda.

Desperate, they seek out Hagga, who in exchange for saving the life of Good King Gwain of Yarrow, was blessed (or cursed) with the gift of weeping precious gems. When they find her, she’s all cried out; “Once I wept when maids were married underneath the April moon. I weep no more when maids are buried, even in the month of June.”

Unable to make her cry with his most tragic tales, the Golux tries another tack; he tells ridiculous stories to make her laugh, but all he gets for his trouble are rhinestones, pearls, and semiprecious gems. Nothing seemed to help, until “without a rhyme or reason, out of time and out of season, Hagga laughed and kept on laughing…and precious jewels twinkled down her cheek and sparkled on the floor.” “I wish that she had laughed,” the Golux sighed, “at something I had said.”

The heroes gathered up the gems and returned in time to save the princess from the salacious attentions of the evil Duke, but as they left, Hagga laughed and kept on laughing.

Theme

I get Hagga, I really do. I have a sense of humor that is bizarre, often sophomoric, and wildly mercurial. Sometimes I’ll encounter something in life that clamps my funny bone in the jaws of a bear trap and won’t let go, and heaven have mercy if  it strikes when I’m in public. I recall being around 18 when Bored of the Rings by Harvard Lampoon was published; I had purchased it and was sitting in a Nedick’s in New York reading it, laughing so hard that I thought I’d either be thrown out or taken away by the men in the white coats. I’ve alluded to other instances here.

In keeping with the spirit of uncontrollable laughter, I present to you a series of cartoons, some print and some electronic, which have resulted in meltdowns of various levels over time. Many of you will think that these are impossibly stupid, and that’s just fine.

The Far Side by Gary Larson

The cartoon that introduced me to Larson in the first place.
This Far Side never ran in the papers; it was rejected by Larson’s editors.

Don Martin, cartoonist for Mad Magazine

Don Martin’s sound effects are legendary. This is probably the granddaddy of them all.

Calvin and Hobbes by Bill Watterson

Many of Watterson’s efforts had similar results, but this one was the cream of the crop.

Garfield by Jim Davis

It’s widely accepted that Jim Davis never intended for Garfield to be funny, rather commercially successful. This one brought me and my kids to tears.

Broom Hilda by R. Myers

A classic from the ’70s.

B. Kliban

Many of Kliban’s strips were excruciatingly funny to someone with a twisted mind.

Overboard by Chip Dunham

Dunham’s hapless pirates have been a source of much mirth.

Wildwood by Tom Spurgeon and Dan Wright

Wildwood was a touching and sincere strip with a far-too-short run. This one is by far my favorite.

Rose is Rose by Pat Brady

Brady still writes the strip, but in 2004 he passed the artwork torch to Don Wimmer. I think it was the floating skulls that got me on this one.

Certainly there are other things in life that have made me laugh without being able to stop – I’m thinking of the baked-bean supper from “Blazing Saddles” (who doesn’t appreciate a good flatulence joke, really), the pie fight from “The Great Race,” and the feeding machine from Chaplin’s “Modern Times” – but these are the things that floated to the top while I contemplated this particular subject.

I hope you have things in your life that have done the same for you. Laughter, they say, is good for the soul.

The Old Wolf has spoken.