JavaScript disabled or chat unavailable.

Have a question?

We have answers!
Chat Monday-Friday, 8 AM - 5 PM (except MS state holidays)
Phone: 601-432-4492 or Toll free: 1-877-KWIK-REF (1-877-594-5733)
Text: 601-208-0868

Monday, February 27, 2012

What Do You Want On Your Tombstone?

I've had a horror of being buried alive ever since I saw the movie Spoorloos twenty years ago. (There was a horrible American remake called The Vanishing, but I'm not sure if they both had the same creepy ending.) Stories like Poe's The Cask of Amontillado and The Fall of the House of Usher don't help at all. I've always figured that it would safest if my remains were immediately reduced to a small pile of ashes and then put somewhere discrete. Last week, I stumbled across Thesaurus of Epigrams, which contains some hilarious epigrams. I'm thinking that it might be possible to change my mind about burial now, but only if I have the perfect tombstone inscription. Here are some of my favorites the book had to offer:

Erected to the memory of
John Phillips
Accidently shot,
As a mark of affection by his Brother.
Here lies the body of Jonathan Ground,
Who was lost at sea and never found.
Here lies the carcass of a cursed sinner
Doomed to be roasted for the Devil's dinner.
Here I lies, and no wonder I'm dead,
For the wheel of a wagon went over my head.
Here lies my wife, a sad slattern and a shrew,
If I said I regretted her I should lie too.
Here lies my poor wife, without bed or blanket,
But dead as a door-nail, and God be thankit.
Here lies Pierre Cabochard, grocer.
His inconsolate widow
dedicates this monument to his memory,
and continues the same business at
the old stand, 167 Rue Mouffetard.
Here lies the body of W. W.,
Who never more will trouble you, trouble you.

I like the idea of someone walking past my grave, glancing at my inscription, and howling hysterically. If I can't come up with one of these witty epigrams, do you think a well-worded knock-knock joke would have the same effect?

Fuller, Edmund, ed. Thesaurus of Epigrams. New York, NY: Crown Publishers, 1943. Print.

Friday, February 24, 2012

From Whence Came The Words In My Mouth?

Horace "Go West" Greeley

Has someone ever claimed that you said something you didn't? You're not the only one to fall prey to faulty memories. Here are three others who have been misquoted:

  • Have you ever heard the phrase "Go West, Young Man"? I remember learning about Manifest Destiny in Mr. Segai's 8th grade History class. Our history book said that Horace Greeley wrote these words in an article for his newspaper, New York Tribune. It turns out Greeley reprinted an article by John Babsone Soul. It first appeared in the Terre Haute Express in 1851. Greeley credited Soule but it didn't matter. History was bound to accredit the sentiment to Greeley.
    Woodrow "Limerick" Wilson
  • President Woodrow Wilson loved to quote limericks. This one was a particular favorite of his:

    As a beauty I'm not a great star,
    There are others more handsome by far,
    But my face, I don't mind it,
    Because I'm behind it-
    'Tis the folks in the front that I jar.

    He recited the little poem so often to so many people, that the populace generally thought he had coined it himself. The poet Anthony Euwer actually wrote the limerick. President Wilson didn't even find the poem himself. The credit there goes to his daughter, Eleanor. (If you subscribe to the New York Times, I highly recommend this article about Wilson's love of limericks and his incapacitating stroke.)  
    James "You Dirty Rat" Cagney
  • James Cagney is frequently caricatured with the speech bubble "You dirty rat!" Let me pop that bubble for you. He was in over seventy films, and in nary a one did he utter his famous catchphrase. I suppose it was his tough-guy persona that made the false quotation stick.

As much as we wish it weren't so, it seems that the general public has the final say on what we've said. The dirty rats.

Bobson, Paul F., Jr. and George, John. They Never Said It. New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 1989. Print.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

I’ve always wondered…

…what does it mean to “run the gauntlet”?  Well, today I found out!

If a shipmate was found guilty of committing a crime, such as stealing, he “was made to run between two rows of seamen while they, in turn, lashed him as hard as they wished with a short knotted rope or ‘nettle’” (Jeans 129).
This phrase came into expression during the Thirty Years’ War around 1640.  The English term “gauntlet” was derived from the Swedish term “gatlopp.”
In literature, this phrase is the name of chapter 23, Book 3, in Markus Clarke’s For the Term of His Natural Life in which a convict, John Rex, plans a mutiny with other convicts.  “To the left was a black object—a constable’s hut; to the right was a dim white line…”. 
In pop culture, the Age of Ascension ritual, which is a rite of passage for a Klingon warrior (for all of you Trekkies), looks very similar to running the gauntlet!

Today, “to run the gauntlet” means to be attacked or criticized on all sides, or a happening that is difficult to get through, but who knew the phrase had a long, literal (and violent) history!
Would I want to “run the gauntlet”?  No thanks!

Clarke, Markus. For the Term of His Natural Life. Project Gutenberg. Retrieved from
Jeans, Peter D. Ship to Shore: A Dictionary of Everyday Words and Phrases Derived from the Sea. Santa Barbara, California: ABC-CLIO, Inc., 1993. Print.
Okuda, Michael and Denise. The Star Trek Encyclopedia: A Reference Guide to the Future; Updated and Expanded Edition. New York, NY: Pocket Books, 1999. Print.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Abra-Abra-Cadabra! I Want to Reach Out and Grab Ya

I ran across a fascinating entry in a book called Literary Curiosities this morning. It details the incredible history of the word abracadabra, which, I'm ashamed to admit, I thought was soley the property of children's birthday party magicians. It's crying out to be shared:

Abracadabra, a cabalistic word used in incantations, and supposed to possess mystic powers of healing, especially when written in this triangular shape:
The paper on which this was written was to be folded so as to conceal the writing, stitched with white thread, and worn around the neck. It was a sovereign remedy for fever and ague. Possibly the virtue lay in the syllables Abra, which are twice repeated, and which are composed of the first letters of the Hebrew words signifying Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, --Ab, Ben, Rauch Acadosh. The earliest known occurrence of the word is in a poem of the second century, "Praeceta de Medicina," by Q. Serenus Sammonicus. It is now often used in the general sense of a spell, or pretended conjuring, jargon, or gibberish.
Unfortunately, the book doesn't mention how effective the abracadabra bandana actually is in combating flu and colds. Up next week? The fascinating history of hocus-pocus!

Walsh, William S. Handy Book of Literary Curiosities. Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott Company, 1966. Print.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Are You My Valentine?

Botticelli's The Birth of Venus
 In 1930 there were 16,892 Valentines in the United States. These weren't the paper variety, either. These were living, breathing Valentines. We've culled the very best of Valentine's Day names from the 1930 US Federal Census for you. Enjoy!

  • Love A. Redwine
    Cupid and Psyche
  • Cupid Gabriel
  • Venus Quest
  • Aphrodite Diamond
  • Eros Kidder
  • Psyche Underwood
  • Angel Seven
  • Muffin Tindle
  • Dear Bailey (Sadly, I did not run across a Dear Prudence.)
  • Sweet Cahoon
  • Sweetheart Pringle
  • Heart Austin
  • Cherie Major
  • Precious Sheets
  • Treasure Loveland
  • Baby Driver
  • Honey B. Whitaker
  • Darling Holliday
The Mississippi Library Commission Reference Staff wish you and your amour the most felicitous of Valentine's Days!

1930 US Federal Census

Friday, February 10, 2012

It's Special, All Right.

While doing some research on the history of Fondren, one of Jackson’s neighborhoods this morning, Elisabeth ran across this photo in Jackson: A Special Kind of Place by Carroll Brinson (1977). I think it’s apparent that based upon this photo, Jackson is very obviously special in many ways.

The photo is undated, but the caption says that the Jackson library system conducted an “educational campaign” to remind folks to return their library books. I’m sure it was an inexpensive project; the only thing is cost was the costume-wearer’s dignity.

Here was my train of thought as I examined the photo:

• The book is scandalously short! Look how much tights-covered leg is showing! I feel certain there is a leotard involved as well.

• The book’s cat eyes are very stylish, but I’m concerned that there’s no mouth hole.

• This is happening in front of the Governor’s Mansion. (North Congress is the cross street just past the tree. The future home of the downtown Keifer’s is almost in view.)

• The ladies in the background are SCANDALIZED. Is it the concept of a walking book? The amount of shapely leg hanging out? The nerve of the photographer for taking her photo? (I’m not sure, but I covet her gold shoes and fur stole.)

• I would like to see quantitative data on the effectiveness of this project.

If anyone has additional information on the book, its legs, or if this was an ongoing campaign, please let us know!

Monday, February 6, 2012

Betsy! Betsy! Betsy!

When I arrived home Friday, I commented to my friends that I had heard someone use the expression "Heavens to Betsy." I think it is a sweet and endearing euphemism, but I can't recollect anyone using it since ... Hmmm, well, I know I've at least read it in a book!

It was requested that I track down the origins of the quaint little phrase, and I promised that I would try. The Dictionary of Cliches says that although the meaning is clear, "That's astonishing!" or "That's unbelievable!", the etymology is not. The only certainty belongs to those origins which have been ruled out. "Heavens to Betsy!" does not refer to Betsy Ross. No flag sewing here! It also does not refer to Good Queen Bess. (The phrase was born here in America.) The earliest recorded usage occurred in 1892 in a book called Huckleberries from New England Hills.

The Dictionary of American Regional English adds that it is "an expression of joy, surprise, or annoyance." This tome, as suggested by Charles Funk, suggests that the phrase could have derived from what an old frontiersman called his rifle. "Oh, heavens to Betsy! My Betsy always shoots straight!"

To whichever etymology you choose to subscribe, heavens to Betsy, don't name your rifle Hortensia. (Can you imagine? Heavens to Hortensia!)

Cassidy, Frederic G., ed. Dictionary of American Regional English. Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1991. Print.
Rogers, James. The Dictionary of Cliches. New York, NY: Facts on File Publications, 1985. Print.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Largest Rural Mail Carrier

A few weeks ago we were searching for some historical facts on Marion County and I stumbled upon this in History of Marion County, Mississippi produced by the Marion County Historical Society.

Willie Rankin was the largest rural mail carrier in the United States! Do you think he still holds the record?!

History of Marion County, Mississippi. Produced by the Marion County Historical Society. Marceline, MO: Walsworth Publishing Co. 1976.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...