Category Archives: Oddities

Wocky-Bocky; or, the general public

I found this in Conrad Roth’s review of Michael Neo Palaeologus His Grammar, by his Father Stephen N. Palaeologus:

The language of the Grammar is, in fact, utterly delightful, and possibly its chief selling-point. . . . Wocky-Bocky, the name of an Indian chief in a story by Artemus Ward, is resurrected to mean ‘the general public’.

Now this, it must be admitted, is perfect. So perfect that I intend to resurrect it myself. (I almost wish I were a more politically oriented person, so that I might have more opportunities to refer, say, to the Wocky-Bocky Republic of China, or to a certain rough beast which I should of course rechristen wockibockiocracy.) This post exists so that I (or, reader, you) can unobtrusively link to it when using the word, in much the same way that one might include a courtesy link to the Wikipedia page for an obscure historical personage mentioned in passing.

Here is the relevant passage from Artemus Ward’s Panorama:

But there were too many of these Injuns–there were forty of them–and only one of me–and so I said–

“Great Chief–I surrender.” His name was Wocky-bocky.

He dismounted–and approached me. I saw his tomahawk glisten in the morning sunlight. Fire was in his eye. Wocky-bocky came very close to me and seized me by the hair of my head. He mingled his swarthy fingers with my golden tresses–and he rubbed his dreadful Thomashawk across my lily-white face. He said–

“Torsha arrah darrah mishky bookshean!”

I told him he was right.

Wocky-bocky again rubbed his tomahawk across my face, and said–“Wink-ho–loo-boo!”

Says I–“Mr. Wocky-bocky”–says I–“Wocky–I have thought so for years–and so’s all our family.”

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Filed under Language, Oddities

Reading: Kim, by Rudyard Kipling

I finished Rudyard Kipling’s Kim, the Barnes & Noble edition with introduction and notes by Jeffrey Meyers, on 17 Aug 2009.

This is the first Kipling I’ve read since I was a kid (Jungle Book, Just So Stories, that kind of thing), and I was impressed. He’s a remarkably skillful writer with a knack for choosing precisely the right word. The settings and characters are completely convincing (particularly the Lama, the Babu, and Kim himself), and the spirit of the novel is generous, perceptive, and humane. The plot isn’t especially strong, but other aspects of the book are so gripping that one hardly cares.

The notes accompanying this edition are useful but suboptimal. Meyers often neglects to gloss unfamiliar words until the third or fourth time they occur, and the many geographical footnotes are less helpful than a map would have been. Meyers also sometimes seems to see literary allusions which are simply not there. For example, when the Lama bids his disciple farewell with “Dost thou love me? Then go, or my heart cracks,” a footnote informs us that this is a reference to King Lear‘s “Blow, winds, and crack your cheeks!” — leaving the reader to guess what, other the word “crack,” the two passages have in common and why a Tibetan Lama would be alluding to Shakespeare.

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Reading: Barbara Gowdy

I’ve read one book by Gowdy:

  • Mister Sandman (13 May 2007)

An odd but excellent novel, recommended to me by my brother Joseph. Gowdy captures so many ways of thinking which are spot-on, but which writers seldom manage to express so well. Also some memorable images (“I love you” as “a stupid surprise like a squirt in the face from a carnation”; not having had a lover in three years as “like owing the Mafia”).

My copy of the book, at least, seems to be a bit confused about what else the author has written. Here’s the back cover:

Falling Angels, Through the Glass Valley, and We So Seldom Look on Love. Translated into thirteen languages.

The page before the title page has this:

Falling Angels, So Seldom We Look on Love, and Through the Green Valley.

The last page has yet another version (the correct one, according to Amazon):

Falling Angels, Through the Green Valley, and We So Seldom Look on Love. Published in thirteen countries.

Only Falling Angels is the same on all three lists. There also seems to be some confusion over whether her books have been published in thirteen countries or translated into thirteen languages. I find this all almost awe-inspiring, the evident work of an anti-genius at Harcourt Brace & Company. Or perhaps Gowdy herself is behind it, laughing up her sleeve.

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