Weekend Word Wrap: Your Default Song

I'm nearly certain I've invented something original here and wanted to share it for two reasons: a) how many times do you really get to be self-congratulatory in life, eh? And b) if I'm wrong, and someone else has already coined this phrase, I'm hoping one of you loyal readers will now embarrass the bravado out of me, and quickly.

I've written about the concept in a novel I've recently finished, but thought it would be fun to drop it first here in the Word Wrap, as any new coinage is, of course, word-related. So here's my thinking: most of us carry tunes around in our heads a lot of the time. As I type this now, for some odd reason I actually have two competing songs in my noggin at the same time: "Joy to the World" and the theme from Sesame Street.

Most of us also have a default song, that is, the song you default to when either there's no song in your head, or you want to get a lousy song OUT of your head. Default songs can change as you change. For instance, when I was a kid, my default song was "Blinded by the Light" (the Manfred Mann remake, not Springsteen's). As a pimply teen, it was first "Walk this Way" by Aerosmith and then somehow morphed into "Birdland," by Weather Report.

Years later, in NYC, it became a tune in the fifth movement of Hector Berlioz's Symphonie Fantastique, but then, after moving to Los Angeles in 2005, somehow became AC/DC's "You Shook Me All Night Long." (Verily I say unto thee.)

Curiously, I'm not a gigantic fan of "You Shook Me All Night Long," proving, perhaps, that even default songs can be annoying. So sometimes when I catch myself mentally humming the AC/DC tune, I then make a concerted effort to knock it out of my head with a newer default song that hasn't actually taken root yet. Confused? Let me explain:

Some weeks ago, when I wrote that post on Scheherazade, I decided to try and make that my default song. But just because you decide a song could be, or even should be your default song, doesn't mean it will become one. Then again, it may, but only after some time has passed. Or, like a rejected kidney after a laborious transplant, it may never feel at home in your inner ear and you will, ultimately, default back to the former default song.

This is all to say that most of the time, a default song isn't something you have much control over. It's just there, sawing away in the background. You hear it? Stop. Be quiet. Listen. What song is playing in your head right now? Whatever it is, it may be your default song. It might also be the last song you heard at the local Banana Republic before walking out with that sporty new pair of slacks. I don't know you, so I can't say.

But if it is your default song, and you know it is, I hope you're now ready to share! Comments always appreciated in the Word Wrap.

6 Wordsmiths Who Couldn't Spell

This month marks my 6-year anniversary blogging for mental_floss. It also marks mentalfloss.com's 6-year anniversary in the blogosphere. To celebrate the more than 2,000 daily posts, I'll be republishing some of my favorite posts from these last half-dozen years, starting today, running to the end of the month. Hope you enjoy this stroll down memory lane...

(Originally published on Feb. 3, 2009)

1. Alfred Mosher Butts

Best known for: inventing Scrabble (first called Lexiko, and then later, Criss Cross Words)
But did you know: We owe our Scrabble addictions to the Depression? Butts was an architect who suddenly found himself unemployed. With nothing but time on his hands, he set about to invent a board game (he must have been, er, bored, without work).
So how bad was his spelling? By his own admission, Butts says he wasn't a good speller, and was delighted when his Scrabble score hit 300. Apparently his wife Nina, a former school teacher, usually outplayed him.

2. William Faulkner

faulkner.jpgBest known for: his stream of consciousness technique in such celebrated novels as his 1929 classic, The Sound and the Fury
But did you know: the title of the novel comes from a Macbeth soliloquy? "It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing."
So how bad was his spelling? One of Faulkner's editors at Random House, Albert Erskine, said, "I know that he did not wish to have carried through from typescript to printed book his typing mistakes, misspellings (as opposed to coinages), faulty punctuation and accidental repetition. He depended on my predecessors, and later on me, to point out such errors and correct them; and though we never achieved anything like a perfect performance, we tried."

3. F. Scott Fitzgerald

f-scott-fitzgerald-1921.jpgBest known for: The Great Gatsby
But did you know: The novel didn't sell well during Fitzgerald's lifetime? (fewer than 25,000 copies)
So how bad was his spelling? Preeminent American literary critic Edmund Wilson described This Side of Paradise as "one of the most illiterate books of any merit ever published."

4. Ernest Hemingway

hemingway.jpgBest known for: those great stoic characters, like Robert Jordan in the 1940 novel For Whom the Bell Tolls
But did you know: Hemingway was decorated as a hero after being injured during WWI? And served as a war correspondent in both the Spanish Civil War and WWII? (in case you ever wondered how he got all those Spanish Civil War details down so well in For Whom the Bell Tolls)
So how bad was his spelling? Whenever his newspaper editors complained about it, he'd retort, "Well, that's what you're hired to correct!"

5. John Keats

john-keats.jpgBest known for: the 1820 poem, Ode on a Grecian Urn
But did you know: tuberculosis took the young Keats in 1821, at only 26 years of age? The same disease had already claimed his mother and younger brother.
So how bad was his spelling? In a letter to his great love Fanny Brawne, Keats spelled the color purple, purplue. This generated a longer conversation between the two, as Keats tried to save face by suggesting he'd meant to coin a new portmanteaux - a cross between purple and blue.

6. Jane Austen

HI08_JaneAusten_1.jpgBest known for: her elegant novels, like Pride and Prejudice, published in 1813
But did you know: she'd actually written the novel a good 15 years earlier, under the title First Impressions, but the publisher rejected it? (Let this be a lesson to all ye aspiring writers!) Then, after Sense and Sensibility was published in 1811, there was interest in the older story, which, after some editing, was eventually published with the title we know today.
So how bad was her spelling? She once misspelled one of her teenage works as "Love and Freindship" and is infamously known to have spelt scissors as scissars.

Check out all past Weekend Word Wraps>>

Phrase Origins: The Real McCoy and On The Wagon

We use these hackneyed expressions all the time (hence the hackneyed element), but where do they come from? I’m reviving the Weekend Word Wrap feature from years ago to take a look at a couple each week or so. First up, The Real McCoy.

The Real McCoy

Our version is actually a variation of the original Scottish phrase dating back to the mid 19th century, “A drappie o’ the real MacKay" What’s interesting here is that the ay in MacKay is actually pronounced like “eye.”
But what about the real meaning? Well, there are a few interesting theories. The first refers to a brand of fine whisky that was made in Scotland in the 1850s and then was marketed as 'the real MacKay' starting in 1870. Another theory involves Elijah McCoy, a Canadian inventor who was educated in Scotland, who invented a successful machine for lubricating engines that wound up spawning myriad copies, all inferior to the original. The design was patented in 1872.

On The Wagon

The term “On The Wagon” also has a few origin stories but my favorite derives from prisoners who were on their way to jail on the back of a wagon. They were allowed one last drink in the local pub before the enforced temperance inside their cells. The other popular one, and the one many say is more accurate (though one can never be sure) is about being "on the water wagon." Back in the day, water wagons would come through town hosing down the streets to keep the dust from getting out of hand. So if you were sitting atop this wagon, you were drinking water, not alcohol.

Have any phrases or expressions you want me to take a look at next week? Leave your suggestions in the comments below.

Check out past Weekend Word Wraps here.


More from mental floss studios