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Weekend Word Wrap: satire

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The great Roman poet Horace wrote: satura tota nostra est -- satire is completely our own. And while all those classic Roman satires can't be ignored, (I'm thinking of a few by Juvenal, for example), my personal favorite is still Voltaire's Candide, written in the 1750s. Highly critical of Leibnizian optimism (the best of all possible worlds? really?), Voltaire also picks religion apart—clearly way, way ahead of his time. Recently I went back and reread Candide (just because it had been far too long) and was inspired—for reasons I still don't quite understand—to write this little satirical ditty on the demise of newspapers. And while there isn't really room for the usual Wrap interactiveness, feel free to recommend your own favorite satirical piece in the comments below.

I should also add that the loyal Wrap reader will notice a lot of inspiration culled from the last year's worth of posts here.

All the Words That Are Fit to Print

by David K. Israel

We, the printed words you find in your daily newspapers, are well aware of the articles that have been written about the impending demise of our empire. How could we not? Like the slave who has to dig his own burial pit, you've printed insult to injury, forcing us to tell such stories against our own will.

But before the curtain falls on us, in addition to thanking those readers among you who will faithfully continue on until the final print edition is delivered to your door, we'd like to take a moment and honor our brethren—the words we feel are most deserving of praise and recognition. And though we are deeply disappointed with C-SPAN for not televising this awards ceremony as they promised, we, of course, understand that, in the grand scheme of things, roasts, which help raise money for EAAS (the Effect/Affect Awareness Society), certainly take precedence.

Let this memo, then, serve as a list of highlights for those of you who were unable to attend the momentous evening, hosted by the granddaddy of us all, The New York Times, and held in their sizeable, yet intimate office supply closet. (Special thanks to Post-it for reminding everyone and helping to set that up!)

The evening's master of ceremonies was, of course, emcee. Though no Robin Williams or Billy Crystal, emcee was comedian enough when the occasion called for it, plenty affable, and handled the responsibility of running the show with aplomb.

Words were awarded across a whole host of different categories, building up from minor merits and citations, like Article We'll Miss Most: the, to Most Common Typos: there, their, and they're. The first important award given out was for the Word Containing the Longest String of Consecutive Rs: Brrrr, which walked away with the prize after giving a rather cold acceptance speech.

We newsprint words apparently have something in common with James Joyce, as we voted cuspidor the Most Beautiful Word. This got a big rise from the audience, as its synonym, spittoon, was nominated for Ugliest Word. But that one, however, was won by aasvogel.

Chargoggagoggmanchauggagoggchaubunagungamaugg, in Boston, failed to take the award for Longest Name of a Place, but did take home awards for Most Frequent Appearance of a Single Letter, with 17 Gs, and Most Difficult Word to Pronounce Correctly, edging out asterix and comfterble. Just kidding! That would, of course, be asterisk and comfortable.

The Most Musical Word went to the eight-letter baggaged, which although clearly not the most mellifluous when spoken, does sound rather beautiful when played on a piano. And while on the subject of tuneful words, the Rookie of the Year award went to underdog ringxiety, a newly coined word that expresses the confusion experienced by a group of people when a cell phone rings.

Not to come off as name droppy, but Joyce gets another mention as his word, tattarrattat, took the prize for Longest Palindrome. And while in the "backward" category, the Most Obvious Reversible Word award was, of course, given to Dennis/sinned.

Schmaltzed beat out two other 10-letter words starting with "sc", scraunched and scroonched, to take the award for Longest Monosyllabic Word, but many believe this is only because of the unremitting lobbying efforts by groups from The Forward and The Jewish Week. If so, they certainly got a triple word score in the Funniest Sounding Word category, getting an equal number of votes for all three winning words: noodnik, schmegegi, and schpilkes.

Though many fell asleep during the exceedingly insipid, not to mention long acceptance speech, the Last Word award, did, indeed, go to zzz, initiating a discussion among us as to whether or not stricter limits on the lengths of acknowledgements and thank yous should have been enforced.

Comeback Words of the Century were given to dilligrout and pettifogger and lastly, there was our Lifetime Achievement award, given to the now retired, blutterbunged, which once meant "confounded, or overcome with surprise"—something we newsprint words will continue to feel, along with profound sadness, as we're replaced by our online cousins.

As we bid each other our final farewells, may we go out with our letters held high—both capitals and lower case—spelled correctly, with our dignity in tact, recapitulating one last refrain of our favorite chorus:

From sea to sea, all over this great land
May the smudge of newsprint forever stain the hand!

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6 Wordsmiths Who Couldn't Spell
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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>>

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Phrase Origins: The Real McCoy and On The Wagon
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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.

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