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14 Regular People Who Became Memes

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You never know when your 15 minutes of fame might happen: you could star in a popular YouTube video, model for a frequently seen stock photo, or just happen to get noticed at your after school job. After Twitter user @auscalem posted a candid shot of "Alex from Target" last fall, the image went viral and the unsuspecting, 16-year-old employee became an Internet sensation. Alex's transition to the big time wasn't totally smooth sailing, but half a year later, he's embraced his newfound fame and is currently pursuing an acting career. ("I've been auditioning for movies and TV shows and stuff," he recently told J-14.) He turned out okay and so, for the most part, have the people-turned-memes below.

1. College Freshman

As a first-semester freshman, Griffin Kiritsy agreed to do an interview for Reader’s Digest, complete with a photo shoot on the UNH campus. “No big deal,” he said. “I can pose for a few snapshots.” The images ended up in other, pretty dry articles about freshman life and college finances. Then the Reddit community got their hands on the one that will forever be known as College Freshman, the inept and ill-informed young adult who is almost always killed while attempting new things on campus. In a Reddit chat, Kiritsy admitted that many of the memes mimicked his first year of college, saying “the laundry jokes, the bragging about parties I went to, and all of the dying ones happened to me.” He also reports that being a meme hasn’t had any real negative effects on his life: “I plan on being the College Freshman until ... I die.”

2. Suburban Mom

Carly Phillips is a romance novelist and mother of two kids (and a few pets). In May 2011, her author photo was appropriated for the Sheltering Suburban Mom series … a fact she only learned last year, thanks to a Redditor who posted a link on her Facebook fan page. When someone explained to her that her image was used to make jokes about uptight, hypocritical, and sometimes racist suburban mothers, Philips says her “initial reaction was horror and fury and hurt.” After she was told that the joke wasn’t about her, but about overly protective moms who don’t practice what they preach, Phillips said she felt a bit better about the whole thing. “I never want anyone who sees it to think that I, the real mom/person ... believes any of that stuff, especially the derogatory, inflammatory, prejudiced things in there.”

3. Skeptical Baby

In November 2011, Dave, Rhiannon, and their son Mason took a trip to the Museum of Natural Sciences, where they had some family photos taken by photographer Jarod Knoten. They came out so well that Dave posted one to Reddit. Within hours, Dave’s son Mason was the star of his very own meme. Skeptical Baby just can’t believe the things people with object permanence have to say about anything. The joke usually follows the “You mean to tell me…” format, but there are a few variations.

4. Sheltered College Freshman

Kerin Portillo is a model who lives in Bogota, Colombia. She was featured in a series of iStockphoto images portraying students in a library. A crop of one of these original pictures is the template for Sheltered College Freshman, which is pretty much exactly what it sounds like.

Generally the captions are based on misunderstood slang and sexual innuendo, but occasionally they just reflect the surprise an eighteen-year-old might have at finding out how life actually works. A counter series called Sheltered No More features another shot of Portillo, this time seated at a bar in a red dress, which portray her as SCF’s polar opposite. Portillo participated in a Q and A on Reddit; she said that her Internet fame led to many more modeling opportunities in stock photos. 

5. Senior Freshman

Nola Ochs graduated from Fort Hays State University at the age of 95, setting a Guinness World Record and earning herself some coverage on most major media outlets. She went on to earn a masters in Liberal Studies at the age of 98, graduating alongside her own granddaughter. A picture of Ochs in class (captioned “Raises hand / ‘As a mother…’”) appeared on Quickmeme in July 2011. Since then, the world’s oldest college graduate has been Senior Freshman, an elderly woman who’s eager to learn but also intimately familiar with the last couple hundred years of history. (Like College Freshman, she often dies while participating in class.) To date, Ochs—who is now 103—has not commented on her Internet stardom and she is (probably) not on Twitter.

6. Success Kid

Little Sammy Griner wasn’t yet a year old in August 2007 when his mother, photographer Laney Griner, snapped a picture of him on the beach with a handful of sand. She titled it “Why I oughta…” on Flickr, and by January 2008 the picture was making the rounds on MySpace with the caption I Hate Sandcastles. It traveled all the way to a Russian Photoshop thread before finding its way to Advice Animals as Success Kid in January 2011. (For Success Kid, everything goes better than expected.) The image of Sammy is so popular that Virgin Media purchased rights to use it on billboards in the UK, and it later appeared in a commerical for Vitamin Water. Here he is at age 5:

7. Too Damn High

If your rent is too damn high, Jimmy McMillan is your guy. Or he would be, if you were a voting resident of New York in 2010, when McMillan was running for governor. His appearance at the Gubernatorial Debate that year was uploaded to YouTube, and that’s when the web discovered Rent is Too Damn High, the name of McMillan’s political party and meme, based on his oft-repeated catchphrase. Captions almost always follow the “X is too damn high!” format, but variations featuring words which rhyme with “high” tend to be popular, as well—“The end is too damn nigh,” for example.

Since becoming Reddit famous and bolstered by his presidential run (sadly, he did not make it on to any of the state's ballots), McMillan has spent his time singing with Occupy protesters, hanging out on campuses, and being parodied on Saturday Night Live. Sometimes he reminds people that the rent is too damn high. He attempted to run for governor again in New York's 2014 election but did not succeed. 

8. Hipster Barista

Dustin Mattson has placed in both regional and national barista competitions. He’s also the face of Hipster Barista, the haughty connoisseur of java and things that are not yet cool. Because it comes at the expense of respect for his career, Mattson isn’t exactly excited about his minor internet celebrity, as he revealed in an interview with Eater.com: “If anyone were to see me and my coworkers' work in the café, they'd see that it doesn't quite match up to most of the jokes made against the ‘Hipster Barista.’”

9. Ridiculously Photogenic Guy

Zeddie Watkins Little is a good-looking guy. But the shot taken during the 2012 Cooper River Bridge Run by computer programmer and self-taught photographer Will King, was a “total fluke,” Little says. After the photo took Reddit by storm, Little chatted with readers about his status as Internet celebrity. He admitted that he didn't hate the whole thing: “I have to say, I really enjoy being part of such a good joke.” He also showed up on Good Morning America with Will King to tell the story.

10. Skateboarding Professor

“Walking sucks, so I get there on my wheels.” That’s how Dr. Thomas Winter, a professor at the University of Nebraska Lincoln, explains why the skateboard is his preferred mode of transportation. While he says there’s nothing remarkable about the way he gets around campus, the Internet begs to differ. After Redditor tr0llzor posted a picture of the 68-year-old rolling to class, a meme was born. Winter admits that he finds the image captions’ "contemporary slang" confusing, and is further confused by the idea of memes in general—in an interview with Mashable, the professor thought he was being asked about Richard Dawkins’ genetic memes. He retired from his position in spring 2013. 

11. Angry Hipster Girl

It started a couple of years ago with a Halloween costume: “Birkenstocks with wool socks, jean shorts, tie-dye crop top, braided band in my hair and a prescription pair of glasses... It seemed only appropriate to grab a quick and silly shot of my costume before going out to party. The next day I posted it on Facebook and Flickr, and then forgot about it.” Kate Killet’s friend eventually forwarded a link to Quickmeme, asking if the picture was her. It was.

Since being branded Angry Hipster Girl, Kate says she’s been recognized by “lots of friends of friends and randoms I haven't talked to in years,” but hasn’t been approached by strangers about her memedom. Should you find yourself in the same situation, she has a bit of advice: “Enjoy your internet 5 minutes. Don't get mad or offended, the internet loves you. And turn off your Twitter and Facebook notifications, cus you'll get roughly a million.”

(Kate's official internet reveal is thanks to mental_floss reader Jenny Serwylo, who outed her friend in the comments of my earlier post.)

12. Baby Godfather

The image that started the Baby Godfather meme, which is exactly what it sounds like, was taken at a wedding in 2010. Redditor timekeepsgoing posted the picture of his son with a request to Photoshop the intimidating little guy into scenes from The Godfather. Timekeepsgoing keeps a scrapbook of the best images for his son.

13. Friendzone Johnny

Just about everyone has felt the pang of unrequited love, but almost no one has to live through it while the Internet laughs. Johnny Solis is the exception. In January 2012, he showed up at midnight to his friend Lizz’s house with flowers to wish her a happy birthday. She took a picture, posted it to Facebook with the caption “I am so blessed to have such great friends. Thank you sososoo much Jonathon!” Within hours, it was shared on Reddit and Quickmeme. The next day, Johnny identified himself on Reddit and did a Q&A in a bodybuilding forum. Later, he and Lizz changed their Facebook statuses to “married to” each other, but Johnny revealed that this was just a tactic to “get people off [their] backs.”

Though Johnny and Lizz apparently never got together, he seems to be taking the ordeal in stride, saying that becoming a meme makes him happy because “I became famous and more girls are talking to me.”

14. Vancouver Riot Kiss

Canadians are famously well-mannered, but after the Canucks lost to the Bruins in the 2011 Stanley Cup finals, our neighbors to the north took to the streets to wreak havoc. Caught in the mayhem, Alexandra Thomas was knocked to the ground by shield-wielding riot police. Her boyfriend, Scott Jones, swooped in to comfort her; the kiss was caught by a photographer and on video from several angles, most of which included fire and riot police in the frame. The smooching couple were subsequently Photoshopped into scenes of extreme danger or inappropriateness, or in the background of other famous kissing scenes. There doesn't seem to be any information about where, or even if, the couple still kisses today.

Portions of this post appeared in 2012.

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25 Words That Are Their Own Opposites
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Here’s an ambiguous sentence for you: “Because of the agency’s oversight, the corporation’s behavior was sanctioned.” Does that mean, "Because the agency oversaw the company’s behavior, they imposed a penalty for some transgression," or does it mean, "Because the agency was inattentive, they overlooked the misbehavior and gave it their approval by default"? We’ve stumbled into the looking-glass world of contronyms—words that are their own antonyms.

1. Sanction (via French, from Latin sanctio(n-), from sancire ‘ratify,’) can mean "give official permission or approval for (an action)" or conversely, "impose a penalty on."

2. Oversight is the noun form of two verbs with contrary meanings, “oversee” and “overlook.” Oversee, from Old English ofersēon ("look at from above") means "supervise" (medieval Latin for the same thing: super-, "over" plus videre, "to see.") Overlook usually means the opposite: "to fail to see or observe; to pass over without noticing; to disregard, ignore."

3. Left can mean either remaining or departed. If the gentlemen have withdrawn to the drawing room for after-dinner cigars, who’s left? (The gentlemen have left and the ladies are left.)

4. Dust, along with the next two words, is a noun turned into a verb meaning either to add or to remove the thing in question. Only the context will tell you which it is. When you dust are you applying dust or removing it? It depends whether you’re dusting the crops or the furniture.

5. Seed can also go either way. If you seed the lawn you add seeds, but if you seed a tomato you remove them.

6. Stone is another verb to use with caution. You can stone some peaches, but please don’t stone your neighbor (even if he says he likes to get stoned).

7. Trim as a verb predates the noun, but it can also mean either adding or taking away. Arising from an Old English word meaning "to make firm or strong; to settle, arrange," trim came to mean "to prepare, make ready." Depending on who or what was being readied, it could mean either of two contradictory things: "to decorate something with ribbons, laces, or the like to give it a finished appearance" or "to cut off the outgrowths or irregularities of." And the context doesn’t always make it clear. If you’re trimming the tree are you using tinsel or a chain saw?

8. Cleave can be cleaved into two homographs, words with different origins that end up spelled the same. Cleave, meaning "to cling to or adhere," comes from an Old English word that took the forms cleofian, clifian, or clīfan. Cleave, with the contrary meaning "to split or sever (something)"—as you might do with a cleaver—comes from a different Old English word, clēofan. The past participle has taken various forms: cloven, which survives in the phrase “cloven hoof,” “cleft,” as in a “cleft palate” or “cleaved.”

9. Resign works as a contronym in writing. This time we have homographs, but not homophones. Resign, meaning "to quit," is spelled the same as resign, meaning "to sign up again," but it’s pronounced differently.

10. Fast can mean "moving rapidly," as in running fast, or "fixed, unmoving," as in holding fast. If colors are fast they will not run. The meaning "firm, steadfast" came first; the adverb took on the sense "strongly, vigorously," which evolved into "quickly," a meaning that spread to the adjective.

11. Off means "deactivated," as in to turn off, but also "activated," as in the alarm went off.

12. Weather can mean "to withstand or come safely through" (as in the company weathered the recession) or it can mean "to be worn away" (the rock was weathered).

13. Screen can mean to show (a movie) or to hide (an unsightly view).

14. Help means "assist," unless you can’t help doing something, when it means "prevent."

15. Clip can mean "to bind together" or "to separate." You clip sheets of paper to together or separate part of a page by clipping something out. Clip is a pair of homographs, words with different origins spelled the same. Old English clyppan, which means "to clasp with the arms, embrace, hug," led to our current meaning, "to hold together with a clasp." The other clip, "to cut or snip (a part) away," is from Old Norse klippa, which may come from the sound of a shears.

16. Continue usually means to persist in doing something, but as a legal term it means stop a proceeding temporarily.

17. Fight with can be interpreted three ways. “He fought with his mother-in-law” could mean "They argued," "They served together in the war," or "He used the old battle-ax as a weapon." (Thanks to linguistics professor Robert Hertz for this idea.)

18. Flog, meaning "to punish by caning or whipping," shows up in school slang of the 17th century, but now it can have the contrary meaning, "to promote persistently," as in “flogging a new book.” Perhaps that meaning arose from the sense "to urge (a horse, etc.) forward by whipping," which grew out of the earliest meaning.

19. Go means "to proceed," but also "give out or fail," i.e., “This car could really go until it started to go.”

20. Hold up can mean "to support" or "to hinder": “What a friend! When I’m struggling to get on my feet, he’s always there to hold me up.”

21. Out can mean "visible" or "invisible." For example, “It’s a good thing the full moon was out when the lights went out.”

22. Out of means "outside" or "inside": “I hardly get out of the house because I work out of my home.”

23. B**ch can derisively refer to a woman who is considered overly aggressive or domineering, or it can refer to someone passive or submissive.

24. Peer is a person of equal status (as in a jury of one’s peers), but some peers are more equal than others, like the members of the peerage, the British or Irish nobility.

25. Toss out could be either "to suggest" or "to discard": “I decided to toss out the idea.”

The contronym (also spelled “contranym”) goes by many names, including auto-antonym, antagonym, enantiodrome, self-antonym, antilogy and Janus word (from the Roman god of beginnings and endings, often depicted with two faces looking in opposite directions). Can’t get enough of them? The folks at Daily Writing Tips have rounded up even more.

This piece originally ran in 2015.

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12 Facts About James Joyce
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June 16, 1904 is the day that James Joyce, the Irish author of Modernist masterpieces like Dubliners and A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, and who was described as “a curious mixture of sinister genius and uncertain talent,” set his seminal work, Ulysses. It also thought to be the day that he had his first date with his future wife, Nora Barnacle.

He was as mythical as the myths he used as the foundations for his own work. So in honor of that June day in 1904—known to fans worldwide as “Bloomsday,” after one of the book’s protagonists, Leopold Bloom—here are 12 facts about James Joyce.

1. HE WAS ONLY 9 WHEN HIS FIRST PIECE OF WRITING WAS PUBLISHED.

In 1891, shortly after he had to leave Clongowes Wood College when his father lost his job, 9-year-old Joyce wrote a poem called “Et Tu Healy?” It was published by his father John and distributed to friends; the elder Joyce thought so highly of it, he allegedly sent copies to the Pope.

No known complete copies of the poem exist, but the precocious student’s verse allegedly denounced a politician named Tim Healy for abandoning 19th century Irish nationalist politician Charles Stewart Parnell after a sex scandal. Fragments of the ending of the poem, later remembered by James’s brother Stanislaus, showed Parnell looking down on Irish politicians:

His quaint-perched aerie on the crags of Time
Where the rude din of this century
Can trouble him no more

While the poem was seemingly quaint, young Joyce equating Healy as Brutus and Parnell as Caesar marked the first time he’d use old archetypes in a modern context, much in the same way Ulysses is a unique retelling of The Odyssey.

As an adult, Joyce would publish his first book, a collection of poems called Chamber Music, in 1907. It was followed by Dubliners, a collection of short stories, in 1914, and the semi-autobiographical A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (in which Clongowes Wood College is prominently featured) in 1916.

2. HE CAUSED A CONTROVERSY AT HIS COLLEGE’S PAPER.

While attending University College Dublin, Joyce attempted to publish a negative review—titled “The Day of the Rabblement”—of a new local playhouse called the Irish Literary Theatre in the school’s paper, St. Stephen’s. Joyce’s condemnation of the theater’s “parochialism” was allegedly so scathing that the paper’s editors, after seeking consultation from one of the school’s priests, refused to print it.

Incensed about possible censorship, Joyce appealed to the school’s president, who sided with the editors—which prompted Joyce to put up his own money to publish 85 copies to be distributed across campus.

The pamphlet, published alongside a friend’s essay to beef up the page-count, came with the preface: “These two essays were commissioned by the editor of St. Stephen’s for that paper, but were subsequently refused insertion by the censor.” It wouldn’t be the last time Joyce would fight censorship.

3. NORA BARNACLE GHOSTED HIM FOR THEIR PLANNED FIRST DATE.

By the time Nora Barnacle and Joyce finally married in 1931, they had lived together for 27 years, traveled the continent and had two children. The couple first met in Dublin in 1904 when Joyce struck up a conversation with her near the hotel where Nora worked as a chambermaid. She initially mistook him for a Swedish sailor because of his blue eyes and the yachting cap he wore that day, and he charmed her so much that they set a date for June 14—but she didn’t show.

He then wrote her a letter, saying, “I looked for a long time at a head of reddish-brown hair and decided it was not yours. I went home quite dejected. I would like to make an appointment but it might not suit you. I hope you will be kind enough to make one with me—if you have not forgotten me!” This led to their first date, which supposedly took place on June 16, 1904.

She would continue to be his muse throughout their life together in both his published work (the character Molly Bloom in Ulysses is based on her) and their fruitful personal correspondence. Their notably dirty love letters to each other—featuring him saying their love-making reminded him of “a hog riding a sow” and signing off one by saying “Goodnight, my little farting Nora, my dirty littlef**kbird!"—have highlighted the NSFW nature of their relationship. In fact, one of Joyce’s signed erotic letters to Nora fetched a record £240,800 ($446,422) at a London auction in 2004.

4. HE HAD REALLY BAD EYES.

While Joyce’s persistent money problems caused him to lead a life of what could be categorized as creative discomfort, he had to deal with a near lifetime of medical discomfort as well. Joyce suffered from anterior uveitis, which led to a series of around 12 eye surgeries over his lifetime. (Due to the relatively unsophisticated state of ophthalmology at the time, and his decision not to listen to contemporary medical advice, scholars speculate that his iritis, glaucoma, and cataracts could have been caused by sarcoidosis, syphilis, tuberculosis, or any number of congenital problems.) His vision issues caused Joyce to wear an eye patch for years and forced him to do his writing on large white sheets of paper using only red crayon. The persistent eye struggles even inspired him to name his daughter Lucia, after St. Lucia, patron saint of the blind.

5. HE TAUGHT ENGLISH AT A BERLITZ LANGUAGE SCHOOL.

In 1904, Joyce—eager to get out of Ireland—responded to an ad for a teaching position in Europe. Evelyn Gilford, a job agent based in the British town of Market Rasen, Lincolnshire, notified Joyce that a job was reserved for him and, for two guineas, he would be told exactly where the position was. Joyce sent the money, and by the end of 1904, he and his future wife, Nora, had left Dublin for the job at a Berlitz language school in Zurich, Switzerland—but when they got there, the pair learned there was no open position. But they did hear a position was open at a Berlitz school in Trieste, Italy. The pair packed up and moved on to Italy only to find out they’d been swindled again.

Joyce eventually found a Berlitz teaching job in Pola in Austria-Hungary (now Pula, Croatia). English was one of 17 languages Joyce could speak; others included Arabic, Sanskrit, Greek, and Italian (which eventually became his preferred language, and one that he exclusively spoke at home with his family). He also loved playwright Henrik Ibsen so much that he learned Norwegian so that he could read Ibsen's works in their original form—and send the writer a fan letter in his native tongue.

6. HE INVESTED IN A MOVIE THEATER.

There are about 400 movie theaters in Ireland today, but they trace their history back to 1909, when Joyce helped open the Volta Cinematograph, which is considered “the first full-time, continuous, dedicated cinema” in Ireland.

More a money-making scheme than a product of a love of cinema, Joyce first got the idea when he was having trouble getting Dubliners published and noticed the abundance of cinemas while living in Trieste. When his sister, Eva, told him Ireland didn’t have any movie theaters, Joyce joined up with four Italian investors (he’d get 10 percent of the profits) to open up the Volta on Dublin’s Mary Street.

The venture fizzled as quickly as Joyce’s involvement. After not attracting audiences due to mostly showing only Italian and European movies unpopular with everyday Dubliners, Joyce cut his losses and pulled out of the venture after only seven months.

The cinema itself didn’t close until 1919, during the time Joyce was hard at work on Ulysses. (It reopened with a different name in 1921 and didn’t fully close until 1948.)

7. HE TURNED TO A COMPLETELY INEXPERIENCED PUBLISHER TO RELEASE HIS MOST WELL-KNOWN BOOK.

The publishing history of Ulysses is itself its own odyssey. Joyce began writing the work in 1914, and by 1918 he had begun serializing the novel in the American magazine Little Review with the help of poet Ezra Pound.

But by 1921, Little Review was in financial trouble. The published version of Episode 13 of Ulysses, “Nausicaa,” resulted in a costly obscenity lawsuit against its publishers, Margaret Anderson and Jane Heap, and the book was banned in the United States. Joyce appealed to different publishers for help—including Leonard and Virginia Woolf’s Hogarth Press—but none agreed to take on a project with such legal implications (and in Virginia Woolf’s case, length), no matter how supposedly groundbreaking it was.

Joyce, then based in Paris, made friends with Sylvia Beach, whose bookstore, Shakespeare and Company, was a gathering hub for the post-war expatriate creative community. In her autobiography, Beach wrote:

All hope of publication in the English-speaking countries, at least for a long time to come, was gone. And here in my little bookshop sat James Joyce, sighing deeply.

It occurred to me that something might be done, and I asked : “Would you let Shakespeare and Company have the honour of bringing out your Ulysses?”

He accepted my offer immediately and joyfully. I thought it rash of him to entrust his great Ulysses to such a funny little publisher. But he seemed delighted, and so was I. ... Undeterred by lack of capital, experience, and all the other requisites of a publisher, I went right ahead with Ulysses.

Beach planned a first edition of 1000 copies (with 100 signed by the author), while the book would continue to be banned in a number of countries throughout the 1920s and 1930s. Eventually it was allowed to be published in the United States in 1933 after the case United States v. One Book Called Ulysses deemed the book not obscene and allowed it in the United States.

8. ERNEST HEMINGWAY WAS HIS DRINKING BUDDY—AND SOMETIMES HIS BODYGUARD.

Ernest Hemingway—who was major champion of Ulysses—met Joyce at Shakespeare and Company, and was later a frequent companion among the bars of Paris with writers like Wyndham Lewis and Valery Larbaud.

Hemingway recalled the Irish writer would start to get into drunken fights and leave Hemingway to deal with the consequences. "Once, in one of those casual conversations you have when you're drinking," Hemingway said, "Joyce said to me he was afraid his writing was too suburban and that maybe he should get around a bit and see the world. He was afraid of some things, lightning and things, but a wonderful man. He was under great discipline—his wife, his work and his bad eyes. His wife was there and she said, yes, his work was too suburban--'Jim could do with a spot of that lion hunting.' We would go out to drink and Joyce would fall into a fight. He couldn't even see the man so he'd say, 'Deal with him, Hemingway! Deal with him!'"

9. HE MET ANOTHER MODERNIST TITAN—AND HAD A TERRIBLE TIME.

Marcel Proust’s gargantuan, seven-volume masterpiece, À la recherche du temps perdu, is perhaps the other most important Modernist work of the early 20th century besides Ulysses. In May 1922, the authors met at a party for composer Igor Stravinsky and ballet impresario Sergei Diaghilev in Paris. The Dubliners author arrived late, was drunk, and wasn’t wearing formal clothes because he was too poor to afford them. Proust arrived even later than Joyce, and though there are varying accounts of what was actually said between the two, every known version points to a very anticlimactic meeting of the minds.

According to author William Carlos Williams, Joyce said, “I’ve headaches every day. My eyes are terrible,” to which the ailing Proust replied, “My poor stomach. What am I going to do? It’s killing me. In fact, I must leave at once.”

Publisher Margaret Anderson claimed that Proust admitted, “I regret that I don’t know Mr. Joyce’s work,” while Joyce replied, “I have never read Mr. Proust.”

Art reviewer Arthur Power said both writers simply talked about liking truffles. Joyce later told painter Frank Budgen, “Our talk consisted solely of the word ‘No.’”

10. HE CREATED A 100-LETTER WORD TO DESCRIBE HIS FEAR OF THUNDER AND LIGHTNING.

Joyce had a childhood fear of thunder and lightning, which sprang from his Catholic governess’s pious warnings that such meteorological occurrences were actually God manifesting his anger at him. The fear haunted the writer all his life, though Joyce recognized the beginnings of his phobia. When asked by a friend why he was so afraid of rough weather, Joyce responded, “You were not brought up in Catholic Ireland.”

The fear also manifested itself in Joyce’s writing. In Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, the autobiographical protagonist Stephen Dedalus says he fears “dogs, horses, firearms, the sea, thunderstorms, [and] machinery.”

But the most fascinating manifestation of his astraphobia is in his stream of consciousness swan song, Finnegans Wake, where he created the 100-letter word Bababadalgharaghtaka-mminarronnkonnbronntonnerronntuonnthunntrovarrhounawnskawntoohoohoordenenthurnuk to represent a symbolic biblical thunderclap. The mouthful is actually made up of different words for “thunder” in French (tonnerre), Italian (tuono), Greek (bronte), and Japanese (kaminari).

11. HE’S THOUGHT OF AS A LITERARY GENIUS, BUT NOT EVERYONE WAS A FAN.

Fellow Modernist Virginia Woolf didn't much care for Joyce or his work. She compared his writing to "a queasy undergraduate scratching his pimples," and said that "one hopes he’ll grow out of it; but as Joyce is 40 this scarcely seems likely."

She wasn't the only one. In a letter, D.H. Lawrence—who wrote such classics as Women in Love and Lady Chatterley’s Loversaid of Joyce: “My God, what a clumsy olla putrida James Joyce is! Nothing but old fags and cabbage stumps of quotations from the Bible and the rest stewed in the juice of deliberate, journalistic dirty-mindedness.”

“Do I get much pleasure from this work? No," author H.G. Wells wrote in his review of Finnegans Wake. “ ... Who the hell is this Joyce who demands so many waking hours of the few thousand I have still to live for a proper appreciation of his quirks and fancies and flashes of rendering?”

Even his partner Nora had a difficult time with his work, saying after the publication of Ulysses, “Why don’t you write sensible books that people can understand?”

12. HIS SUPPOSED FINAL WORDS WERE AS ABSTRACT AS HIS WRITING.

Joyce was admitted to a Zurich hospital in January 1941 for a perforated duodenal ulcer, but slipped into a coma after surgery and died on January 13. His last words were befitting his notoriously difficult works—they're said to have been, "Does nobody understand?"

Additional Source: James Joyce

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