Bourbon Cowboy

The adventures of an urbane bar-hopping transplant to New York.

My Photo
Location: New York, New York, United States

I'm a storyteller in the New York area who is a regular on NPR's "This American Life" and at shows around the city. Moved to New York in 2006 and am working on selling a memoir of my years as a greeting card writer, and (as a personal, noncommercial obsession) a nonfiction book called "How to Love God Without Being a Jerk." My agent is Adam Chromy at Artists and Artisans. If you came here after hearing about my book on "This American Life" and Googling my name, the "How to Love God" book itself isn't in print yet, and may not even see print in its current form (I'm focusing on humorous memoir), but here's a sample I've posted in case you're curious anyway: Sample How To Love God Introduction, Pt. 1 of 3. Or just look through the archives for September 18, 2007.) The book you should be expecting is the greeting card book, about which more information is pending. Keep checking back!

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

A Few Cross Words

I spent all day editing a book of crossword puzzles, and I’ve learned that there’s a lot less you can take for granted when you’re editing than when you’re solving. For example, when faced with a clue like “Leslie Caron role of ‘53" I know from experience that Leslie Caron is always either GIGI or LILI. As a solver, I just put the I’s in and then wait for a consonant to appear from another crossing. But as an editor, you have to actually know: which one was 1953?

But it gets even worse. The house style of the publishing company is based on the American Heritage Dictionary. So what if you get a word or a spelling that isn’t in the dictionary of record? (I caught several today, most notably LAH-DI-DAH, which is apparently a variant spelling of LA-DI-DA that American Heritage doesn’t recognize.) I assume they’ll go ahead anyway, but I feel obliged to note each variant anyway, because that’s the kind of tireless obsessive I am. Besides, they’re not paying me to ignore stuff.

The worst thing is that I saw HMO clued as “Hospital care grp.” and I was about to nod and move on, when I suddenly thought, “I’d better check to make sure “grp.” is a recognized abbreviation for “group.” Turns out it’s not. Not in American Heritage, not in Webster’s New International Third, not in any dictionary the library had available! And you know what they all agree on? “gr.” I’m sure they’ll go with “grp.” anyway—it’s the New York Times style, which makes me all the more baffled that it’s not in the dictionary—but I made a note of it. Several times in several puzzles.

One more interesting thing: the guy whose puzzles I'm editing for makes some really lousy themes. One of them, whose theme was "Um . . .", had the theme entries of KETTLE DRUM, RULE OF THUMB, VENTURESOME, and . . . PALINDROME. And skeptical editor that I am, I actually had to check ("Is there a variant pronunciation where that rhymes with the others?") , but I was right. I made a note of it. In one puzzle that I won't even go into, the guy actually used the same word twice! That's a no-no! I noted it.

Anyway, in scouring dictionaries all day, I keep running across interesting new words, and so I thought I’d share a few of my new finds.

Squeateague is a term for a weakfish. Pronounced “skwee-TEEG.” It is both singular and plural. What’s a weakfish? I don’t know; today I never had occasion to look up anything in the W’s.

Spillikin is another word for the game of jackstraws, which is also sold under the name Pick-Up Sticks.

A regulus is a mythical Dravidian snake so poisonous that it can kill with its hiss. (a subnote tells you to “see also basilisk; cockatrice.”) It’s also a term for a petty king or a ruler of absurdly little significance; a kinglet. On that basis, I’m surprised it’s not also a slang term for “penis.” It’d be perfect.

And my favorite find of the day: suctorial. Adjective. “Adapted to or designed for sucking.” How about a sample sentence? “American Idol is suctorial entertainment.”

[LATER:] Speaking of suctorial entertainment, on CSI:Miami (which I turned to by accident), a character—a scientist, no less!—just squinted at a computer printout and said, with the timbre of actual discovery, “Mitch. That’s short for Mitchell!” And the screenwriter got paid thousands of dollars.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I can pretty much guarantee that they'll keep the "grp"s, but it is good to check it out with them. I don't think I've ever seen any puzzle publication use "gr", simply because it's not as instantly intuitive for the solver.

Sounds like you're just obsessive enough for this job. Way to go!

4/25/2006 10:22 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks to the brightest star in Leo, I’d heard of “regulus” as the diminutive of the Latin “rex,“ but an acoustically poisonous snake? Wow.

4/27/2006 1:17 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home