Bourbon Cowboy

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

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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!

Thursday, December 13, 2007

My Accidental Googlewhack

One more thing: The other day at lunch I was skimming through an old book called something like "Ask the Word Wizard"--a collection of word-related articles by some person or other who had a column in the nineties and whom I've never heard of--and I noticed that every chapter began with a word-of-the-day entry, and that these words were, in many cases, actually quite interesting, including stigmeology (the art of punctuation), marrowsky (another term for a Spoonerism), and adoxography (skilled writing on a trivial subject--my favorite sort of reading!) Since I write vocabulary poems, I figured I'd write them down. But I also had to check several of them out to see if they're in my own dictionary of record, the New International Second.

Several of them weren't, but one in particular was odd. The word was Quinalpus. Definition: "An authority appealed to to win an argument." (The classic example I immediately thought of was Marshall McLuhan in Annie Hall, though for many evangelicals the eternal fallback Quinalpus is C.S. Lewis.) I'd heard the word before in some other list of weird words, but it wasn't in NI2. A search of the OED availed me nothing. So then I Googled it--and got exactly one entry.

The link is right here. It consists of a single quote from Shakespeare's Twelfth Night, where a clown says, "What says Quinalpus? Better a witty fool than a foolish wit." And you'll note that the general sense of "any unassailable authority" is nowhere present; this is the word's original context (I'm bound) and whatever expansion of the sense that came later is utterly absent.

A Googlewhack, for those who are new, is a sort of game where you attempt to put two unrelated words into a search engine and get back exactly one hit. There are whole sites dedicated to it. But I've never before gotten only a single hit after entering a single word. And what's so very weird is that the usage quoted seems to have come from Shakespeare! So where are all the other online references? Surely there's a website somewhere that lists every character ever even mentioned in Shakespeare's plays, isn't there? Surely there must be a site that actually has the entire script of The Twelfth Night, mustn't there? And if no one actually uses this word in the way "The Word Wizard" does, where the hell did he get the word in the first place?

The only good thing I can think about all this is that this would seem to be proof that maybe, for a brief sliver of history, word geeks like me had better things to do than post lists to the web.

(Afternote: Of course, in the tradition of the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle and the movie Real Life, I'm sure I have ruined the Googlewhack by blogging about it. I welcome comments.)

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4 Comments:

Blogger Michelle said...

Well now there are two links. The one you found and yours. The magic has been broken simply by you discovering it existed in the first place...

12/13/2007 8:51 AM  
Blogger Joe said...

My heart lifted when I read your post, I thought there may be another word I can use at Scrabble with the damn 'Q'. Unfortunately Quinalpus is not in any dictionary as it's the name of a character in a play and thus a proper noun, perhaps the "Word Wizard" was simply a Scrabble player like my brother, who simply makes up whatever word he wants and says it's in the dictionary he has at home which is unabridged and so too heavy to carry around when he goes to other peoples houses to play Scrabble.

12/13/2007 10:12 AM  
Blogger Rhu/nmHz said...

Alas, I think the canonical spelling is Quinapalus. Which is still a wicked cool word.

12/13/2007 10:51 AM  
Blogger Francis said...

According to the rest of the Internet, that name should be spelled "Quinapalus" in the "Twelfth Night" script.

12/13/2007 1:39 PM  

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