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Crying cockles and mussels, alive, alive oh!

The following posting is by a fellow blogger, a professor and gentleman in Carmel, California. In this posting he is thanking his many friends for remembering his birthday, saying that It warms the cockles of my heart. He and his musings can be found here: http://www.oldprof.com./. A visit to his blog can be very rewarding—he has many stories to tell and many thoughts to share, and you may be assured that he tells the stories well and shares them freely, spiced with heart and soul and humor. Try his blog—you’ll like it—I guarantee it.

This is a recent posting by The Old Professor at 7:52 AM on Mar 27, 2010:

Thanks to the thousands—hundreds—many—friends who wished us well on our birthday. It warms the cockles of my heart even though I have no idea what cockles actually are. (I think I’m beginning to talk like Groucho Marx.)

Who is Groucho Marx? Use Google to look it up and while you’re there, look up cockles and you’ll find that no one else seems to know what the word cockles, as it’s used in that expression, actually means either.

Thanks again, and by the way, don’t let anyone kid you. Being 87 isn’t all that bad, especially when one considers the alternatives for people born in 1923.

And now on to my posting for a definition of cockles and introductions to Sweet Molly Malone, Shell Scott, Richard S. Prather, Reverend William Archibald Spooner and something known as spoonerisms.

From Wikipedia: Warms the cockles of my heart refers to the ventricles of the heart. In medieval Latin, the ventricles of the heart were at times called cochleae cordis, where the second word is an inflected form of cor, heart. They are frequently heart-shaped (their formal zoological genus was at one time Cardium, of the heart), with ribbed shells. Those unversed in Latin could have misinterpreted cochleae as cockles, or it might have started out as a university in-joke.

In England cockle refers to an edible mollusk. An old British song says that a girl named Sweet Molly Malone wheels her wheelbarrow through streets wide and narrow, crying cockles and mussels, alive, alive oh! Sweet Molly Malone was probably a seller of fish as well as other marine edibles, and her song may have changed when cockles and mussels were out of season—who knows? You can find her at http://www.worldwidewords.org/qa/qa-coc2.htm).

Also from Wikipedia: A spoonerism is an error in speech or a deliberate play on words in which corresponding consonants, vowels, or morphemes are switched. It is named after the Reverend William Archibald Spooner (1844–1930), warden of New College, Oxford, who was notoriously prone to this tendency.

Most of the quotations attributed to Spooner in literature were probably never uttered by William Spooner himself, but rather were made up by colleagues and students as a pastime. Here are a few examples:

Three cheers for our queer old dean.

It is kisstomary to cuss the bride.

A blushing crow.

A well-boiled icicle.

You were fighting a liar.

Is the bean dizzy?

Someone is occupewing my pie.

Please sew me to another sheet.

You have hissed all my mystery lectures.

You have tasted a whole worm.

A nosey little cook.

And now I come to the real reason for this posting: Please allow me to introduce two of my all-time favorite literary personalties—Shell Scott, a hard-boiled Hollywood private detective, and his creator, author Richard S. Prather. Read about Richard and Shell here: http://www.thrillingdetective.com/scott.html.

In one of the Shell Scott novels the protagonist (Scott) exclaims, “That really warms the cockles of my heart.” However, he deliberately voiced it as a spoonerism, one that, at least for me, was clever and very funny. I’ll leave it up to the reader to convert the sentence to a spoonerism. I must admit that I’ve used the conversion a few times over the years—it’s a great ice-breaker, whether in the rocker loom or at pocktail carties. Oh, and just a tiny hint as to how to convert Scott’s remark to a spoonerism—not that I think many readers will have trouble with the conversion, but for the one in a million that might not get it. The key words are cockles and heart, so here is a push towards the conversion: warms the harkles of my . . . .

Nuff said!

One of the best known spoonerisms is one that a marrying minister says to the groom—And now it is kisstomary to cuss the bride. I first heard that one as a little boy, told to me by my mother. She occasionally uttered spoonerisms (or sputtered unerrisms) of her own, such as Okay, kids, put on your japs and cackets. She once sent me to the store for a package of blazor rades.

During my tour of duty in wartime Korea we used a similar reversal of terms to show the difference between being there rather than back home by saying, “Back home I would come in at night and remove my jacket and jumper, but over here I come in at night and remove my jumper and jacket.”

That one is a bit naughty, perhaps, and not a true spoonerism, although reversing the terms paints a very different picture, as do most spoonerisms—and it is pretty funny—don’t ya think?

Well, anyway, it was at the time. Humor in combat zones is a scarce commodity, and we took it wherever we could find it.

Okay, I can’t resist it—I can’t help it—it’s in my nature, and I must tell a spoonerism joke—please forgive me! Here it is: How does a magician’s act differ from the Radio City Rockettes? Give up? The magician has a cunning line of stunts, and Radio City has a stunning line of  . . . .

 
2 Comments

Posted by on April 14, 2010 in Humor, Uncategorized, Writing

 

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A letter to Laura . . .

This posting was prompted by a comment made by a viewer on one of my previous postings (see at https://thekingoftexas.wordpress.com/2010/01/24/letter-to-the-editor-san-antonio-express-news-obama’s-reeling/).

The original posting was prompted by an apostrophe placed in the surname Obama. It was meant to form a contraction, “Obama is,” an other-than-normal contraction and somewhat misleading. Obama’s is the possessive form of a singular noun, and the apostrophe thus implies that the president possesses a reeling, whatever that might be. “Obama’s reeling” was the heading of a letter to the editor of San Antonio’s Express-News, the only daily newspaper (and fading fast) in the seventh most populous city in the United States. The subject of the letter was Massachusetts’ recent  election to fill the Senate seat held by the late Senator Edward Kennedy. The race was between a Democrat and a Republican. Would anyone want to hazard a guess as to which candidate won?

You’re right!

I felt that this venue was more appropriate than replying directly to the viewer’s comment on that posting—any reply I made would have been buried and would have rarely, if ever, been exposed to the brilliant light of a separate posting.

As an incidental but closely related thought, I recently encountered this phrase on a blog: “I’d have,” meaning “I would have . . .” I consider “I’d” to be an improper contraction, and ambiguous even if it were proper—it could also mean “I did have” or “I should have,” etc. Would anyone want to hazard a guess as to whose website it was on?

You’re right!

And now on to Laura’s comment and my letter to her:

From: (http://www.bartleby.com/141/strunk.html#1)

William Strunk, Jr. (1869–1946).  The Elements of Style.  1918

II. ELEMENTARY RULES OF USAGE

1. Form the possessive singular of nouns with ’s.

Follow this rule whatever the final consonant. Thus write,

Charles’s friend

Burns’s poems

the witch’s malice

This is the usage of the United States Government Printing Office and of the Oxford University Press.

Note: (The italics and bolding in Strunk’s rule above are mine).

This is Laura’s comment on my posting:

“The Chicago Manual of Style agrees with Strunk and White re: forming the possessive of a proper noun ending in S by adding an apostrophe and S. Also, I’m wondering if you meant “feign” and not “fain,” which doesn’t seem to fit neatly in your sentence. — Laura.” (http://terriblywrite.wordpress.com)

Letter to Laura . . .

Hi, Laura,

Thanks for visiting, and thanks for the comment. Please note that I approved it exactly as you posted it—I’m sure you are aware that I could have edited the comment to fit my taste, and had I chosen to do so I could have deleted it in its entirety. You, however, cannot edit your comment after it is posted, nor can you edit my reply—that leaves me free to change, rebut or delete any comment that is less than complimentary. I chose to let your comment stand as submitted in order to expand my response via this posting.

As used in that sentence, the phrase fain to know means if one desires to know, or is inclined to know or is willing to know (desirous, inclined and willing are three of fain’s many definitions). Had I used the word feign, it would have meant pretend to know. I know that fain is archaic and sparsely (if ever) used in today’s writings, but I do not feel that I misused it in my posting. As for my choice of a word “which doesn’t seem to fit neatly” in the sentence, I am satisfied with its fit and its neatness—nay, I’m more than satisfied—I am proud of both attributes.

On your trek through a flourishing crop of words in the process of nitpicking, you managed to harvest only one nit, and that one nit apparently prompted you to rate the posting with a negative thumbs down. I say apparently because I can’t be sure that the thumbs down is yours. However, this I know with certainty—yours is the only comment on the posting, and of the five votes existing at this time four are mine, so I must surmise that the thumbs down vote is yours.

A grammatical note—I realize that the graphic for the voting process shows only one thumb up and one thumb down. I use the plurals (thumbs up and thumbs down) because I cannot remember ever hearing someone giving someone a singular thumb up or thumb down—sounds a bit naughty.

Yes, I vote on my own postings, and I always give myself a thumbs up vote—to do otherwise would be self-defeating, so to speak. Please let me know whether the lone negative vote is yours, and if it is not I will willingly—just willingly, not humbly—tender a public apology.

I give nothing less than excellent ratings to any posting, whether items posted by me or by other bloggers (I suspect you would agree with me that consistency is a desirable trait). I strive mightily to adhere to the adage that says, “If you can’t say anything positive, don’t say anything.”

As an aside, I believe the practice of one voting on one’s own posting is widespread, a belief that is supported by a comprehensive poll of several (three) bloggers. Such actions are simply the result of writers tooting their own horn, a perfectly normal and common practice that is neither prohibited nor restricted by rule or law.

As regards your statement that The Chicago Manual of Style agrees with Strunk:

I do not agree with your statement, nor do I trust or agree with anyone or anything related to Chicago, whether that person or thing be animal, vegetable, mineral, publication or president. I visited the Chicago Manual of Style online, but went no farther than the second page (the result of a search phrase) because I was unwilling to subscribe and pay for the “privilege” of going farther. However, the results of my search (admittedly brief) appear to contradict your contention that the Chicago Manual of Style agrees with William Strunk’s The Element of Style, circa 1918. In fact, the Chicago Manual of Style appears to leave a fair amount of choice for ways to show the possessive forms of words ending in ess—Strunk offers no alternatives and states that we should “Follow this rule whatever the final consonant.”

Check it out at http://www.chicagomanualofstyle.org/search.epl. I used the search phrase possessive of words ending in s and it returned eight entries dealing with that subject.

Here are the first two entries:

7.21:   Words and names ending in unpronounced “s”

To avoid an awkward appearance, an apostrophe without an s may be used for the possessive of singular words and names ending in an unpronounced s.

The following is a personal note, intended to clarify the term unpronounced: The ess is pronounced, but it takes the sound of ze, the twenty-sixth (and final) letter in the English alphabet.

7.23: An alternative practice

options outlined above may prefer the system, formerly more common, of simply omitting the possessive s on all words ending in s

Those entries do not show agreement with Strunk—they show that there are alternatives that may be used to “avoid an awkward appearance,” and they give the option of “simply omitting the possessive s on all words ending in s” in stark contrast to Strunk’s imperative to “Follow this rule whatever the final consonant.” Two of the examples given are Charles’s friend and Burns’s poems, both wrong and neither in complete agreement with the Chicago Manual of Style.

Laura, I spent some time on your site at http://terriblywrite.wordpress.com. I enjoyed my visit, and had you provided a counter for votes similar to the one I use on my blog, I would have rated your work excellent. You are quite thorough and successful in your quest to find errors in the writings of others, and you effectively use humor in pointing out the errors albeit, in my opinion, humor tinged with a certain measure of contempt for the inept writer.

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

 

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