Words, Words, Wordle

Brain Food

Polonius: What are you reading?

Hamlet: Words, words, words.

I rationalize my obsession with word games by thinking of them as therapeutic strategies to stave off senility. By working through the NYT, Washington Post, and New Yorker crosswords each day, the reasoning goes, I’m keeping my synapses clean, firing them like sparkplugs, raging, raging against the dimming of the light. A simpler and more truthful explanation is that I enjoy word games, and if I really cared about my cognition, I would replace my daily rounds at Chico Feo with trips to Crosby’s Seafood Market to stock up on salmon, trout, albacore tuna, herring, and sardines.[1]

Anyway, of all the on-line opportunities for etymological engagement, my favorite is the New York Times’s Spelling Bee. And no wonder. I’m literally[2] a genius at it.

See for yourself.

Here’s today’s game. I’m one word short of achieving Queen Bee status and have until 3 AM to find that last, remaining, elusive word (one that I’ve probably never encountered).

A word game I really suck at is Scrabble Grams, a subsidiary of the Scrabble Empire, copy right circled R.  As in Spelling Bee, you must unscramble seven “tiles” into words, the longer the more profitable, a seven-letter word yielding a 50-point bonus.  Essentially, you’re playing a game of Scrabble against Samuel Johnson and Noah Webster, and in that sense, the best you can hope for is a tie.

That I’m good at Spelling Bee but bad at Scrabble Grams lies in the layout. I react to the circular much better than the linear it would seem.[3]

Wordle, which has taken the world by storm, is as much a logic game as it is a word game. You have five chances to unscramble a jumble of five letters, and as you progress down the grid, you can see a dwindling number of letters available, so in essence, you’re engaged in deductive reasoning.

Today I lost, ruining my streak, despite having the first three letters in place by the third row.

Wordle 407 X/6







Oh, woe is me, alack and alas!  How all occasions do inform against me! Fie on it! Fie!

Hey, but there’s always tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow . . . but then again one day there won’t be a tomorrow, and then again, that’s a consummation devoutly to be wished, according to Hamlet, who after almost three acts worth of peppering Polonius with barbs, eventually stabs him to death.

So, Hamlet is finally successful in shutting him up.

The sword is mightier than the pen, you might say.

And with that, Adieu!

[1] Oh, but the Little Devil on my shoulder is citing clinical studies that claim that social interaction is beneficial for the elderly.

Here’s a sample, “Results: Qualitative analysis identified eateries, senior centers, and civic groups as key places to socialize. We identified significant positive associations between kernel density of senior centers, civic/social organizations, and cognitive function. Discussion: Specific neighborhood social infrastructures may support cognitive health among older adults aging in place.

BTW, Chico Feo is technically an “eatery” and Hamlet calls Polonius a “fishmonger,” though he’s probably using slang for “procurer” as in “pandar” or “pimp” rather than a merchant of high fatty fish that enhance mental acuity.

[2] A very dangerous adverb, yes, a precarious modifier (though not literally).

[3] By the way, I’m an atrocious speller, as my regular readers have no doubt noticed.

Monsoon Season

Oh, I say let it rain every day.  Pour.  Flood the Crosstown.  Swell the Edisto.  Let the weeping sky paint the marsh even greener so mosquitos swarm and bats dive and devour and thrive. Out on the deck when I see their zigzagging swoops and hear the frogs croaking, I know that our habitat is healthy.  

the green, green marsh of home

Give me a jungle any day over a desert.  Jungles, which are pro-life/pro-women, give rise to animism and soulful art; deserts, on the other hand, are anti-life/anti-women, give rise to tyrannical patriarchies and edicts against pictorial art.  In the jungle everything has soul; in the desert virtually nothing does.  

A combination photo of the 180-foot-high Buddha statue in Bamian, central Afghanistan on Dec. 18, 1997, left, and after its destruction on March 26, 2001. (Muzammil Pasha, Sayed Salahuddin/Reuters)

Allow me to save a hundred or so words:

Here is Rajiv Malhotra’s take on the difference between jungle and desert cultures:

The difference in attitudes toward order and chaos is one of the chief differences discussed at length in the book [i.e., Malhotra’s Being Different: An Indian Challenge to Western Universalism]. It is worth considering why the Indian religious imagination so unequivocally embraced the notion of diversity and multiplicity while others have not to a similar extent. Since all civilizations have tried to answer such existential questions as who we are, why we are here, what the nature of the Divine and the cosmos are etc., why are some Indian answers so markedly different from the Abrahamic ones?

Sri Aurobindo offers us a clue. In Dharmic traditions, unity is grounded in a sense of the Integral One, and there can be immense multiplicity without fear of “collapse into disintegration and chaos”. He suggests that the “forest” with the “richness and luxuriance of its vegetation” is both an inspiration and metaphor for India’s spiritual outlook. A quick look at world cultures and civilizations reveals how profoundly the geography and the human response to it affected those cultures. So it may well be that the physical features and characteristics of the subcontinent, once lush with tropical forests, also contributed to its deepest spiritual values (in contrast to those that were born, as the Abrahamic religions are, in the milieu of the desert).

The forest has always been a symbol of beneficence in India – a refuge from the heat, and abundant enough to support a life of contemplation without the worries of survival when worldly ties had to be severed for the pursuit of spiritual goals. (The penultimate stage of life advocated for individuals in Dharma traditions is called “vanaprastha” or “the forest stage of life”). Forests support thousands of species that survive interdependently and contain complex life and biology that changes and grows organically. Forest creatures are adaptive; they mutate and fuse into new forms easily. The forest loves to play host; newer life forms migrate to it and are rehabilitated as natives. Forests are ever evolving, their dance never final or complete.

Of course, deserts can possess their own austere beauty, and given their lack of resources, human survival may well have depended on highly competitive survivalists whose creator was jealous and capable of drowning virtually all of his creation for wandering from the steep and stony way, and certainly the Hindu deity Kali isn’t exactly a benign creature herself, a destroyer extraordinaire but forgive me, I’ve wandered from my meteorological focus . . . 

It isn’t raining rain you know/ It’s raining violets.

A Relatively Modest (If I Say So Myself) Promotional Article on My Just-About-to-Be- Published Novel “Today, Oh Boy” in Which I Compare It to Joyce’s “Ulysses” and the Paintings of the Flemish Master Pieter Breughel the Elder[1]

Painting of the cover of Today, Oh Boy by David Boatwright

My novel Today, Oh Boy, which is supposed to appear in early September of 2022, takes place during the daylight hours of Monday 12 October 1970 in Summerville, South Carolina. The title comes from the Beatle classic “A Day in the Life” as does the epigraph of Book 1, “Surfaces” –

And though the news was rather sad
Well, I just had to laugh.

Here are the first couple of paragraphs:

A mango-hued, pockmarked bulletin board hangs on a classroom wall of pale lime green concrete blocks, the bulletin board pencil-stabbed and compass point-gouged. Among the graffiti are the names of the star-crossed lovers: Sandy + Tripp. Tragic Tripp, whose body was found last week tangled in blackberry bushes along the banks of the Ashley River, his skull smashed after falling off Bacons Bridge.

S-A-N-D-Y + T-R-I-P-P.

Rusty Boykin, a skinny, freckled redhead sitting on the bulletin board row in Mrs. Laban’s homeroom, traces his index finger in the depression of Sandy’s name. He supposes it’s Tripp’s work – the letters inartistic, juvenile. Sandy hasn’t been to school since Tripp’s death, four class days ago, and now it’s Monday, and she’s still not here. She should be sitting right in front of Rusty, her honey-colored hair hanging like a curtain to her waist.

For Rusty and his friends Alex Jensen and Will Waring, Tripp’s death, though “rather sad,” is less than heartbreaking because he was a belligerent bully with a ferocious temper. Despite that the word “tragic” appears in its second sentence, Today, Oh Boy is a comic novel.

Now, no way am I comparing this trifle of mine to Joyce’s Ulysses; however, I got the idea of writing it after listening to a 38-cd audio version of Joyce’s novel, that is, the idea of writing a novel that features one day in the life of a community with a wide cross-section of citizens. The chapter of Ulysses that especially intrigued me has come to be known as “Wandering Rocks.”

Here’s Julia Galeota’s summary from the Yale University’s Campus Press website:

“The Wandering Rocks,” the tenth episode of James Joyce‘s Ulysses relates the activities of citizens in the streets of Dublin between three and four o’clock. Composed exclusively of nineteen short vignettes that feature collectively nearly all of the characters of Ulysses, this tenth of Joyce’s eighteen episodes “is both an entr’acte between the two halves and a miniature of the whole” (Blamires 93).

Here’s a snippet, the last paragraph of “Wandering Rocks”:

Thither of the wall the quartermile flat handicappers, M. C. Green, H. Thrift, T. M. Patey, C. Scaife, J. B. Jeffs, G. N. Morphy, F. Stevenson, C. Adderly, and W. C. Huggard started in pursuit. Striding past Finn’s hotel, Cashel Boyle O’Connor Fitzmaurice Tisdall Farrell stared through a fierce eyeglass across the carriages at the head of Mr E. M. Solomons in the window of the Austro-Hungarian viceconsulate. Deep in Leinster street, by Trinity’s postern, a loyal king’s man, Horn-blower, touched his tallyho cap. As the glossy horses pranced by Merrion square Master Patrick Aloysius Dignam, waiting, saw salutes being given to the gent with the topper and raised also his new black cap with fingers greased by porksteak paper. His collar too sprang up. The viceroy, on his way to inaugurate the Mirus bazaar in aid of funds for Mercer’s hospital, drove with his following towards Lower Mount street. He passed a blind stripling Opposite Broadbent’s. In Lower Mount street a pedestrian in a brown macintosh, eating dry bread, passed swiftly and unscathed across the viceroy’s path. At the Royal Canal bridge, from his hoarding, Mr Eugene Stratton, his blub lips agrin, bade all comers welcome to Pembroke township. At Haddington road corner two sanded women halted themselves, an umbrella and a bag in which eleven cockles rolled to view with wonder the lord mayor and lady mayoress without his golden chain. On Northumberland and Landsdowne roads His Excellency acknowledged punctually salutes from rare male walkers, the salute of two small schoolboys at the garden gate of the house said to have been admired by the late queen when visiting the Irish capital with her husband, the prince consort, in 1849, and the salute of Almidano Artifoni’s sturdy trousers swallowed by a closing door.

And my pale imitation:

On the north side of South Carolina Highway 17-A just around a curve from a two-story high school, a redheaded sixteen-year-old boy in a silk-screened blue jean jacket walks backward with his thumb thrust out. Inside the school, another sixteen-year-old boy, this one dark-haired and wearing wirerimmed glasses, translates a passage from Don Quixote. A mile and a half to the east as the crow flies, a basset hound[2] with a red collar zigzags his way toward Bacons Bridge Road, a route that merges with Highway 61, crosses the Ashley River, then runs parallel to the river through a scenic tunnel of moss-draped oaks where antebellum plantations and gardens attract tourists in the spring. Meanwhile in one of the growing housing developments just outside the quaint town of Summerville, a middle-aged woman in a pink robe fills a tomato-stained glass with tap water and leaves it in the sink. Back at the school, a younger, plumper woman chastises a hyper Jewish kid with braces. Another set of ancient oaks embower a driveway where a maroon VW bus and a white VW bug follow one another out onto Carolina Avenue in the verdant heart of Old Summerville. Back at the school, two students are putting their art supplies away in anticipation of the end of class while a red Mustang hurtles in the opposite direction of—and past—the redheaded hitchhiker. The Mustang slams on brakes, does a screeching, tire-smoking 180, and slides to a stop in the opposite lane. Startled, the redheaded boy does a nervous little Chaplinesque dance as electricity whiplashes in a rush up his spine. He suddenly realizes that it’s her car, hears her New Jersey accent calling his name, asking him where he’s headed, inviting him to hop on in, and he begins to run toward the passenger side door. Around the curve at the school, a series of electric bells go


and a tall, slender math student picks up her things to head to English while on the first floor directly under her classroom, an orange-haired typist clumsily removes a sheet of onion paper from a typewriter that has seen better days.

A couple of pre-publication readers, the brilliant Cintra Wilson the most prominent, complained that despite that the novel’s funny and stylistically sophisticated, it suffers from an overload of characters and too many sudden shifts, though sudden shifts shouldn’t, I would think, bother readers who grew up on Sesame Street. After all, Book 1 is called “Surfaces,” which attempts to provide portraitures of the classes of people who made up Late 60s Summerville High – jocks; a handful of selected African Americans; college prep kids, non-college-bound home economics, shop, and agriculture students; a small but ascendant number of “hippies;” and the teachers who taught them – which brings to mind the paintings of my artistic hero Pieter Breughel the Elder who overloaded his canvases with a glut of personages. You could also say that about my Photoshopped faux paintings.

At any rate, I hope you buy the novel and more importantly enjoy it. We’re in the process of planning a launch at Buxton’s Books and hope to have events at independent Summerville bookstores as well.

[1] I must have fallen asleep during the writing-workshop lesson on crafting brisk, attention-grabbing titles. By the way, in case you suffer from Irony Deficiency, that I used a first-person pronoun four times in the title playfully suggests that the article will not be modest.

[2] The basset hound, Hambone Odysseus Macy, is off on an epic adventure of his own. He’s later picked up from the side of the road by Alex Jensen who rechristens him Mr. Peabody after the erudite dog from the Bullwinkle cartoon. References to comic figures abound in the novel. In fact, one of the teachers, Colonel Claude Toby Dukenfield, shares the same name with WC Fields, on whom he based.

Redundant Tautologies[1]

an uncoordinated spastic

As my regular readers know, I’m not a fan of euphemisms.

It’s not the word retard’s fault that people began associating its past participle form with “mentally slow, lagging significantly in mental or educational progress.” Etymonline.com attributes its medical mental health coinage to G.E. Shuttleworth, “late medical superintendent, Royal Albert Asylum, for idiots and imbeciles of the northern counties, Lancaster” in 1895.[2]  Back then in the realm of the mentally challenged “retarded” was considered a polite term.

Speaking of idiots, I think the first tautology I ever noticed was “stupid idiot,” a favorite pejorative among my tweenage playmates in the Twin Oaks subdivision of Summerville, South Carolina where I came of age in those chigger-ridden days of yore when woods were still abundant. Once I made the discovery, I’d respond to being called a “stupid idiot” by barking back, “Are you sure I’m not a brilliant idiot, you subliterate moron?”[3]

What I don’t like about euphemisms is that their tiptoeing around unpleasant connotations can lead to verbal obesity.

Hey, by the way, you can read medical articles free at no charge on the National Library of Medicine website. I just perused a study entitled “Patients’ Preferred Terms for Describing Their Excess Weight: Discussing Obesity in Clinical Practice” by Sheri Volger, Marion L Vetter, Megan Dougherty, Eva Panigraphi, Rebecca Egner, Victoria Webb, J Graham Thomas, David B Sarwar, and Thomas A. Wadden. [4]

According to the article, people who carry “excess weight” don’t dig being described as “obese” and “fat,” nor do they dig terms like “obesity, fatness, and heaviness.” Our ennead of nine authors suggests that when discussing weight issues with patients, caregivers use terms like “weight,” “BMI,” “weight problem,” or “excess weight.”[5]

Roscoe “Excessive Weight” Arbuckle

So anyway, I’d rather call a spade a spade rather than “a figure resembling a stylized spearhead on each playing card of one of the four suits,” but you know what, in conversation I do my best to avoid terms that might be considered pejorative, because I don’t want to hurt people’s feelings, and also, as restauranter-goer Brett Kavanaugh has come to learn, there is some danger in being an asshole.

By the way, how many “redundant tautologies” appear in this post?

[1] I.e., the saying of the same thing twice in different words, generally considered to be a fault of style (e.g., redundant tautologies).

[2] Did you catch the tautology in that sentence? By the way, what’s the difference between an “idiot” and an “imbecile?”  In the callous insensitive old days, psychologists defined an idiot as one whose mental development never exceeded two years, an imbecile’s never exceeding seven years, and a moron’s never exceeding twelve years.

[3] As opposed to a highly literate moron.”

[4] If you believe in statistics, 4 of the 9 authors are likely to be obese, with one being “severely obese.”

[5] Body Mass Index