Friday, December 3, 2010


LeBron James scored 38 points in three quarters to lead his new team, the Miami Heat, to a blowout victory over his former team, the Cleveland Cavs, Thursday night. It was LeBron's first game against his former team in Cleveland, and his former fans booed every time he touched the ball. After the game, an interviewer asked: “The fans had their say tonight. What would you like to say to them if you could?”

"Seven great years, loved every part, loved every moment, from the growth when I was an 18-year-old kid to a 25-year-old man. You know, trying our best as a team, trying our best to bring a championship to this city and just trying to play hard every night. I've got the utmost respect for this franchise, utmost respect for these fans and, you know, just continue the greatness for myself here in Miami and try to get better every day."

Huh? The sports commentators immediately pounced on Lebron's reference to his "greatness." But I haven't heard anyone comment on the fact that his answer was incoherent. Or that he apparently thought he was in Miami.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Deadline oopses

My friend Frank brought in a yellowed copy of the Nov. 22, 1963, issue of The Paducah Sun-Democrat. You surely know that date. The banner headline — printed in red, six columns, two lines, all caps above the nameplate — is:

The Sun-Democrat was then an evening newspaper, making it possible to publish the story the day it happened.

But the inside pages were apparently already on the plates before the AP wired the story. On page 7 of the same issue was a story with this headline:
Republicans Get Head Start On 1964 Political Campaign Against Kennedy.


To make matters worse, the story quotes Republican leaders in the Senate blasting JFK.
New York's Jacob Javits: "Things have gone from bad to worse."
Texas' John Tower: "Our international standing has clipped low, indeed."
Illinois' Everett Dirksen: "(JFK is) engaging in dangerous economic brinkmanship."
Indiana's Charles Halleck: "... almost total failure ... for three empty years."

Darn those deadlines.

By the way, do you remember what two noted authors' deaths were barely noted in the press because they occurred on the same day?

Friday, November 12, 2010

Coaches Chizik and Childress

In a press conference a few days ago, Auburn head football coach Gene Chizik said something other than what he meant to say amid allegations against his star player, quarterback Cam Newton.

Chizik: "I'm standing up here on a very important week trying to defend something that's pure garbage."
That's a harsh way to describe your star player. Maybe he meant he was trying to defend AGAINST something — the allegations — he considers pure garbage (and is "pure garbage" an oxymoron?).

He also said, "I want to get off the table up front the fact that Cameron Newton will be playing Saturday against the Georgia Bulldogs. I want to get that off the table."
The idiom "off the table" means to remove from consideration. What Chizik said, and repeated, is that playing Newton is NOT one of his options. Of course, he meant the opposite. What Chizik took off the table was the option of forcing Newton to sit out the game.

If Chizik says the opposite of what he means, another coach makes statements that tell you absolutely nothing — but at least he uses big words to say it. Minnesota Vikings coach Brad Childress said this of trading Randy Moss: "It was a programmatic nonfit, and it didn't work out. When things don't work out, you need to move quickly to take steps."
Programmatic nonfit? Why not "he didn't fit in"?
"Move quickly to take steps"? That literally means hurry to make incremental change — not an apt description of booting Moss.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Neologisms defined


Definitions to the neologisms I listed in the last post:

Alpha geek: The most knowledgeable, technically proficient person in an office or work group.
Blamestorming: Sitting around in a group, discussing why a deadline was missed or a project failed, and who was responsible.
Chainsaw consultant: An outside expert brought in to reduce the employee headcount, leaving the top brass with clean hands.
Cube farm: An office filled with cubicles.
Irritainment: Entertainment and media spectacles that are annoying, but you find yourself unable to stop watching them (e.g. professional wresting).
Mediocracy: A society or organization in which people of mediocre talent prevail
Meetnik: A person who enjoys meetings and seminars and tries to attend as many as possible.
Mouse potato: A couch potato whose attention is riveted to a computer rather than a TV.
Phobosopher: A person with an irrational aversion to wisdom.
Starter marriage: A short-lived first marriage that ends in divorce with no kids and no regrets.
Stress puppy: A person who seems to thrive on being stressed out and whiny.
Tree ware: Printed material.

Friday, September 10, 2010


A neologism is a new word, expression or phrase. Sometimes a neologism will make it into the dictionary. Other times it is in vogue only for a season then fades into disuse.

Following are some neologisms, mostly from the 1990s, that didn't make it into common usage. See if you can guess the definitions (no Google searches). Hint: Most have to do with office work.

Alpha geek
Chainsaw consultant
Cube farm
Mouse potato
Starter marriage
Stress puppy
Tree ware

Friday, September 3, 2010

The wit and witless

This weekend kicks off the college football season. To celebrate, here's another sampling of the wit and witless of the coaching world.

From incoherent:
“These guys are missing one thing, and that's experience. Until you've been out on the field, it's tough to simulate that.” — Houston Nutt
(So go onto the field where it will be easy to simulate experience.)

“The biggest thing, ... was getting here at 7 o'clock Sunday morning from Southern California after a 70-whatever whipping to get to the point where your team went from a whipped, terrible look to having a chance to win as good as Alabama was. That gave us a lot of hope. Build off that. Correct those mistakes. Now go win a game. That's where you see the parallels. I believe that.” — Houston Nutt
(To someone somewhere, something in there might make sense.)

To humorous:
"If you make every game a life and death proposition, you're going to have problems. For one thing, you'll be dead a lot." — Dean Smith

"The man who complains about the way the ball bounces is likely the one who dropped it." — Lou Holtz

To wise:
"Leadership is getting someone to do what they don't want to do, to achieve what they want to achieve." — Tom Landry

"The harder you work, the harder it is to surrender." — Vince Lombardi

"Success without honor is an unseasoned dish; it will satisfy your hunger, but it won't taste good." — Joe Paterno

"People of medicore ability sometimes achieve outstanding success because they don't know when to quit. Most men succeed because they are determined to." — George Allen

To inspirational:
"I firmly believe that any man's finest hour, the greatest fulfillment of all that he holds dear, is the moment when he has worked his heart out in a good cause and lies exhausted on the field of battle-victorious." -- Vince Lombardi

And just for fun, this from the writer Jack Handy:
“I remember that one fateful day when Coach took me aside. I knew what was coming. 'You don't have to tell me,' I said. 'I'm off the team, aren't I?' 'Well,' said Coach, 'you never were really ON the team. You made that uniform you're wearing out of rags and towels, and your helmet is a toy space helmet. You show up at practice and then either steal the ball and make us chase you to get it back, or you try to tackle people at inappropriate times.' It was all true what he was saying. And yet, I thought something is brewing inside the head of this Coach. He sees something in me, some kind of raw talent that he can mold. But that's when I felt the handcuffs go on.”

Friday, August 27, 2010

Here lies a liar

I can't remember where I obtained the little pocket-size book, "Everybody's Book of Epitaphs: Being for the Most Part What the Living Think of the Dead." But it is entertaining to read the epitaphs found on tombstones in English cemeteries.

Like this one from the Berkeley Churchyard:

Here lies an editor!
Snooks, if you will;
In Mercy, Kind Providence,
Let him lie still!
He lied for his living, so
He lived while he lied.
When he could not lie longer
He lied down and died.

A number of tombstones carry variations of a bitter widow's lament:

He lied while he lived
And dead he lies still

And a few widowers got their shots in, like this one from Selby, Yorkshire:

Here lies my wife, a sad slattern and shrew,
If I said I regretted her, I should lie too!

Friday, August 20, 2010


Kids' ears

Sometimes what we say is not what they hear. The following comments are taken from a thread on a friend's Facebook page:

Gavin told me that his bus driver told him that they sit in "science seats." It took me just a second to realize that she was discussing assigned seats on the bus! Funny boy.

Josh referred listening to "Rap City" instead of Rhapsody today ... those 5 year olds!

When Kathleen was in kindergarten, she told me that she learned about gutters in school — the ones that cows have.

Heidi once had a guest speaker in her Lutheran school classroom tell the story of Bert the Troll. The mother of a boy with a speech impediment marched into her classroom the next day demanding to know why she was teaching fourth graders about birth control.

Speaking of kids

Did you catch the story in The Paducah Sun about the students instructing the instructors? Teachers at Heath High School will attend sessions on how to use their new iBook computers. The instructors will be high school students.

Hope the student-teachers are patient. The brains of geezers (all those over 30) just aren't as pliable as brains of teens.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

There was a grammarian

James Kilpatrick died Aug. 15, three months shy of his 90th birthday. He was best known for his conservative commentary in newspaper columns and on the "Point-Counterpoint" segment of 60 Minutes. After the death of his wife, sculptor Marie Louise Perri, in 1997, he married liberal columnist Marianne Means. It would have been a gas to sit in on their dinner conversation.

Later in life he became better known as a grammarian. He wrote a column on English usage called "The Writer's Art," as well as a book with the same title. His books also included "The Ear is Human: A Handbook of Homophones and Other Confusions" and "Fine Print: Reflections on the Writing Art."

Here's a sample of his writing on language from a June 2008 column, selected because it echoes one of the constant nags of Sun executive editor Duke Conover:

"In the writing game, everybody has to have an irk. Am I being fastidious or merely fussy in my irk against 'there'? A few weeks ago The New York Times' editorial writers backed repeatedly into their morning lectures.
"'There is a lot of talk that Sen. Hillary Clinton is now fated ... There is a lot that Senators Clinton and Obama need to be talking about ...' 'There is no doubt that President Robert Mugabe's henchmen have used ...'
"The yawing or introductory 'there' is an ancient device, not to be condemned out of hand. All the same, a sentence often will be improved by backing up and starting over: 'Some observers contend that Sen. Hillary Clinton ...' Or, 'Senators Clinton and Obama need to talk about ...' Let us trim our shrubbery."

Duke would take it a bit further. He doesn't like "there" anywhere. If you write, "The team is not there yet," he will ask, "Not where yet?"

I admit I'm not so rigid about "there." But then, I have that luxury. Duke is herding cats. I am not. So I take refuge in Kilpatrick's words: "The yawing or introductory 'there' is an ancient device, not to be condemned out of hand." Duke, of course, would emphasize: "... a sentence will often be improved by backing up and starting over."

We agree, however, that your writing will be improved if you avoid "there" where possible.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Amusing, awful and artificial

King James II of England, when he saw the restored and expanded St. Paul's Cathedral, called it "amusing, awful and artificial." The architect, Sir Christopher Wren, was not offended. On the contrary, he was flattered.

The king did not mean that it was funny or entertaining. He was not calling it atrocious or appalling. He did not consider it fake or pretentious.

In 17th century England, amusing meant "riveting." Awful meant "full of awe" or "awe inspiring." And artificial meant "artistic."

Language evolves and word meaning changes over time through common usage. In this case, words that once had positive meaning gradually devolved. That process is called perjoration.

It doesn't always take four centuries. The word "OK" has undergone more rapid perjoration. Although the etymology is debated, it is clear from its usage a century ago that, when used as an adjective, "OK" was once strong praise. If something was OK, or okay, that meant it was good in every aspect — perfect or "all correct." Today, when we say something is "OK" we mean it is mediocre, or far from perfect.
If we could assign letter grades to OK, it was once an A+, but now it's a C-.

"How was your trip?"
"It was OK."
"Oh, what went wrong?"

So when Oklahoma put the slogan "Oklahoma is OK" on its license plates, it was not lamenting the state's mediocrity but proclaiming that everything about the state was right.

The use of OK to mean assent or agreement now exceeds its use as an adjective. When we say "OK," we are agreeing to something asked of us. Put a question mark after it, and it is asking for someone else's assent.

"Everyone pitch in, OK?" (Meaning: Will you do it? Do you understand? Is that acceptable?)
"OK." (Meaning: Yes. We Understand. We will do it.)

Use of OK as a modifier may fall out of use altogether before it reaches the grade of F.


Back to Christopher Wren. He is buried in a crypt at St. Paul's. His modest burial marker reads: "Lector, si monumentum requiris, circumspice" which means: "Reader, if you seek his monument, look around you."

One of the world's largest cathedrals — how's that for a headstone?

Friday, July 9, 2010


Random observations on usage:
1. A defense attorney commenting on an obscenity written on the nail of Lindsay Lohan’s middle finger during her trial that an alert Reuters photographer picked up: “This tops the cake.”
I assume the attorney meant "takes the cake," an idiom that means "is the most extreme example." Of course, it's possible the attorney meant what she said. A cake topper is the final piece, the focal point.

2. The Fox News Website briefly posted this headline: “Missing Missouri Girl Found Safe at Car Warsh.”
Now, now, no need to poke fun of the way Midwesterners talk.

3. MSNBC headline in April:
I may have posted that before. Originally I thought it was an editor's goof, but given the debate over Arizona's law, it may have been an editorial comment. In practice, it is not illegal to be illegal.

4. An AP story on immigration included this sentence: “The law requires officers ... to question a person’s immigration status if there’s a reasonable suspicion they are in the country illegally.”

The plural pronoun "they" doesn't match the singular antecedent "person."
Some English teachers go apoplectic over such usage. The singular "they" is widespread in spoken English. But it also has a long history in written English.

The Chicago Manual of Style notes:

On the one hand, it is unacceptable to a great many reasonable readers to use the generic masculine pronoun ("he" in reference to no one in particular). On the other hand, it is unacceptable to a great many readers either to resort to nontraditional gimmicks to avoid the generic masculine (by using he/she or s/he, for example) or to use "they" as a kind of singular pronoun. Either way, credibility is lost with some readers.

With the 14th edition (1993), the Manual revised its neutral stance to recommend "singular use of they and their," noting a "revival" of this usage and citing its "venerable use by such writers as Addison, Austen, Chesterfield, Fielding, Ruskin, Scott, and Shakespeare."

Singular "they" and "their" can be used in most writing to indicate indeterminacy in regard to number — "Anyone willing to give up their seat will receive a refund"; or regarding gender — "Every homeowner must care for their own property."

If you aren't comfortable with any of the three options — singular masculine pronouns, joined masculine/feminine pronouns, or plural pronouns — just do what we do all the time in the news business: Write around it.

Friday, May 21, 2010


Have you ever received a rejection letter? If so, you know it stings, even when it makes clear that the publisher has not bothered to read a word of your writing. But how would you like to receive this letter a publisher sent to Zane Grey?

"You've wasted enough of our time with your junk. Why don't you go back to filling teeth? You can't write, you never could write, and you never will be able to write."


Pearl Zane Grey was indeed a dentist, having attended Ivy League Penn on a baseball scholarship.

He deserved that letter. His early writing was full of grammatical errors and stilted writing. He self-published his first novel. Harper's rejected four of his novels in a row. The publisher told him, "I do not see anything in this to convince me you can write either narrative or fiction."

But Grey had something — or rather someone — in his favor: his wife Dolly. She edited his work, correcting his errors, and gradually Grey's writing improved. Dolly also worked as his manager/agent.

As a young man, Grey read Owen Wister's "The Virginian," the inspiration for many a western writer. It became a template for his novels.

Eventually, he published 90 books, selling 40 million copies. He and Dolly split the proceeds 50/50. Film studios produced more than 100 films of his stories. He mostly wrote westerns, but he also penned books on hunting, fishing and baseball. He also wrote six children's books. His best-known and best-selling book was Riders of the Purple Sage.

Grey never achieved critical acclaim but enjoyed considerable commercial success. And Harper's, the publisher that had rejected all his early works, eventually became Grey's publisher, making millions off his work.

Zane Grey is a case study in perseverance.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Gurley Martin

In this week's KET debate among the four Republican candidates for U.S. Senate, viewers were introduced to 86-year-old candidate Gurley Martin, a World War II veteran and birther who posted his own birth certificate on his campaign website. Martin is a conspiracist who says every president since 1928 except Ronald Reagan moved the country toward one-world government. And he says Barack Obama is not a legal American citizen.

Martin made the most unexpected and weirdly memorable statement of the one-hour debate when he waxed nostalgic over public executions when asked if he supported the death penalty:

"The death penalty is a learning tool. When I was less than 5 years old I witnessed the legal hanging of a white man for the rape of a white woman on the courthouse square in Ohio County. People came from everywhere, and the crime wave went down immediately."

While the positions of the leading candidates in modern elections are so carefully crafted that you can hardly distinguish one from another, the fringe candidates are the ones who provide the spice on the campaign trail.

And I'll give this to Martin — he speaks in complete sentences. That's rare among politicians.

Friday, April 30, 2010

This is Kentucky and this is Kentucky Derby weekend and this is a newspaper, or at least an online version of a newspaper, so it's appropriate to recognize — celebrate is too strong a word — the 40th birthday of gonzo journalism. The late Hunter S. Thompson, a Louisville native credited with birthing gonzo, created the new style of journalism at the 1970 Kentucky Derby, with a story entitled "The Kentucky Derby is Decadent and Depraved." Thompson covered the event for a British sports magazine accompanied by the illustrator Ralph Steadman, whose drawings combined whimsy and vulgarity with only incidental connection to reality, much the same as Thompson's writing.

Gonzo journalism blends fact and fantasy, and it places the writer's experience at the center of the story. The modifiers he applied to the spectacle of the derby, then, necessarily applied to himself as well.

He wrote: "It's a fantastic scene — thousands of people fainting, crying, copulating, trampling each other and fighting with broken whiskey bottles." Not quite wide brim hats and mint juleps.

Gonzo journalism is an oxymoron. Though entertaining and readable, gonzo violates the inviolable rules of journalism: A journalist must report facts, leaving out his own opinions, and he must remain outside the story as a detached observer. In gonzo, facts are optional. And the writer is the subject and star of the story. It is the ultimate expression of narcissism.

Some might argue that the act of suicide is the ultimate expression of narcissism. If so, Thompson had that covered too. He shot himself in the head in 2005, four decades after a trip to Ketchum, Idaho, to investigate the reasons behind Ernest Hemingway's suicide for a magazine piece Thompson was writing.

Thompson's suicide note, entitled "Football Season Is Over," read:
"No More Games. No More Bombs. No More Walking. No More Fun. No More Swimming. 67. That is 17 years past 50. 17 more than I needed or wanted. Boring. I am always bitchy. No Fun — for anybody. 67. You are getting Greedy. Act your old age. Relax — This won't hurt."

Still putting himself at the center of the story.

Thompson's best known work was "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas." Although never a household name, he had a devoted following that included many Hollywood stars, as well as the cartoonist Garry Trudeau, creator of Doonesbury, who patterned his character Uncle Duke after Thompson. As Trudeau's tribute to the writer following his death, a Doonesbury strip shows Duke learning of Thompson's death after which his own head explodes.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

MSNBC blooper

A headline destined for Leno appeared on the screen yesterday at MSNBC:

Sounds like Yogi Berra has found a new gig writing news.

Friday, April 16, 2010

More AP goofs

Spot the errors in this AP story (two punctuation errors, two capitalization errors and one failure of an ill-informed reporter to recognize irony):

Tony Kueber's signs reflected the anger of the Kentucky Tea Party, where he sold banners Thursday bearing slogans such as "Taxed Enough Already" and "Second American Revolution."
"The Constitution," Kueber said. "It's not a difficult document. Anybody can read it."
That sentiment wove it's way through the second annual anti-tax day rally in downtown Louisville. Around 500 people gathered on a warm, sunny day to protest against the size of government, the tax code, the Democratic Party and President Barack Obama.
Interspersed throughout the crowd were nearly a dozen political candidates, including Republican U.S. Senate hopeful Rand Paul and GOP candidates for Louisville mayor and congress, seeking votes to join or lead the branches of government they spent more than two hours criticizing.
"I'm clinging to my guns, my religion and my ammunition," Paul said. Later, speaking to reporters, Paul said he was just using political rhetoric, not trying to incite anyone to violence.

Answer to the last spot-the-error challenge:

The photo cutline reade: Odong Obong, barely 3 days old, is tended to by his mother as he lays under a mosquito net in a hospital ward in Akobo, Southern Sudan, on Thursday.

Error: "lays" should be "lies"

Friday, April 9, 2010

Military wisdom

Spot the error from an AP cutline:

Odong Obong, barely 3 days old, is tended to by his mother as he lays under a mosquito net in a hospital ward in Akobo, Southern Sudan, on Thursday.

And here are select military quotes, with plenty of civilian applications, from reader Jack in a forwarded e-mail:

"If the enemy is in range, so are you." — Infantry Journal

"It is generally inadvisable to eject directly over the area you just bombed." — U.S. Air Force Manual

"Tracers work both ways." — U.S. Army Ordnance Manual

"Any ship can be a minesweeper. Once." — Maritime Ops Manual

"Never tell the platoon sergeant you have nothing to do." — unknown Marine recruit

"If you see a bomb technician running, try to keep up with him." — USAF Ammo Troop

"When one engine fails on a twin-engine airplane, you always have enough power left to get you to the scene of the crash." — Multi-Engine Training Manual

"What is the similarity between air traffic controllers and pilots? If a pilot screws up, the pilot dies; but If ATC screws up ... the pilot dies." — Sign over control tower door

Friday, April 2, 2010

Errors revealed

In case my reader ever comes back and can't figure out the answer to the most recent spot-the-error quiz, here it is.

1. After two tumultuous seasons under Billy Gillespie, Wall and Calipari led Kentucky to its 44th regular-season SEC championship, 26th conference tournament title and a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament.
Error: Placing "Wall and Calipari" after the prepositional phrase "After ... Gillespie." John Wall didn't play under Billy Gillespie, and John Calipari didn't coach under Gillespie. They both came after Gillespie left. The phrase refers to Kentucky, so Kentucky must follow the comma.
The sentence should have read: After two tumultuous seasons under Billy Gillespie, Kentucky won its ... tournament under Calipari and behind Wall (or: ... behind Wall's leadership).

2. Asked if the issue was dead this legislative session, Thayer said, "That remains to be seen."
If the issue's status is uncertain, it cannot be dead. The answer must be no.
By the way, add "remains to be seen" to your list of evil phrases that must never be used. It is meaningless, as it applies to everything in the future.

Other evil phrases to avoid:
"The day started out like any other."
"with interest" as in "I read, with interest, the story ..."
"We'll have to see what happens."
"at this time"

What evil phrases are on your list?

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Jock talk

In honor of the NCAA tournament, here are some more great quotes from athletes and coaches.

Irish football (soccer) player and coach Johnny Giles:
"I'd rather play in front of a full house than an empty crowd."
So make sure you enjoy a pint before the match.

Dick Butkus:
I wouldn't ever set out to hurt anyone deliberately unless it was, you know important — like a league game or something."
As in National Football League?

Joe Theismann
"Nobody in football should be called a genius. A genius is a guy like Norman Einstein."
Case in point.

Terry Bradshaw
"I may be dumb, but I'm not stupid."
Case in point II.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Spot the AP error

What's wrong in these two paragraphs from AP stories?

1. After two tumultuous seasons under Billy Gillespie, Wall and Calipari led Kentucky to its 44th regular-season SEC championship, 26th conference tournament title and a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament.

2. Asked if the issue was dead this legislative session, Thayer said, "That remains to be seen."

More on the Oxford comma

Would it help in this statement from the Lady Vols player who scored the winning basket?
"I'd like to thank my parents, Coach Summit and God."
Well, with those bloodlines, no wonder she's so talented.

Some Stylebooks, AP included, call for eliminating the Oxford comma in most cases but make an exception when "an integral element of the series requires a conjunction." The AP example:
"I had orange juice, toast, and ham and eggs for breakfast."
I don't think the writer of this entry spent a lot of time thinking up the example. Why is the first conjunction — between "toast" and "ham" needed? Ham and eggs are still two different items, aren't they?

Friday, March 12, 2010

Punctuation saves lives

Some of my Facebook friends recently pointed out a Facebook group entitled:

"'Let's eat Grandma!' or 'Let's eat, Grandma!' Punctuation saves lives!"

The page contains amusing examples of mangled English and unintended messages, as well as discussions on usage. One discussion is on the Oxford comma.

An Oxford comma is the comma before the conjunction in a series. In the following sentence, the Oxford comma is immediately after the word "barbecue":

He bought corn-dogs, barbecue, and cotton candy at the fair.

Newspapers that use the Associated Press Stylebook eliminate the Oxford comma, deeming it unnecessary. The purpose is conserving space — all those commas add up, you know.

But leaving it out can have unintended consequences. An example from the Facebook discussion, sourced to a Peter Ustinov documentary:

"Highlights of his global tour include encounters with Nelson Mandela, an 800-year-old demigod and a dildo collector."

Either that describes a most eclectic tour or it reveals things I never would have suspected about Nelson Mandela.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Andy Griffith


A popular entertainment Web site reported that the actor Andy Griffith was "indicted into the Gospel Country Music Hall of Fame."
Maybe you can spot at least two reasons why that is not true.

Griffith is well known for his TV roles as Sheriff Andy Taylor on the Andy Griffith Show and as the attorney Ben Matlock on the TV drama Matlock. He is also known for his movie roles and even his gospel albums. But his big break into show business didn't come from his singing or acting. Rather, it was a comedy monologue he recorded in 1953 entitled "What it Was, Was Football."

In the monologue he takes the part of a country preacher who accidentally finds himself at a football game. Having never seen the game before, he describes what he sees. A portion:

"And what I seen was this whole raft a people a-settin’ on these
two banks and a-lookin’ at one another acrosst this purty little
green cow pasture! Well, they was! And somebody had took
and drawed white lines all over it and drove posts in it and
I don’t know what all! And I looked down there and I seen
five or six convicts a-runnin’ up and down and a-blowin’ whistles!"

The album sold more than 800,000 copies.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Best selling authors

And now, the answers you've been waiting for:

Excluding Shakespeare, who was the best selling author of all time?
Answer: Agatha Christie, whose 85 books sold between 2 billion and 4 billion copies, which is actually about the same as Shakespeare despite the slightly more compressed sales window.

Who was the best selling author in the English language?
The same two: Shakespeare and Christie, followed by Dame Mary Barbara Hamilton Cartland, another Brit, whose books sold between 500 million and 1 billion copies.

The fourth best selling author of all time is also the answer to the next question:
Who was the best selling American author?
Harold Robbins, with an estimated 750 million copies.

Who is the best selling living author?
Another American — Danielle Steel, whose actual name is Danielle Fernande Dominique Schuelein-Stell, with 580 million copies sold and going strong.

Who is the best selling children's author?
If you guessed J.K.Rowling, you might be right. Or not. She is the best-selling living children's author with an estimated 400 million copies sold. But the 60 books of Theodor Suess Geisel, or Dr. Suess, have sold as many as 500 million copies. Geisel, by the way, also edited humor magazines, wrote humor articles for leading magazines and drew editorial cartoons during World War II.

Precise numbers of books sold are not public information, and book publishers are notoriously protective of those numbers. These rankings are based on a compilation from Wikipedia, which used estimates from multiple sources.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Prolific writers

I started reading Bernard Cornwell's "Agincourt" recently and noticed in the flyleaf that he has written more than 50 books, historical novels. Cornwell is best known for his Sharpe books, which were adapted for the British film series Sharpe's Rifles starring Sean Bean.

That got me wondering, who is the most prolific author in the world? I knew Isaac Isamov had written 100 books. Was that the most? Turns out Isamov wrote many more than that. Depending on the source, he wrote as many as 500 (most sources credit him with writing or editing 500, with the actual number authored perhaps half the total). But whatever the actual number, Asimov was surely the record-holder, right?


The prize goes to the South African author Mary Faulkner, according to Faulkner wrote a mind-boggling 904 novels under six pen names.

Second place, at 850 books, was also a woman, Lauran Paine. The most prolific American author, Paine wrote Western novels under 14 pen names, all male — except perhaps the gender-neutral J.F. Drexler and J.K. Lucas. Born in 1916, Paine holds the distinction as most prolific living author.

Another source credits English romance novelist Dame Mary Barabara Hamilton Cartland with "an estimated" 723 books. credits her with 280+ books.

But continuing with the list:
Third: American dime novelist Prentiss Ingraham — 600+.

Fourth: Polish writer Jozef Ignacy Kraszewski — 600+.
Fifth: English children's book author Enid Mary Blyton — 600.

British authors dominate the top-20 list, but American children's book author Howard Roger Garis comes in at 10th, with 500+ books.

Later we'll look at the list of best selling authors. Care to venture a guess at the following?

Excluding Shakespeare, who was the best selling author of all time?
Who was the best selling author in the English language?
Who was the best selling American author?
Who is the best selling living author?
Who is the best selling children's author?

Friday, January 29, 2010

J.D. Salinger

We're not supposed to speak ill of the dead, so I'll just say I'm thankful I managed to escape any English teacher intent on inflicting Catcher on the Rye on her students. But there's no denying the impact of J.D. Salinger's semi-autobiographical novel, which has sold 60 million copies, on the American consciousness in the first two decades after its publication. Publishers expect a surge in new sales after his death Wednesday at 91.

Soon after the novel was published in 1951, Salinger went into seclusion, where he remained the rest of his life. He never published another novel, although he did publish a collection of short stories.

Catcher was hailed for its authenticity, spawning many imitations. It is anything but. The novel is thick with the pretentious tone that marked too many novels of the mid 20th century.

You can decide for yourself. Here are some popular quotes from Catcher (note the frequent use of the first person pronoun — 20 times in 10 quotes):

"I'm sick of just liking people. I wish to God I could meet somebody I could respect."

"Grand. There's a word I really hate. It's a phony. I could puke every time I hear it."

“It was a very stupid thing to do, I'll admit, but I hardly didn't even know I was doing it.”

“I'm quite illiterate, but I read a lot.”

“I am a kind of paranoiac in reverse. I suspect people of plotting to make me happy.”

“I'm sick of not having the courage to be an absolute nobody.”

“I don't exactly know what I mean by that, but I mean it.”

“I'm just going through a phase right now. Everybody goes through phases and all, don't they?”

Friday, January 22, 2010


Am I the only person in America who doesn't care who is the Tonight Show host? How does the breathless drama of Leno's and Conan's respective time slots get so much press day after day? With Haiti and the Massachusetts election and so many other real news events, how does this keep getting headlines? Many Facebook friends are weighing in as if it matters. I don't get it.

But speaking of headlines, I confess to being a fan of Leno's weekly feature with that title. Here are a few favorites, forwarded by a reader, followed by my comments (I can't vouch for their authenticity — the headlines, I mean, not the comments):

Something Went Wrong in Jet Crash, Expert Says (that's why they get the big bucks)

Miners Refuse to Work after Death (fine, then they won't get paid)

Juvenile Court to Try Shooting Defendant (you'll never know until you try it)

War Dims Hope for Peace (and that headline dims hope for journalism's future)

Cold Wave Linked to Temperatures (ah, that explains it)

Red Tape Holds Up New Bridges (paid for with stimulus cash?)

Kids Make Nutritious Snacks (they taste like chicken)

Local High School Dropouts Cut in Half (now that's an effective stay-in-school program)

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

No toaster

The Poe toaster was a no-show.

Since 1949, a mysterious visitor in a dark cloak has left three roses and a half-empty bottle of cognac at the Maryland grave of Edgar Allen Poe on the author's birthday, Jan. 19. A group of Poe fans gathered this year, as they do every year, to read selections from Poe's works while awaiting the mysterious visitor, who has never been identified. It is not known whether the toaster is the same person every year.

The tradition started in 1949, marking the centennial of Poe's death in 1849, and it lasted until last year, the bicentennial of Poe's birth in 1809.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Writers' resolutions

Here are some writer's resolutions I invite you adopt for the no-longer brand new year:

1. Write. Daily. Schedule it. Two hours is better than one because it takes a while to get into the flow, but one hour is better than none.
2. Read. Good writing will inspire you, but even bad writing has a place — it leaves you thinking, I can write better than this. The ordinariness of most any published work can take the mystique out of writing. That's a good thing if that mystique is an obstacle to getting started.
3. Turn off the TV. It robs creative energy.
4. Walk. A brisk walk outdoors stirs creative energy.
5. Nap. Especially if you stall out. Your thinking will be clearer after a brief rest.
6. Start. Don't let a late start turn into a don't start. Yeah, so it's already halfway through January — so what?