A mystery: 16: and solved

A turn of phrase that has stayed with me over the years, from James Thurber, “The Topaz Cufflinks Mystery,” (23 July 1932):

“What I lost?” The man squinted, unhappily. “Some—some cufflinks; topazes set in gold.” He hesitated: the cop didn’t seem to believe him. “They were the color of a fine Moselle,” said the man.

And here’s why: Thurber borrowed the bit of jewelry (“topazes, winy-yellow, lightly set in crinkly gold”) from Willa Cather, My Mortal Enemy (1926), part I, chapter 4:

[Aunt Lydia] said resolutely: “Myra, I want to give Oswald a Christmas present. Once an old friend left with me some cufflinks he couldn’t keep…. I brought them for Oswald. I’d rather he would have them than anybody.”

… Mrs. Henshawe was delighted. “How clever of you to think of it, Liddy dear! Yes, they’re exactly right for him. There’s hardly any other stone I would like, but these are exactly right. Look, Oswald, they’re the colour of a fine Moselle.”

A mystery: 14

Rudyard Kipling, it would seem, believes that “rub-a-dub” refers to a way of ringing a bell. Dan and Harvey are trawling in a small dory, when heavy weather blows up unexpectedly:

“Take a-holt here, an’ keep ringin’ steady,” said Dan, passing Harvey the lanyard of a bell that hung just behind the windlass.

Harvey rang lustily, for he felt two lives depended on him….

“Clang! cling! clang” Harvey kept it up, varied with occasional rub-a-dubs, for another half-hour.

Captains Courageous, chap. III

However, my researches have turned up only the nursery rhyme, which comes dripping with the usual smarmy gossipy backstory from the 14th century.

Now, a close reading might suggest a sniggering joke on Kipling’s part (and indeed, he uses the word “tub” several times in the passage, referring to containers of trawling gear), but I am not sufficiently familiar with his work to infer whether he is capable of slipping one in, as it were.

A mystery: 13

Our American Cousin, by Tom Taylor, Act II, Scene 2:

Enter, from R. 2 E., SIR E., MRS. M., … two servants in livery, carrying tray and glasses, a wine basket containing four bottles to represent champagne, knife to cut strings, some powerful acid in one bottle for ASA—pop sure. (p. 31, Samuel French ed.)

What in Fox’s name is meant by pop sure? And, unless I missed something, that bottle of acid is never used.

DeLillo decoded

If ever there was a book that needed an explanatory wiki, it’s Ratner’s Star (1976):

He was watching her bend the edges of a paper plate someone had left on the table. Again and again she folded the plate so that a different point on the circumference of the circle touched the same ketchup speck every time, a small stain located well off-center. She kept studying the resulting creases. (p. 53)

The creases form an ellipse, as Dr. Math explains.

Ka-chunk

Languagehat takes on the naval neologism geedunk. My post to the comment thread:

I had a colleague who was in the Navy in the 1990s; he was stationed, among other places, on Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean. He taught me “gee-dunk” (pronounced as a spondee) as a word for a break room, a place with a coffee machine, a table or two, and a couple of vending machines. Not at all the ice cream parlor of swankier years. His etymology, or perhaps the etymology that was handed down to him, was that “gee-dunk” was the sound of working the vending machine: the sound of pulling and releasing the knob, and the ka-chunk sound of the sweet and salty treat falling to the bottom tray.

A mystery: 10

I found some near misses online, but nothing in my unabridgeds to give a clear definition of crongle from this passage:

Hens cluck, croon, and crongle in their enclosure.

—David Mitchell, The Bone Clocks (2014), p. 594



The closest match describes a person with an ample beard sufficient to shelter small animals.

Alice blue

I was consolidating some old files of clippings and I found this gift from 1990 David: a copy of Nicholson Baker’s story, “Room Temperature.”

And yet I had always envied normal households that had (besides aluminum screen doors whose hissing pistons could be locked into the open position by moving a little ring) doorstops wedged permanently into place under the open swinging kitchen door.

GO CAPS

TIL the New York Times does not have a rule in its style manual concerning capitalization of the titles of artistic works set in lower case by their creators.

It does call for following American capitalization rules for the titles of foreign-language works (“Così Fan Tutte,” not “Così fan tutte”); urges avoiding “fanciful” punctuation in company names (“Yahoo,” not “Yahoo!”); and calls for capitalizing only the first letter of acronyms that exceed four letters (“Unicef,” not “UNICEF”).

Spark decoded

“Guy’s account,” said Henry, “is substantially the same as the others, with the most interesting exception that he gets Tol calls from London at between six and seven in the evening when the cheap rate is on. In his opinion the offender is a schoolboy.”

—Muriel Spark, Memento Mori (1958), chap. 11

 

A slip? Tol for toll? But here it is again:

“Nonsense,” said Dame Lettie. “A middle-aged man.”

“It is simple,” said Henry, “to trace a Tol call from London to the country. And yet the police have not traced any caller to Guy Leet at Stedrost.”

And indeed, Tol was a shorthand for placing a metered call within the London exchange:

Previously, making a trunk call involved what was known as ‘delay working’ where a subscriber booked long distance calls in advance and was later rung back by the operator when one of the trunk lines became available. Obviously, the greater the demand made on the exchange, the longer the wait. Under the new ‘Toll’ system subscribers were now able to ask the local operator for ‘Tol’ for calls to exchanges within the London Toll Area. They were then connected to the Toll operator who completed the call while the subscriber remained at the telephone. Later, as more automatic exchanges were introduced, the subscriber simply had to dial ‘TOL’ to be connected to the Toll operator.

Dialing TOL was a service like dialing TIM for the time, as fans of Tom Stoppard’s If You’ll Be Glad I’ll Be Frank know. Or dialing UMP to get cricket scores?!

Leonard decoded

This one isn’t too obscure, but Leonard’s rendering of the company name is idiosyncratic:

“You cut the wire,” Donnell said.

“Is that all?” Chris brought out the Spyder-Co knife that was always in his right-hand coat pocket. “Here, you do it.”

—Elmore Leonard, Freaky Deaky, p. 219

 

Chris handles his Spyderco knife at least two other times in the course of the book. The company is still in business. I don’t know whether its cult following was stronger in the last 80s, when this book appeared, or now. I suspect that Chris carries a Leatherman tool now.