A mystery: 19

This is from a Charles Mallison chapter of The Mansion. Page number is from the Library of America edition.

That was last spring, in June when he [Gavin Stevens] and Mother (they had lost Father at Saratoga though he had promised to reach Cambridge in time for the actual vows) came up to see me graduate in Ack. and I said, “What? No wedding bells yet?” and he said:

“Not mine anyway:” and I said:

“How are the voice lessons coming? Come on,” I said, “I’m a big boy now; I’m a Harvard A.M. too even if I wont have Heidelberg.” (chap. 9, p. 517)

The context and the capitalization hints that Ack. is a building on the Harvard campus, but I can find no appropriate edifice on today’s maps. Rather, I suspect that it is part of the ceremony of conferring Chick’s law degree. There is the legal practice of acknowledgement in the sense of making a declaration. Perhaps Charles must make a vow to become a (good?) lawyer?

Perhaps one of my lawyer friends can help me out.

Also, that stray colon at the end of Gavin’s “Not mine anyway:” bothers me.

Faulkner decoded: 3

Two unusual usages in The Mansion, as far as I can tell. Page numbers are from the Library of America edition.

So they would reach that side by side anyway—the vast dim home-made columned loom of her father’s dream, nightmare, monstrous hope or terrified placatement, whichever it was, whatever it had been… (chap. 15, p. 652)

It’s clear from context that placatement is a near-synonym for placation, but an entry for placatement does not appear in my dictionaries.

And:

He didn’t know why; he could not have said that, having had to do without privacy for thirty-eight years, he now wanted, intended to savor, every minuscule of it which freedom entitled him to… (chap. 17, p. 692)

Minuscule is certainly a legitimate noun, in the senses of “script” or “small letter.” But William Faulkner’s use of it to mean a tiny portion is perhaps unique, and quite tasty therefore.

Hapax legomena

Priceless coinage, the opening lines of “How now, sirrah? Oh, anyhow:”

Oh, sometimes I sit around and think, what would you do if you were up a dark alley and there was Caesar Borgia,
And he was coming torgia,
And brandished a poisoned poniard,
And looked at you like an angry fox looking at the plumpest rooster in a boniard?

—Ogden Nash

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.