I love words. I’m sick of words. I drown in words all day and get tripped up by pipsqueak patent examiners who insist what I wrote is not what I wrote. But I love wordplay. I am easily amused by articles like one in the latest issue of The Economist on the Big Mac index (July 30-Aug. 5, p. 70), which uses the average price of a Big Mac (or Maharaja Mac – chicken – in India) to test whether a country’s currency is overvalued or not. The article deftly incorporates relevant wordplay, slipping in terms like “being hard to swallow,” ” ‘raw’ data,” “the alternative recipe,” “the Brazilian real is still badly overcooked,” and of course “putting our money where our mouth is.” My husband and children are all very verbal and likewise appreciative of wordplay. My then-toddler daughter’s first three-word sentence was “Make Rozzie egg!” to which her father replied, “Poof! You’re an egg!” (their first comedy routine) Later, our then-toddler son played straight man when his father was reading to him about cows and their udders:
Daddy: …the cows’ udders
Alan: Udder whats?
(repeat cycle a few times)
And then there was the time my then about 7-year old son looked at my company ID that was inscribed, “If found, please drop in the nearest mail box” and laughed, “You’re too big to fit in a mail box!” They’re both grown now and still show great facility with language (mainly English, but Roz is trying hard in Vietnamese).
Anyhow, that’s an introduction to this week’s portion and new Book, both named “Devarim” (Words), which in my mind is more to the point than “Deuteronomy” which, according to the Online Etymology Dictionary, is from Gk. Deuteronomion, lit. “second law,” from deuteros “second” + nomos “law” and is a mistranslation of Heb. mishneh hattorah hazzoth “a copy of this law” [Deut. 17:18], and “the book is a repetition, with comments, of the Decalogue and most of the laws of Exodus.”
But it’s not simply that. It’s the valedictory of Moses. He spends pretty much the whole book talking to the Israelites. It’s his attempt to prepare them, this new generation, theologically, intellectually, and emotionally for their entry into, and life in, the Promised Land without him. He begins with what I used to think was a history lesson, starting with the command to leave Sinai, his implementation of a hierarchy of magistrates, the incident with the 12 spies and its disastrous result, and then he jumps to the most recent months and their military victories and the apportionment of the land. But, in David Hoffman’s view (cited by N. Leibowitz, Studies in Devarim) this is an interpretation of history as an object lesson: this is how your parents screwed up when they, like you, were on the verge of entering Canaan, so make sure you don’t screw up too and suffer their fate.
You may have noticed that for the last two weeks the haftarah has been linked to the upcoming “black” fast day of Tisha B’Av (9th day of the month of Av), which starts Monday night. [“black” fast = sad, versus the “white” fast of Yom Kippur = solemn). Actually, the haftarah will be chosen to match the calendar, rather than the weekly Torah portion, for the next couple of months, until the fall holidays are over. This week, on Shabbat Chazon (“Vision” – the first word of the book of Isaiah), we chant the final Haftarah of Rebuke, Isaiah 1:1-27, mainly with the melody used for the Book of Lamentations, which will be chanted on Tisha B’Av. Tisha B’Av commemorates the destruction of both Temples in Jerusalem and is connected with various other disasters. For more information, see http://ohr.edu/yhiy.php/holidays/tisha_bav/ . Or Wikipedia.
The Ultra-Condensed Classic Books (just a few examples)
Pride and Prejudice
By Jane Austen
Ultra-Condensed by Anu Lahtinen
Nothing is good enough for me.
Ms. Elizabeth Bennet
I could never marry that proud man.
(They change their minds.)
A Tale of Two Cities
By Charles Dickens
Ultra-Condensed by Liz Coppla
[By the way, the Ronald Colman movie version is on this evening on TCM.]
Places are switched,
Blades are twitched,
A Midsummer Night’s Dream
By William Shakespeare
Ultra-Condensed by David J. Parker and Samuel Stoddard
Hermia, Lysander, Demetrius, and Helena We’re all in love with each other the wrong way around.
(Everyone goes into the woods. They have wacky experiences, pair off correctly, and live happily ever after.)
The Great Gatsby
By F. Scott Fitzgerald
Ultra-Condensed by Annie Berke
Gatsby Daisy, I made all this money for you, because I love you.
Daisy I cannot reciprocate, because I represent the American Dream.
Gatsby Now I must die, because I also represent the American Dream.
Nick I hate New Yorkers.
The Style Invitational By the Empress
The Style Invitational is The Post’s weekly humor/wordplay contest, serving up since 1993 an irreverent mix of highbrow and lowbrow — haughty and potty — in genres ranging from neologisms to cartoon captions to elaborate song parodies. A new contest appears at washingtonpost.com/styleinvitational every Friday. [I have not entered any – yet. IGP]
Report from Week 923
in which we asked for new chemical terms: By far the most frequent submission was for “palinium”; we include two. Alas, the terms “honoring” presidential candidates are all for Republicans; there just weren’t any good Obama-themed entries.
The winner of the Inker:
Binladium: When combined with lead and immersed in water, it almost instantly disappears. (Christopher Lamora, Guatemala City)
2. Winner of the football made entirely of Bubble Wrap:
Platitudinum: A metal that becomes more dull each time it is used, yet somehow is never discarded. (Beth Baniszewski, Cambridge, Mass.)
3. Marionbarium: Highly reactive with alcohol and other substances. Difficult to purge from the system long after peak effectiveness. (Marcy Alvo, Annandale, Va.)
4. Madoffium: Catalyst capable of turning liquid substance, overnight, into absolutely nothin’. (Lawrence McGuire, Waldorf, Md.)
Byproducts & residue: Honorable mentions [selected]
Palinium: Its magnetic properties decrease by half every year, but never entirely dissipate. (Elden Carnahan, Laurel, Md.)
Palinium: A rigid, polarizing substance that appears to glow brightly when examined from the right side but appears to be a black hole when viewed from the left. (Bill Nilsen, Arlington, Va., a First Offender)
Greecium: A substance unable to stabilize because of its weak bonds. (Lawrence McGuire)
Tachygiftcardium: What symbiotic organisms give off in late December. (Ira Allen, Bethesda, Md.)
Newtium: Heavy element found often in Iowa and New Hampshire. Bonds frequently but not permanently. Attracted to precious metals and gems. Emits an inaudible buzz. (Russell Beland, Fairfax, Va.)
Abbottabadite: One explosive compound. (Mark Eckenwiler)
Weinerium: Volatile element that expands, flashes and then self-destructs. (Nancy M. Lawrence, Annandale, Va.)
Bachmannium: Similar to palinium in its dullness and abrasive properties but is lighter in weight despite being more dense. (Scott I. Berkenblit, Baltimore, a First Offender)
Sellulose: Superabsorbent substance that sucks value from whatever it touches; commonly used as home insulating material in the past decade. (Larry Gray, Union Bridge, Md., a First Offender)
Debtceilium: Toxic gas that expands to infinity unless contained. (Drew Bennett, West Plains, Mo.)
Cantonite: Causes headaches in married women. (Craig Dykstra, Centreville, Va.)
Penning the Perfect Pun
[Yes, I realize that some of you think “perfect pun” is an oxymoron. IGP]
Since the first man uttered the very first words from his lips, mankind has been using language to not only communicate, but to entertain, and few wordsmiths have been as brilliant at it than former Austin resident William Sydney Porter, better known throughout the literary world as O. Henry.
Few men could ever purse together a series of words with such dubious double meanings, or warp phrases with cunning into such whimsical machinations of comical disguise. All that on top of his ability to write outstanding short stories.
If you’ve never made it to the O Henry Museum’s Annual Pun-Off in Austin, then you’ve missed some great puns – like the ones listed below – and more. Have some fun with these! [selected]
Does the minister’s cow produce pastorized milk?
At an Optometrist’s Office: “If you don’t see what you’re looking for, you’ve come to the right place.”
In the front yard of a Funeral Home: “Drive carefully. We’ll wait.”
2.4 statute miles of intravenous surgical tubing at Yale University Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania [heh heh]
= 1 IV League.
Eyedropper: A clumsy ophthalmologist.
Match makers like to strike up a light conversation.
A vulture boards an airplane, carrying two dead raccoons. The
stewardess looks at him and says, “I’m sorry, sir, only one carrion
allowed per passenger.”
Show me a piano falling down a mineshaft and I’ll show you A-flat minor. [That one’s a favorite of my daughter. I heard it on an insurance radio commercial.]
Charles Dickens was despondent in a Paris bar, telling the bartender “It is the worst of times, for I am without an idea for a new work. Let me partake of a vodka martini,” to which the bartender responded “Olive or twist?”
Mahatma Gandhi, as you know, walked barefoot most of the time,
which produced an impressive set of calluses on his feet. He also ate
very little, which made him rather frail and with his odd diet, he
suffered from bad breath. This made him. (Oh, man, this is so bad, it’s
good. . .) A super calloused fragile mystic hexed by halitosis.