Nobody reads a reference book to be amused, much less charmed. Useful though they are, the vast majority of dictionaries and encyclopedias are poker-faced pieces of work that stick to the facts and present them as soberly—and unstylishly—as possible. One of the reasons why this is so is that such books tend to be written not by individuals but by panels of experts. Try to imagine a joke written by a committee and you’ll get the idea.

Fortunately, there are a handful of shining exceptions to this drab rule, the gaudiest of which is H.L. Mencken’s New Dictionary of Quotations on Historical Principles From Ancient and Modern Sources, a million-word monster (the original manuscript weighed 35 pounds) that is celebrating its 70th birthday this summer [2012]. The “New Dictionary” was a byproduct of its prolific editor’s fanatically industrious journalistic career. For years Mencken maintained a card file of quotations “that, for one reason or another, interested me and seemed worth remembering, but that, also for one reason or another, were not in the existing quotation-books.” In 1932 he decided to turn it into a book. When the “New Dictionary” finally saw print a decade later, Time praised it as “one of the rare books that deserve the well-worn phrase ‘Here at last.'”

Painstakingly organized and cross-referenced by subject, with each entry arranged in chronological order by date of original publication, the “New Dictionary” is formidably wide-ranging. Indeed, the only major writer missing from its index is Mencken himself. (“I thought it would be unseemly to quote myself,” he told a curious reporter. “I leave that to the intelligence of posterity.”) Its 1,347 pages abound with such innocent-sounding rubrics as “Civilization,” “Flag, American,” “Hell,” “Hypocrisy,” “Old and New” and “Science and Religion.” At first glance you might mistake it for a cornucopia of the world’s wisdom—but don’t let appearances fool you. The fathomlessly cynical Mencken wisely warned his readers in the preface that the “New Dictionary” was aimed at “readers whose general tastes and ideas approximate my own…. The Congressman hunting for platitudes to embellish his eulogy upon a fallen colleague will find relatively little to his purpose.” […]

For all its sly wit, H.L. Mencken’s “New Dictionary” is in point of fact a full-fledged reference book, one whose comprehensiveness and logical organization make it wonderfully easy to use. Would that it were still in print, but used copies are easy to find and worth acquiring. Rarely does a week go by that I don’t have occasion to consult the “New Dictionary,” frequently with amusement, usually with profit and invariably with gratitude to its maker, who may have been a cynic but who was also an amateur scholar of the highest seriousness—one with that rarest of scholarly attributes, a sense of humor.

(Via The Wall Street Journal; picture from

I would love for a new edition of this book or a viable ebook. Digital scanned copies can be checked out on The drawback is that the scan is dicey in spots. I picked up my dead tree edition off of eBay (or maybe Amazon) in slightly damaged condition originally sourced from the Rowan Public Library of Salisbury, North Carolina.

Charlie Parker (1950)

Bird is building a metropolis with his horn.
Here are the gates of Babylon, the walls of Jericho cast down.
Might die in Chicago, Kansas City’s where I was born.

Snowflake in a blizzard, purple rose before the thorn.
Stone by stone, note by note, atom by atom, noun by noun,
Bird is building a metropolis with his horn.

Uptown, downtown, following the river to its source,
Savoy, Three Deuces, Cotton Club, Lenox Lounge.
Might just die in Harlem, Kansas City’s where I was born.

Bird is an abacus of possibility, Bird is riding the horse
of habit and augmented sevenths. King without a crown,
Bird is building a metropolis with his horn.

Bred to the labor of it, built to claw an eye from the storm,
made for the lowdown, the countdown, the breakdown.
Might die in Los Angeles, Kansas City’s where I was born.

Bridge by bridge, solo by solo, set by set, chord by chord,
woodshed to penthouse, blue to black to brown,
Charlie Parker is building a metropolis with his horn.
Might just die in Birdland, Kansas City’s where I was born.

by Campbell McGrath
from Poem Hunter

(Via 3 Quarks Daily)

If you need an intro, check out this collection from the David W. Niven Collection of Early Jazz Legends hosted on

Note: I meant to send this yesterday but forgot to publish.

[…] See them at the top play much of the material from Remain in Light, as well as from previous album Fear of Music (released 40 years ago today), where the experiments with African rhythms began, at the Capitol Theatre in New Jersey in 1980, with an expanded lineup including King Crimson’s Adrian Belew. The experimental guitarist is in incredible form throughout the show, as is the entire band. Byrne was clearly enamored with Kuti’s original musical vocabulary. “The whole concept was different,” he tells Babcock, “the grooves were so great. The grooves are intense, trance-inducing,” and themselves the product of generous borrowing. Fela drew from the music of James Brown, John Coltrane, and Miles Davis, from the Black Power movement, fusion, and psychedelic rock.

Talking Heads brought those transformed borrowings back to the U.S. and transformed them again into the kind of music only these musicians could make, born of deep appreciation and study, skill, and the willingness to freely expand their own idiom while still retaining their distinctive voices.

(Via Open Culture)

Easily my favorite Talking Heads album. And I’ve enjoyed it covered live by Beninese singer Angelique Kidjo.

How to Use a Thesaurus Correctly, According to Martin Amis:

Martin Amis uses a thesaurus. The British novelist and critic is known as kind of a snob, and the thesaurus is known as a dangerous tool abused by amateur writers trying to sound smart, but as you’ve probably guessed, Amis uses his thesaurus very differently than a college freshman. In the Big Think video […] (via Open Culture), he describes a better way to use a thesaurus. […]

Amis uses a thesaurus to match the style and rhythm of his words. He might find his current word too long or short for the sentence it’s in. Or he might want to avoid an awkward rhyme or alliteration. He points to Vladimir Nabokov, who changed the English title of his novel Invitation to an Execution to Invitation to a Beheading. Say both out loud and you’ll hear the improvement.

He also double-checks his word use by looking up words in the dictionary—not necessarily to check their definitions, but to check their etymology. For example, he says, the lapid in dilapidated comes from the Latin word for stone, so while he might refer to a dilapidated house, he wouldn’t refer to a dilapidated hedge.

You don’t have to be as careful as Amis with your word choice.

(Via Lifehacker: picture Mark Miller)

You should be as careful as Amis. I try to be:

if you truly want to write better, pay more attention to the rhythm of your words, and study their usage and etymology. Your thesaurus and dictionary are one right-click away—use them well.

Check out my Tools page for a listing of mostly free resources for writing, presentation tools, and tips.

50 Must-Read Fantasy Books by Women | Book Riot:

What’s better than a truly transportive fantasy? The best fantasy stories keep you spellbound by intricate world-building, unforgettable characters, and riveting storylines. In the following list of 50 must-read fantasy books by women, you’ll find a range of sub-genres represented, from portal fantasy to epic fantasy and everything in between. Featuring middle grade, YA, and adult novels, these unmissable fantasy books by women authors reflect the diversity of the genre—and its endlessly magical opportunities.

(via Book Riot)

I like Rob Beschizza’s note on Boing Boing:

First pick is All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders, which I’ve been looking forward to since Cory’s stellar review here at BB. Then I’m checking out Tomi Adayemi’s Children of Blood and Bone, recommended to me by none other than ██████████.

I’ve read about 10% of the books. Time to dive in!

I’m a huge Courtney Barnett fan (Thanks, TBTL!) but didn’t know she’s in country! I wonder if I can get tickets to show without doing the whole event.

Courtney Barnett: “I explored a lot of my vulnerabilities”:

Though it was once a source of fun and connection, social media can increasingly leave many of us envious of our glamorous friends, and antsy about “Keeping Up with the Joneses” in our own posts. However, for an artists who so effectively captures angst and melancholy on songs like “Crippling Self Doubt And A General Lack Of Self-Confidence,” Australian rocker Courtney Barnett has a surprisingly upbeat take on the way that we’re all glued to our phones in this Insta-age.

Ahead of her performance at Fuji Rock, she tells us about her healthy approach to social media, her inspirations and muses and reveals her surprisingly eclectic tastes in music. […]

(Via Tokyo Weekender; photo by Pooneh Ghana)

As always, read the whole article for the sadly brief interview.

I like Courtney Barnett’s music partially because, while self-depricating, it is rarely whiny or ‘woe-is-me’. The other part of why I like her music is because it’s fun.

p.s. – this post is also a test of some website changes with social network auto-posting and IndieWeb integration.

Using baseball terms to describe cricket is frowned upon. England hit the ball past the New Zealand “pitcher” into the “outfield”. I said, “That’s good for a base hit” and received icy stares. I think the score is 111-4. I’m not sure who’s wining or why. But there’s obviously no mercy rule.

Also, there’s a person who calls himself Pitbull and he does something … musical(?). Who knew, other than InfoSecSherpa?



Via Instagram (thanks, Marcia)

(Via Follow Me Here…)

Against stupidity the gods themselves fight in vain.

(J.C.F. Schiller: Die Jungfrau von Orleans, III, 1801)

Gods, various and sundry, never elevated the stupid to the levels man has. Save me from the social influencer whose fame is fame and whose vision is no further than the end of their nose.

What we opprobriously call stupidity, though not an enlivening quality in common society, is nature’s favorite resource for preserving steadiness of conduct and consistency of opinion.

(Walter Bagehot: Letters to the London Inquirer, 1851)

The wisdom of the crowd, in so far as celebrity goes, is a push toward mediocrity: Is the act at the top of the music charts actually good? Or do they succeed at a general level but are more popular via marketing and social media and presence?

The drawback to the pub’s musical mix (I assume it’s via one of the streaming services) is that I’m occasionally subjected to Steely Dan, The Grateful Dead, and other classic rock bands I can typically do without (GD’s Touch of Gray being a notable exception). As always, follow your own joy and enjoyment.

If you are a Steely Dan, the band, fan, you may want to stop here.

If you’re a William H. Burrows fan or really like Naked Lunch, this does not go there. I like the author and the book, and kind of enjoyed the movie. Maybe someday I will write about them. This is not that day.

Continue reading

I’m loving most of the mix the pub is playing today. Two doses of The Band, a few other lighter bits, and the afore mentioned Genesis song was good fun.

Now, Epitaph from King Crimson is on the speakers. This may well be one of the first times I’ve heard this in the wild, but even if I have it does not diminish my enjoyment.