Monday, February 29, 2016

Hoist the Wenches!

The Houston Chronicle reported last week that a new sculpture depicting bird migration that is being installed at the George R. Brown Convention Center could be moved by an elaborate system of wenches. The story did not specify how many wenches were involved or how they came to be employed for this unusual purpose. During times when there is no need to move the sculpture, I presume the wenches will be put to work at other tasks more suitable to their qualifications. I’m sure they’ll be especially busy when conventioneers are in town.

The same rapidly thinning newspaper also stated recently that an engineer was pouring over the plans for a new freeway system. With typical lack of detail, it did not specify what the engineer was pouring over the plans, or why. It could have been water, milk, beer, oil, Koolaid, or any one of hundreds of other liquids, for all I know. I do think responsible journalists should report the full story.

On a final note, it was not the Chronicle but the New York Times that reported that someone was advised to lay low. What was to be laid and how low it was to be laid were of no concern to the Times’ feckless correspondent. Details, good Old Gray Lady, please!

The Bard of Buffalo Bayou has plans for a system of wenches for his bedroom, where he could be laid as low and as often as he liked. Unfortunately, he poured Chardonnay over his plans and now they’re all wet. 

            There once was a wench from Missouri, 
            Who disposed of a guy in a fury. 
                        But she claimed self-defense 
                        To twelve upright gents 
           And charmed the pants off that jury!


Monday, February 22, 2016

You Gotta Believe!

Much has been said about the importance of religious evangelicals in the current Presidential nomination process, especially in the Republican three-ring circus. In their efforts to win these sanctified votes, some candidates have miraculously changed themselves from politicians trying to get elected into divinely inspired prophets leading the way to the Promised Land.

Despite pious invocations of the Almighty by Cruz, Rubio, and Carson, and, until they fell from electoral grace, by Huckabee, Jindal, Perry, and Santorum, evangelicals surprisingly are giving their strongest support to Donald Trump, whose ecclesiastical credentials are on the light side, to say the least. It is has been suggested that it is Trump’s frequent belligerent assaults on political correctness, which evangelicals associate with anti-Christian liberalism, that attracts them to him.

What, precisely, are these evangelicals whose votes are so highly sought?

The word evangelical derives from the Late Latin evangelicus, which came from the Greek evangelikos, both of which mean “relating to good news,” a reference to the Christian gospel. The Greek roots are eu-, meaning “good,” and angelos, meaning “messenger” (the same root as the English word angel).

The modern Christian evangelical movement traces its origins to the eighteenth century, especially in the teachings of English Methodists and German Moravians and Lutheran Pietists. It gained great momentum in the United States in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, in the religious revivals known as the “Great Awakenings.” Today Christians of an evangelical persuasion can be found in all denominations, though they are largely concentrated in Baptist, Methodist, Presbyterian, and Pentecostal congregations.

According to the National Association of Evangelicals, the hallmarks of evangelical belief are Conversionism (the need to be transformed by a “born again” experience), Activism (the spreading of the gospel by missionary work and social reform efforts), Biblicism (an acceptance of the Bible as the ultimate authority), and Crucicentrism (a stress on the sacrificial atonement of Jesus Christ on the cross as the only means by which human beings are saved).

Many evangelicals are also Fundamentalists, meaning that it is “fundamental” to their beliefs that the Bible is literally and unerringly true. Some are also Dispensationalists, who hold that the Bible teaches that human history is divided into periods (known as “dispensations”), each of which has a different divine plan. The typical Dispensational division of history is into seven periods, commencing with the innocence of Eden and culminating in the millennial reign of Christ.

Evangelicals tend to be highly conservative in social policy, although there is a branch of progessive evangelicals whose views are more moderate.     

The Bard of Buffalo Bayou finds these theological concepts very difficult to wrap is little brain around and prefers to the see the Presidential campaign in a different light.

            From seventeen (or was it more?)
            Republicans, it’s down to four,
            Who still remain (or is it five?)
            Hoping that their chances are alive.

            The Democrats began with five,
            Now only two of them survive.
            Though you may try, you can’t ignore
            A race with candidates galore.           

            And after all is said and done
            In nine more months, there’ll just be one.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Dead As A Ringer

There’s meme making the rounds that claims to provide etymologies for a number of common expressions, one of which is dead ringer. This specious missive would have us believe that the phrase originated in the sixteenth-century practice of burying the dead with a string tied to their wrists and attached to an outside bell. In the event someone had been mistakenly buried alive (which did occasionally happen), he or she could then pull the string and ring the bell summoning someone to open the grave. Such a person, though really alive, was facetiously known as a dead ringer (who was, of course, saved by the bell).
That’s a festive enough explanation, but it doesn’t appear to have a grain of truth in it. First of all, it has nothing to do with the meaning of dead ringer—which is “one who bears a strong resemblance to” someone else. 
A far more likely explanation stems from American horse-racing in the 1880s, when a horse fraudulently entered in a race under the name of a slower one became known as a ringer. This derived from an obsolete meaning of the verb ring, attested in 1812, “exchange or substitute.” 
A dead ringer is a perfect match for the original, with dead being used in the adverbial sense of “quite, precisely, or extremely,” as in dead drunk, dead heat, and dead center.
And saved by the bell is a nineteenth-century term derived from a boxer who was knocked down, but prevented from being counted out by the ringing of a bell ending the round.
Nonetheless, I’m going to ask for a string tied to my wrist when I’m buried.
There are no strings attached to the Bard of Buffalo Bayou, although there are some folks who would like to see him strung up. Read this litany of opposites that have oozed through his pores, and you’ll understand why:
            Dead ringer, live wire,
            Sharpshooter, flat tire,

            High hopes, low fat,
            Black gold, white hat,           
            Small talk, big top,
            Good book, bad cop,
            Left Bank, right brain,
            Day bed, night train,
            Fast food, slowpoke,
            Clean sweep, dirty joke,
            Dry run, wet dream,
            Sour grapes, sweet cream,
            Bottom line, top dog,
            Half note, whole hog,
            Soft soap, hard sell,
            Smart phone, dumbbell,
            On target, off base,
            Sad sack, Funny Face

            Hot dog, cold feet
            Cold cash, hot seat

            Fat cat, slim chance,
            Plain Jane, fancy pants,
            Stalemate, fresh air,
            Shortcut, long hair           
            Round table, square meal,
            Odd lot, even keel,
            Full house, empty nest,
            Base pay, acid test,
            In-group, outhouse,
            Country mile, city mouse,

            Late show, early bird,
            First aid, last word! 

Monday, February 8, 2016

Be My Valentine

This week, if you’re so inclined, you can celebrate St. Valentine’s Day. This saint’s feast day, February 14, is typically associated with courtly or romantic love, and people like to send little missives embellished with hearts, roses, and twittering birds to their beloved (or would-be beloved) ones. Chocolate, champagne, and a bit of concupiscence may also figure in the celebration of the day.

How old St. Valentine became associated with all this amatorial activity is something of a mystery. There are, in fact, about a dozen St. Valentines (or Valentinus, the Latin version of the name, which stems from valens, meaning “worthy, powerful”), but the one usually identified with the holiday was a third-century priest (maybe a bishop) who was martyred near Rome by Emperor Claudius III because he was annoyed that Valentine tried to convert him to Christianity.

During the fourteenth century in France, the custom of choosing a sweetheart on St. Valentine’s day sprang up, presumably because birds were thought to choose their mates around the middle of February. The earliest English reference to Valentine’s Day in the Oxford English Dictionary is in 1381 in Chaucer’s Parliament of Fowls:
“For this was on seynt Valentynes day
Whan euery bryd cometh there to chese his make.”

In Shakespeare’s Hamlet the crazed Ophelia sings:
“Tomorrow is Saint Valentine’s Day,
All in the morning betime,
And I a maid at your window
To be your Valentine.
Then up he rose, and donned his clothes,
And dupped the chamber door,
Let in the maid, that out a maid
Never departed more.”

The origin of the custom of sending a letter or a card to one’s sweetheart began in the early nineteenth century, and is first recorded in 1824.

In addition to being associated with lovers and happy marriages, St. Valentine is also the patron saint of beekeepers, epileptics, and plague-sufferers.

Speaking of plagues, the Bard of Buffalo Bayou must be heard from.

            Roses are red,
            Violets vermilion,
            This verse would rhyme
            If you were named Lillian.

Monday, February 1, 2016

Radio Days

Back in the days when radio announcers were stars, and I wasn’t yet even in my salad days, I used to sit in front of an old Philco for hours at a time listening to—and trying to emulate—such idols as Harlow Wilcox, Don Wilson, Bill Goodwin, Harry Von Zell, Ken Carpenter, Franklyn McCormack, Fred Foy, Wendell Niles, Ken Nordine, Dwight Weist, Glenn Riggs, Jimmy Wallington, André Baruch, and many others.

Any fluff in delivery, especially an error in pronunciation, struck terror into the heart of the poor soul who committed it. The networks had pronunciation tests that were administered to aspiring young announcers. The one at NBC began: “Penelope Cholmondely raised her azure eyes from the crabbed scenario and meandered in the congeries of her memoirs. There was Algernon, a choleric artificer of icons and triptychs, who wanted to write a trilogy…”

At New York’s radio station WQXR, the test opened with: “The old man with the flaccid face and dour expression grimaced when asked if he were conversant with zoology, mineralogy, and the culinary arts.”

Not to be outdone, I have devised my own test for aspiring announcers—not that there is much demand for professionals of that sort these days.But if you can wrap your tongue around this narrative, you qualify as the next mellifluous voice to announce: “NBC presents The Hour of Charm, with Phil Spitalny and his All-Girl Orchestra, featuring Evelyn and Her Magic Violin!” 

 In the halcyon days of internecine tergiversation, a      
  concupiscent chargé d’affaires at the Tanzanian consulate 
  had the onerous assignment of arranging assignations 
  amongst Zbigniew Brzezinski, Valery Giscard d’Estaing, 
  Deng Xiao Peng, Angela Merkel, and Dmitri Medvedev.

  “What a concatenation of blackguards,” expatiated this 
  amanuensis, who was a bona fide dilettante.  “It’s a 
  veritable farrago of inextricable idiosyncrasies.  They will 
  discuss laissez-faire, hypotenuses, synapses, kamikazes, 
  Clio, Melpomene, Mnemosyne, and other such viragoes, 
  before arriving, apocalyptically, at the dénouement. 
  priori, it is de rigueur that I not err, though embarrassed 
  and harassed vituperatively by such vagaries.”

  Grasping his shillelagh ribaldly, as though he were a 
  mischievous member of Sinn Fein, he peregrinated, 
  redolent with desuetude, to the environs of the soigné 
  maitre d’.

   “I speak not in synecdoche, hyperbole, hendiadys, litotes, 
  or even metonymy,” he descanted, “when I say the menu is 
  to be table d’hôteprix fixe.  We’ll start with a mélange of 
  exquisite hors-d’oeuvres such as paté de foie gras, abalone, 
  escargots, prosciutto, salmon mousse, macadamia and 
  pistachio nuts, followed by tournedos in béchamel sauce 
  with kohlrabi, broccoli rabe, and rapini; followed a mere  
  soupçon of Calvados, Cointreau or Chartreuse.”

  “Are you desirous of proffering homage to Escoffier,” asked 
  the supercilious garçon, “or merely of producing a satiety?”

  In this hiatus, the diplomatist, a quite pliant affiant, became 
  exquisitely quiescent and riant, in order to assuage the 
  boniface’s irascibility.

  “The artistes who will furnish vaudevillian divertissement,” 
  he specified, “will include a miscellany of eidolons of lauded 
  divas, primi ballerini assoluti, danseurs nobles, ingenues, 
  tragedians, and other virtuosi, of the magnitude of Amelita 
  Galli-Curci, Eleanora Duse, Ignacy Jan Paderewski, Eugène 
  Ysaÿe, Josef Szigeti, Jussi Björling, Eugène Goossens (fils), 
  Beniamino Gigli, Feodor Ivanovitch Chaliapin, Frances 
  Yeend, Olga Preobrajenska, Maya Pliesetskaya,  and Olga 

  “For the locale,” he continued in his inimitable fashion, 
  clandestinely flicking a gnat from a piece of gnocchi on his 
  grosgrain habiliment, “I am contemplating a granary in 
  Aberystwyth or Abergavenny or maybe Clywd (should we 
  wish to be in Cymru), or perhaps Cannes or Caen, or Ixtapa 
  or Oaxaca, or possibly even Mexia or Refugio.”

  “How about Gruene?”

  “No, too fin-de-siècle,” grimaced the porcine legate with 
  authoritative panache, concluding the desultory tête-à-tête.

The Bard of Buffalo Bayou can’t pronounce diddly-squat. Oh, well, who needs to say “diddly squat”?

            That announcer will drive me to mayhem,
            When he talks I feel I must slay him,
                       He says “lay,” but means “lie,”
                      And that’s good reason to die,
            And depart from both FM and AM.