Tuesday, April 20, 2010

DFW By Way of j'og

Occasional Reader and Full-Time Punk Ass j'og (whose hip, legend has it, is amazing and who could really use a cup of capital letters if you have some to spare next time you swing by his blog) sent me this link to a Slate magazine article that is really little more than a complete list of words that David Foster Wallace had underlined in his copy of the American Heritage Dictionary. I can't say exactly why I find people who are fascinated with words fascinating, but, fascinatingly enough — or perhaps not fascinatingly at all — I do.

"Most words are hyperlinked to the American Heritage definition (available online via Yahoo). In a few cases, we couldn't find the definition on Yahoo, so we just left those words in bold."

j'og sent me this like 4 or 5 days ago, but I didn't write about it then because I've been endlessly intrigued by this list and have been going back to it off and on since I first got the link. And even though I've had all that time to think about the article, I really have nothing earth-shatteringly insightful to say about it. Thankfully, I figure no one comes here for earth-shattering insights; and if that is why you come here, I feel earth-shatteringly sad for you, for the lack of insight in this post will literally shatter your world!

Except, not literally. It just doesn't pack as big a wallop when you say: This will shatter your world! (Figuratively speaking.) No wonder people misuse the word "literally" so much. They literally do it all the time, figuratively speaking.

Anyroad ...

When my siblings and I were kids, we thought Teh 'Dad had read every single worthwhile book there was to read, especially after each of us got to college; because we'd come home all excited by some work of literature or philosophy we'd "discovered" ("Dad, this dude Plato is Teh awesome! Ever heard of him?") and we'd sadly realize, after jabbering about our latest literary crush for awhile, that Teh 'Dad knew more about this geezer than we ever would; and he was remembering all of what he knew from like 30 years previous, when he last read the author in question. Because Teh 'Dad had basically stopped reading by the time any of us came along — I guess after getting married, he just got more into making Catholic babies, which is Pleasing in the Eyes of Teh Baby Jebus. But he (Teh 'Dad, not SBJ) forgot nothing, seemingly, and as we discovered even later in life — by which point we had learned to challenge some of Teh 'Dad's more dubious assertions — if he did forget something, he'd just wing it. As kids, we believed him anyway because he sounded authoritative, but never authoritarian (there's a BIG difference (THAT'S WHAT SHE SAID WHILE MAKING CATHOLIC BABIES!)).

But for awhile there, he did read one thing: the dictionary.

When my sister Virginia — three years my elder — hit high school, one of her favorite pastimes was to sit in the living room with Teh 'Dad and test him on his knowledge of the definitions of words. She'd proffer these words I had never heard of and see how close Teh 'Dad could get to their true definitions. She almost never stumped him, even if Teh 'Dad had never heard the word before — his classical training stood him in good stead: He'd figure what the Greek or Latin root was and give a speculative definition. He answer was always in the ball park, at least; more often, it was spot-on.

And both Virginia and Teh 'Dad seemed to be genuinely enjoying this little game. As a kid of eleven or twelve, I simply could not fathom how anyone could take pleasure in doing what was essentially homework. I felt as though Virginia had somehow betrayed all of us normal, schoolwork-hating kids — of which I and my brother Frank were about the only ones in my family, but I knew there were others out there ... in the world at large.

But I think Teh 'Dad must've been somewhat intimidated by these pop quizzes because I distinctly remember seeing him, in the early-to-mid '70s, sitting in the living room alone reading our Big Ass Random House Unabridged Dictionary for what seemed like hours on end. You couldn't tear him away from it, he was so engrossed:

"Dad ... Dad! ... DAD!1! YO DAD!!!! THE HOUSE IS ON FIRE!!! Nothing ... Geez! Hey, Dad, I don't wanna spoil the ending for you, but I hear the zygote did it." (Note: That circa 1972 "YO" is not an anachronism. In Philadelphia, we used "Yo" interchangeably with "Hey" decades before Yo! MTV Raps hit the air. Rappers stole "Yo" from us Philadelphians, not the other way around. It's a fact. Look it up. Famous Philadelphian David Brenner did a whole routine on it. So the rest of you are all welcome for this "Yo" thing we gave you. But on behalf of all Philadelphians, I hereby apologize for the whole David Brenner thing. Let's just call the score even.) (<-- If this were May, that parenthetical remark'd be a footnote. This one too, probably.)

Yeah, so maybe Teh 'Dad wasn't so much intimidated into reading the dictionary as he was rediscovering how much he enjoyed it.

The Slate article also led me to The David Foster Wallace Archive at the University of Texas at Austin. Also endlessly fascinating to me.

Thanks, caveman j'og (né jiif)! For a PUNK ASS, you're okay. But make no mistake: You are a punk ass.
I have not run since last Thursday, when the strain in my calf felt a little more painful than just a twinge. I cut that run short and decided not to run until this Saturday's 15k race. I figured that was the best way to go. I almost talked myself into going on a short 3-miler this morning, but I figured I better give it at least one more day before I try out the wheels. Maybe I'll go for a short run tomorrow. We'll see. Since my only goal in the 15k is to finish, I really don't want to jeopardize that by running on the game leg too early. Because I already paid for this race and I'm cheap.

Today, I did some stretching, a bit of weight-lifting and 3.6 miles in 10 minutes on Morrissey.
Happy to see BrianFlash's blog has been de-hackificated. Now you can go there and read his Ultra (50K) race report.

Update: Uh, it appears BF's blog is not completely de-hackificated, because it just eated two of my comments, the second of which merely noted that the blog eated the first and was really just an attempt to gauge whether the first eating was a fluke.

It wasn't.


  1. No surprise you got your fascination with words from your dad. Born earlier, he would have had an equal fascination with footnotes. Maybe you'll be passing that down to Ian.

  2. This post made me earth shatteringly happy. In a fascinating way and I mean that literally.

    *holds up shard of Earth's crust as evidence of said Earth shattering*

    I do so love your posts about Teh Dad. I sometimes wonder if we have the same one.

  3. My Dad taught me how to drink a can of beer in the car without spilling in in my lap...

  4. First it was Poe and Mencken that piqued my obsession with words, then Sidney Harris, then a guy named Dmitri Borgmann (who, among other things, discovered pangrams in poetry, e.g. "The sky was an exquisitely deep blue just then, with filmy white clouds drawn [up] over it like gauze" by Edna St. Vincent Millay and who created a 12x12 word square).

    This was a familial trait, with consequences. My sister still refuses to accept any word that has both latin and greek suffixes ("cyclical" drives her nuts). Hyperlexia became one of the constellation of my neuroses.

    Dad just read. A lot.

  5. you're welcome.

    we play a fun game with some friends of ours. pull out the dictionary and read of a definition while the others present attempt to guess the word. that's good fun and we do it for hours.

  6. I distinctly remember once when I was a kid picking up the dictionary in an attempt to read it cover to cover. I fell asleep at "albatross". :(