Tales from a Misinformed Dictionary – Desoxy

Desoxy: The state (or art) of being desoxed [see also desoxcombobulated]

Giorgio had a problem with sox. His sock drawer was not only full of sox (among them, Bostonian Redsox and Chicagoan Whitesox, but alas, no Philadelphian Pucesox) they constantly seemed to multiply and spill out onto the floor. Every day he’d cart armloads of sox down to the Salvation Army Store, but by the time he came home they were back again, multiplying to the point that they entirely filled his bedroom and he had to sleep on the living room couch. After a week of soxiness, his entire house was bursting with sox. He was desperate to desoxify his house. He called in exterminators, but they knew nothing about desoxing. He put an ad in the paper and all sorts of crackpots called or wrote or showed up at the door with absolutely ridiculous ideas.

“Feed them bubblegum toothpaste,” said one old crone. The idea!

“Read plumbing manuals to them. They hate that,” said a man who kept tripping over his beard.

Finally, one sunny day, just as a gang of sweat-stained athletic sox forced him out of his front door, a tiny voice spoke in his ear. He rummaged around with a finger but there didn’t seem to be anyone hiding there. However, the voice was quite clear. “To desoxify your house you, yourself, must be desoxy.”

“Dagnabbit, how in tarnation does a feller do that?” Giorgio asked – lately he’d been reading Western novels as an escape from sox – “They say you can lead a horse to water, but there ain’t a cactus in hell can make these here newfangled hosiery drink.”

“Trust me,” the voice said. “Take one bicarbonate of desoxycorticosterone and mix it with two teaspoons of desoxyriboncucleic acid, mix it in some prune juice and pour it in your sock drawer – that is, if you can fight your way into the bedroom.”

Giorgio sighed, plunged through a drift of ever-clamoring argyles and managed to clear a path into the kitchen where naturally he had the ingredients on hand – he always kept desoxycorticosterone and desoxyriboncucleic acid handy for an emergency and prune juice because it reminded him of his birthplace in Sicily.

By the time he reached his bedroom, Giorgio looked more sock than human and the formerly bubbling vibrant green liquid had thickened with sock lint. He found the sock drawer writhing with formal dress sox, poured in the gunk, and then fainted. When he woke up there wasn’t a sock in the place, not even on his feet. His girlfriend Pandora arrived for the first time in days, gazed at the curiously empty house and said, “Giorgio my dear, you may not be very sexy, but you sure are desoxy.”

Actual meaning: earlier form of “deoxy” which means something that has less oxygen than its original compound, also used as a chemical prefix.

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Tales from a Misinformed Dictionary – Retrolingual

Retrolingual: Retrolingual was a short lived academic fad of the mid 21st century. Students, tiring of traditional modern language studies (i.e.: French, Spanish, Chinese and Gezhundian) and traditional ancient language studies (i.e.: Latin, Greek, Olde English and Really Really Olde Gezhundian), took up faintly obscure, mostly forgotten extinct languages, such as “Modern Gutnish,” “Russenorsk,” “Kw’adza,” “Yugh,” and the easy to pronounce, “Ngarinyeric-Yithayithic.” The fad, although extremely popular for a few weeks, went the way of “pet rocks” since no one understood what anyone else was saying, and so, “Nixtifalacchio ifiniccionali Phaxtomiswopp,” which clearly meant “I would like a rutabaga to go, please,” became misinterpreted by many scholars as, “Your nostril drips like the ever flowing fountain of Phaxtom’s Mountain.”

Theodore Saurus took a lot of guff for his odd name. When shortened to Theo Saurus and said quickly with marbles in mouth, it sounded like the word “dictionary.” As it turned out, Theodore adored words, not just words you could look up in an ordinary dictionary or even in one of those massive, multi-volume lexicons, but words found in all corners of the world and a few dusty closets, too. As a child he passionately studied foreign language dictionaries, eventually opening them up to see what was inside. In his teens he progressed to ancient languages such as Vulgar Latin, Sanskrit, Sumerian, and Egyptian, and became conversant in all of them, although none of his schoolmates understood his jokes and his would-be girlfriends slammed the door on his amorous proclamations in exotic foreign tongues because they preferred red blooded American tongues. By the time he entered college he’d memorized Dale Carnegie’s, How to Win Friends and Influence People, in forty-two languages and thought it might be working when a cat befriended him because he seemed able to interpret its desire for a bowl of milk. However, he felt determined to win friends and influence his college class as well as his professors.

It took time, but then all at once he succeeded. On November 28, 2051, he invented the term “retrolingual” and immediately began speaking in languages no one else on campus knew a single word of, including fragments of Thracian, Etruscan and his personal favorite, Philistine. Envious of his multilingual facility, other would-be language artists took note and began their own campaigns of linguistic obscurity. Soon dorm rooms were abuzz with words like, “oophrizrastic” and “quixxicoxxinixxitwat.” One wise pundit commented that the fad spread from campus to campus like “vrinoslippicoth,” a cliché in Vrinthlon, the language of an obscure European sect known as the Vrinthligoths. Actual translation: “like wildfire,” but naturally no one knew that. The fad lasted just over three weeks when students left for the winter holidays and forgot all about it. Theodore Saurus abandoned languages for the study of dinosaurs and at long last achieved popularity – suddenly his name was cool.

Actual meaning: situated behind or near the base of the tongue (salivary glands)

Tales from a Misinformed Dictionary – Lithomarge


Lithomarge: [see also, lithobutter] a print produced by lithomargraphy, a process in which one renders an image or word via rendered margarine on non-absorbent pastry which repels the ink, allowing it to rappel onto an appropriate surface or external locus, ostensibly providing a subcutaneous veneer, although a few (jealous – or zealous? I can’t read my own handwriting) scientists in Monaco doubt its plausibility.

You’ve heard of butter sculpture? This is similar. Read on:

Long, long ago an itinerant Italian artist and printer named Graphias Litho sat down at the breakfast table with a hefty chunk of Tuscan flatbread and a pot of well-congealed butter. He was an absent minded fellow, given to flights of fancy and flights of forgetfulness. That day, knife in hand, he was about to slice into the flat, smooth crust, when without thinking a thought, he carved a word in his native language, “buffone” or “buffoon” as we call it today. He then pressed the bread against the creamy butter, while simultaneously spilling a quantity of ink which he’d mistaken for wine. When he lifted the bread, he cried, “Voila!” Or, rather, “Ecco!” There was “buffone” spelled out in lovely burgundy-colored letters. Sadly, the newly invented “lithobutter” had a very short life span once the Tuscan sun – and Graphias’s wife Petra – heated up. Petra was quite upset to find ink mixed into her butter and threatened to use Graphias’s printing press as kindling. But the germ of an idea grasped Graphias and spun him around. Once he stopped spinning, he began the art of lithography in earnest.

Flash forward two centuries and an Armenian avant-garde scholar/artiste named Plebiscite Philagorean spent two hundred days in the Litho room of the Benedetto Archives of Siena, Italy, pouring over Graphias Litho’s papers, which included original lithographs, baffling treatises on befuddled subjects (unless it was the other way around), and mysterious ink-stained notes, as well as assorted crumbs from long ago meals. One day he stumbled upon a still slightly greasy jotting about Litho’s initial discovery of the lithobutter process. A light bulb lit above Philagorean’s head, although that was not unusual. Lights were always flickering on and off at the Benedetto Archives, which along with its fabulous collections, featured faulty electrical wiring.

Plebiscite Philagorean raced back to his hotel room on the Rue de la Champagne (for some reason he was commuting daily from Lac Dumas aux Flambeau, France, 750 miles away), not forgetting to pick up the flattest, hardest, three-day old bread he could find. He rummaged in the refrigerator for a plastic tub of margarine and then set to work. To honor the Italian Graphias Litho, Philagorean carved the word “vermicelli,” a type of pasta also known as “little worms.” He pressed the bread word into the margarine and stared in disbelief at the faint, spectacularly unspectacular imprint. He’d forgotten the ink! Hurriedly he pulled apart a BIC pen and squirted it all over himself. Fortunately, enough ink dripped onto the bread that he was able to try again and this time the word stood out a vibrant blue. The art of the lithomarge, created by way of lithomargraphy, was born and the world was never the same, although the world didn’t know it.

Actual definition: smooth, compact kaolin, a type of clay used to manufacture porcelain.

Tales from a Misinformed Dictionary – Prestidigitator and Croquette

Prestidigitator: An instant finger-making machine, not to be confused with a prestoagitator, which is an instant annoying person, not to be confused with a depressedagitator which is an unhappy annoying person. The prestidigitator is useful for creating fingers for things that don’t have them such as televisions and glasses of orange juice.

Juan cried, “¡Ay caramba!” when the prestidigitated finger rose like Excalibur from his bowl of steaming burrito soup. Guacamole splattering, corn chips clattering, Juan burst through the nearest mosaic-covered mud brick wall as if it was one of those swinging doors in a fabled western saloon. No one ever returned to El Gordo Sombrero, considered until that tragic day the finest Mexican restaurant in Uzbekistan.

Actual meaning: an expert at prestidigitation, which means sleight of hand.

Croquette: A psychological condition in which the subject is only capable of flirting while playing croquet.

From the age of two, Helga cried foul over the name her parents chose for her. Why oh why couldn’t they have named her something pleasanter, like Babette or better yet, Bala Cynwd? She tried everything in her power to destroy the grim image her name evoked. Instead of dark, practical clothing, she wore frilly dresses. Instead of short, practical straight hair, she wore her hair in artfully arranged ringlets. Instead of a stern, uncompromising expression, she wore something decidedly inane and vacuous. Her attempts at base flirting, at the normal coquetry of feminine youth, failed utterly and completely until one day while visiting her fourth cousin’s mother in law’s best friend’s neighbor twice removed (no one knew why), she took up the ancient and esteemed game of croquet. The men who played that day, the Italian count, Garibaldi Garbanzo and his sycophantic associate, Garlic Gorgonzola, found themselves fascinated, charmed and captivated. Helga, who despaired of ever marrying, used her new-found croquetry to land both, living happily ever after at the conjoined Garbanzo-Gorgonzola estates until one day a prestidigitated thumb appeared in her linguini. The unfortunate result was the sudden disappearance of her remarkable abilities as the world’s most famous croquette, thus ending a chapter in Heinz Uberburgerschnitzel’s classic tome, Psychotomimetical Psychosomatics.

Actual meaning: a croquette is a cake or pastry filled with diced meat and vegetables, coated with breadcrumbs and fried in deep fat.

A Writing Family Pt.1 – My Father, Basil Burwell

Basil and Fred Burwell and Friend

Where did my passion for words come from? I think back to my childhood and find many sources, from the intriguing typeface and old-paper smell of a 1920’s hardback book to a dog-eared copy of the mysterious Dr. Strange Marvel comic left around by my brother Jeremy, to the fresh ink glow of a Dell paperback bought at the local department store. As much as I loved reading words, I also loved the sounds of words and so I became a listener. Every night my father read to me as I slurped up Cheerios and scraped sugar from the bottom of the bowl. When I pull The Phantom Tollbooth off the shelf today, I half hear the echo of my father’s booming voice merging with the bell-like clink of spoon on ceramic bowl.

Basil Burwell reading to Fred and Jeremy

Or we’d be out driving, my father at the wheel, my mother beside him, me in the back, gazing through the window at the passing scenes, then –

“Flug!” my father would say.

My mother would wake out of her reverie. “What?” And then she’d look out the window as we rolled past a busy Gulf station. “Oh, Basil!”

A block later he’d intone, “Deeps Timil,” in his rich actor’s baritone.

My mother would present him with one of her patented scowls. “Oh don’t be ridiculous!”

I’d pinch myself, trying not to burst out laughing when I realized that “Deeps Timil” was “Speed Limit” backwards. My father adored backwards words. A father in one of his novels – probably an alter ego – named his daughter, “Devorppa Klim,” which of course was “Approved Milk.” Magical backward words appeared everywhere, even in our own names. Sometimes, his blue eyes twinkling but with a straight face, he’d introduce himself to strangers as “Lisab Llewrub.” I learned that if I ever felt bored with plain old Fred Burwell, I could always switch it around to Derf Llewrub and pretend I was Welsh.

If you wonder where my Tales from a Misinformed Dictionary comes from, it’s the spirit of Basil Burwell perched on my shoulder, whispering into my ear.

My father once confessed to me that he thought of himself as an unsuccessful man. That surprised me. How many fathers did I know who could say they’d acted professionally for more than a decade and appeared in films with such oddball names as Park Avenue Logger and I Was a Captive of Nazi Germany? But in the 1940’s he left the world of Hollywood and summer stock and became a master teacher, both of the theater and of English literature and creative writing.

He’d always loved to write and he couldn’t resist telling stories. How many times had I bugged him for the further adventures of “Georgie Kleenex?” Especially after the beloved, flimsy character had somehow floated all the way to the moon? He liked to point out that one of his first published stories, “The Flag that Set Us Free, published in the famous Story magazine in 1944, was based on one of his schoolboy stories that had received a C+, possibly due to his incorrigibly bad handwriting. Story editor Whit Burnett urged him to “think long” and in 1954, the historical epic, Our Brother the Sun, became his first published novel.
A Fool in the Forest
, which appeared in 1963, was his personal favorite. It was an autobiographical novel about a young man fresh out of high school in 1929, experiencing a wild summer with a troupe of actors at a summer theater set in an old fashioned amusement park.

When I first became interested in writing, Dad would take my penciled rough draft and cover it with red pen corrections, comments, and suggestions. Then we’d sit down and talk about it. I knew I was getting somewhere when less and less red marked up my work.

Perhaps Dad had so many strong passions he couldn’t simply hue to one path. To my mind he was an extremely successful man – a fine actor and director, brilliant teacher, published author, delightful storyteller, and a warm and generous father and mentor.

Tales from a Misinformed Dictionary – Kloof

Kloof: A mechanical attachment used to provide dexterity to sentient ungulates.

Urko visited the Kloofeteria, where an assistant helped him try on four varicolored neon kloofs, which fit front and back hoofs perfectly. At last, instead of kicking away unwanted tennis balls, he was able to pick them up and eat them. Instead of leaving angry hoof-marks on books, he could actually turn pages and read the stories. The kloofs were an utter delight – he never had to trim them and he never had to coat them with hoof cream in winter, unlike his hoofs, which became brittle and cracked. There was no such thing as “kloof cream.” You didn’t need it.

One day, while perusing his favorite volume of encyclopedia (the “U” volume of course), Urko discovered that somehow, without consulting them, dinosaur-obsessed scientists had deviously replaced the name of his type of mammal, once euphoniously known as “ungulata” with either “perissodactyla” or “artiodactyla.” – they couldn’t seem to make up their minds which. As a proto-beatnik type of ungulate, Urko naturally preferred “artiodactyla” which got him pondering about art, a subject he often pondered his deepest ponders about. Urko had noticed the unusual mosaic of tracks that kloofs left in the mud he liked to cool off in. After experimenting with a variety of patterns and creating his own personal style, Urko invented an entirely new art form, at first known as “Art Urko,” but after it caught on with other artist-ungulates, as “Art Kloof.” Unfortunately, within days, Kloof manufacturers underwent major nuisance lawsuits from several individuals named “Art Kloof.” Tied up in litigation for years, “kloofmania,” as the media referred to it, underwent severe decline until now no one is sure if kloofs ever truly existed.

Its actual meaning: “a deep glen: ravine”

Tales from a Misinformed Dictionary – Biramous and Whaup

Biramous: an unusually intelligent, two-whiskered mouse. Several whisker strands fuse together into horn-like projections from each side of the mouse’s mouth. Because of their tensile, metallic-like strength and conductivity, the fused whiskers act like radio antennae, drawing broadcasts from around the world directly into the mouse. Because of their keen minds and sponge-like absorptive abilities, the average biramous quickly becomes conversant in a multitude of languages, especially that of advertising. The enlarged biramous speech box provides startling resonance, allowing many biramouses successful careers as radio announcers, deejays, and voice over artists. No doubt you’ve heard them advertising cheese.

Legend has it that Amos was the most famous biramous of them all, although cantankerous cranks groused that he was a louse, except when most sonorous, which brought down the house. Vain and snooty (but never snouty), Amos always wore a sunny yellow mouse-blouse featuring glamorous photographs of himself posing at the microphone. Some say that only a blasphemous ignoramus would frown at such a vainglorious biramous as Amos.

Actual definition of biramous: having two branches, as those on the appendages of crustaceans.

Whaup: A particular sound produced by members of the obscure religious sect known as “Burpers” at the exact second they reach their daily moment of enlightenment.

Franklin was a recent convert to the Burpers, swayed by their promise of enlightenment – deep and soulful riches beyond imagination. However, try as he would, meditating for hours on end by himself and in large groups, he’d never emitted more than a tiny “uhp” which reminded his fellow Burpers of the sound one makes after swallowing an under ripe grape. Castigated for his failure, reviled for his undeniably weak belching ability, thrown out on his own devices, (etc. etc.), Franklin dragged himself to the nearest mountain (some ten thousand miles away), planning to end it all. He sat in an old shepherd’s hut, high above a darkling plain and gave it one last try. He’d consumed a cucumber steak with watermelon gravy and found it too rare for his liking. His stomach, however, seemed to be speaking to him and he felt insistent, mystical words rising up, clamoring to get out. He opened his mouth and felt the “whaup” coming, but only a stray “wherefore” slipped out. Steeling himself, he tried yet again and this time, at long last (he thought), the whaup tumbled down his chin, only to turn into a “wherewithal.” In despair, he rose swiftly, stepped forward to pitch himself down the steep slope…and then that most lovely and rare of words, “whaup” slithered out of his mouth and swirled in the mists of the canyon below, echoingly brightly (or was it damply?) from peak to peak, wall to wall, finally settling on a radio tower where it became part of an international broadcast listened to with delight by every biramous near and far.

Actual definition of whaup: “a European curlew.” A curlew is a species of bird.

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