I Promise to Put Hooligans in the Hoosegow

With the Illinois primary only a month or so away, the political ad postcards are rolling in. Very many of them promise to “put criminals behind bars,” as if the candidates would pick them up like Underdog and drop them off in prison without a hint of due process.

Policy considerations aside, the term “criminals behind bars” shows a serious lack of imagination. While I was shoveling snow the other day — and this is the kind of thing I sometimes think of when doing that — I started a little list of synonyms for that tired old phrase. English is such a rich grab bag of words.

Criminals behind bars, or:

Felons in the slammer
Crooks in the pen
Thugs up the river
Blackguards in the stoney lonesome
Outlaws in the jug
Robbers in the lockup
Banditos in the cooler
Perps in the pokey
Hooligans in the hoosegow
Gangsters in the big house
Lawbreakers in the joint
Miscreants in the clink
Convicts inside
Malefactors in the correctional facility
Cons in the brig
Hoods in the bridewell
Delinquents in juvie
Desperados in stir
Culprits in quod

Harvey and Irma

Harvey and Irma sound like an elderly couple living next to your grandparents 50 years ago. Actually, Irma was a woman living in the house next to my grandparents in Alamo Heights back in the mid-century. I have no idea whether she was a widow or, as my grandma would have put it without being remotely judgmental, an old maid.

When I visited my grandma as a young boy, Irma was kind enough to let me play in her yard and even on her front porch, and I think gave me snacks sometimes. I’m certain Irma is long gone, like grandma, but when I walked by her old house last year, it looked a lot like it used to, unlike my hard-to-recognize grandparents’ house.

Out of curiosity, and because I was busy today and so had the urge to spend time profitlessly, I checked the list of hurricane names at the National Hurricane Center, which is maintained by an international committee of the World Meteorological Organization. Tropical cyclone names have a six-year repeating pattern, alternating between female and male names in alphabetical order, except names beginning with Q, U, X, Y or Z, which are skipped all together. I remember when men’s names joined the list in 1979; it sounded odd at first, but normal pretty soon after.

So how many names on the Atlantic hurricane list are as old-fashioned as Irma? A few. Hazel, Beulah, Edna, Agnes, and Eloise have been retired, but Ida and Bertha are still on the list. Arguably names like Florence and Karen and Joyce are on their way out, but not yet. At least the WMO hasn’t picked up the likes of Brooklyn, Madison or Nevaeh. I’d go along with Moon Unit, though.

If Irma’s as fierce as it seems to be, the name will probably be retired, along with Harvey. That would leave an I name and an H name open. Alas, Igor is out — there was a storm of that name in 2010. Hortense is out as well, after a 1996 storm of that name.

Thursday Codswallop

Had about an 18-hour period of on-off heavy rain ending around dawn this morning. Till then, June had mostly been dry, with enough wind sometimes to blow dust off the ball field behind my back yard.

I looked up codswallop recently, curious about its origin, and was not surprised that Merriam-Webster says “source unknown.” I was surprised that the earliest known use was 1963. I’d have guessed 100 years earlier. Has a Victorian ring to it.

Not long ago I heard a song on WDCB’s Folk Festival that wasn’t exactly my idea of folk, but not bad, except that the singer kept mentioning the “some-or-other” blues. I couldn’t figure out what she was saying. After the song, the host said it was the fomo blues (or FoMO or FOMO): pronouced Foh-Moh, an acronym for “fear of missing out.”

I looked into it further. I find it hard to believe it’s a real thing, or very important if it is.

Not long ago I found that some of the animation work of the strange Harry Smith is on YouTube. Wonder if he had any influence on Terry Gilliam’s animation.

I’d never heard of a novelty song called “Crawl Out Through the Fallout” by Sheldon Allman until last week. Found it on YouTube as well.

The album, released in 1960, is called Folk Songs for the 21st Century, but the style of “Crawl Out” is more ’50s jazz. I checked a little more, and other songs from the record are also posted, including the amusing “Big Brother is Watching You.”

You’ll disappear in a wink
Unless you can doublethink

Allman’s voice reminds me of Tennessee Ernie Ford, which just adds a layer of strangeness. Now there’s a concept album: Tennessee Ernie Ford Sings His Dystopian Favorites.

More about Allman is in his 2002 obit. He composed the theme song for George of the Jungle. For that alone, he ought to be remembered.


As I was reading about the 250th anniversary of President Jackson’s birth today — reportedly Mr. Trump fancies himself like Mr. Jackson, but I doubt that the former has ever been in a single duel with actual pistols — it occurred to me that I didn’t know the term for 250th anniversary. Centennial, Sesquicentennial, Bicentennial, Tricentennial, those are well enough known. But 250?

Off to the lazy man’s fount of knowledge, Wikipedia, which lists “Sestercentennial” as the main answer, from the way the Romans said two and a half. Other suggestions include “semiquincentennial,” “bicenquinquagenry” (that’s not going to fly) and the unimaginative “quarter-millennial.”

Sestercentennial seems to have some currency, if you feed it into Google. At least two websites claim their purpose is to gear the nation up for its Sestercentennial on July 4, 2026. One seems faintly academic, the other a guy with a website and an odd dream.

Guess we’ll hear more about the 250th ca. 2024 and ’25. Entirely too much, if the Bicentennial is any guide. I’ll be 65 if I make it so long. On July 4, 1976, I was 15. It rained most of that day in San Antonio, so we didn’t go anywhere, not even for fireworks, which probably would have been at Fort Sam Houston. Or was that for Fiesta? Time muddles things.


Bitter cold days ahead, especially after weekend snow. These things happen in December — this far north, anyway — but it still seems a little early. This is like late January. Are we going to get a break in late January? I have a feeling we won’t.
At least an ice storm isn’t being predicted for this weekend any more.

As an old writing pro, I don’t use too many words that I know the readers won’t understand, just to show off. That’s the mark of an amateur, or even a dilettante. Still, I occasionally float something to my editors to see if it will pass, knowing it won’t. This week, for instance, I wrote a sentence that ended this way:

… an investment firm that does nothing but manage the Brobdingnagian funds of X and his family.

A completely accurate way to describe that particular fortune, believe me. Moreover, Brobdingnagian is a fine word that needs more currency. After all, no one would think twice about using Lilliputian in a sentence.

But I knew it wouldn’t survive the final cut. I was right.

… an investment firm that does nothing but manage the enormous funds of X and his family.

I would have substituted “vast,” but that’s just a personal preference. Probably should have used that in the first place.

More on Swiftian coinages here. I never knew that Yahoo, as in the search engine and related tech-ness, is supposedly an acronym: “Yet Another Hierarchical Officious Oracle.” I too am suspicious that it’s really a backronym.

RIP, Susan Disenhouse. I never met her in person, but she was a professional acquaintance via phone and email.

Fun With Autofill

Google autofill is reputed to say nice things about Hillary Clinton, but I have no way to judge whether that’s true or an election year canard or if it even matters. In the meantime, for fun, I put in “Hitler” for Google to autofill, because he always makes guest appearances in modern political rhetoric, which rarely mean more than, “I don’t like my opponent.”

Anyway, Google “Hitler” suggested (the other day, your results may vary) in order:

quotes, memes, youth, death, ‘s birthday, ‘s rise to power, salute, did nothing wrong [!]

Google News “Hitler” suggested, in order (caps added, because I’m an editor):

‘s birthday, death, and Trump, memes, compared to Trump, book, mustache, quotes, youth

For additional grins, I let Google autofill “Mussolini,” too. This is what turned up:

death, quotes, Trump, definition [?], speech, WW2, nickname

Google News autofilled “Mussolini” this way:

Trump, death, definition [who’s asking that?], facts, Italy, quotes

For a more contemporary autocrat, I then let Google autofill “Putin”:

bay, news, memes, net worth, on the ritz, Trump, poutine, height, wife

Google News “Putin”:

news, Trump, Greece, Russia, Syria, hockey, NATO, Obama

Graduate Names, Abdulaahi to Zell

Lately I’ve been able to look at the commencement program from Lilly’s graduation at some leisure. Most of it, of course, lists the names of the graduates. Interesting thing, a list of names. This one goes, in terms of last names, from Abdulaahi to Zell.

It’s a fine example of the American salad bowl of ethnicity. Some examples at random, though alphabetical: Admundsen, Bagaybagayan, Bjorkman, Campbell, De Ocampo, Fritz, Gonzalez, Hyc, Khan, Kopielski, McCoy, Muhammad, Patel, Son, Stribling, Stepanian, Uy.

Patel is the number-one most common name on the list, hands down: no fewer than 12 graduates have it as their family name. It’s the Indian equivalent of Smith, I said to Ann. Then she noted that there was only a single Smith on a graduate list. Hm. The list doesn’t represent the nation as a whole, after all. The Census Bureau still puts Smith as most common: more than 880 per 100,000 people. Then come Johnson, Williams, Brown, Jones, Miller, Davis, Garcia, Rodriguez and Wilson.

I’m glad to report at least one other Lilly on the list, spelled that way, and a scattering of Anns, though more often than not it functions as a middle name, or a part of a combination first name. Wouldn’t want them to be too common.

A glance at the list tells me that not only are girls’ names of earlier generations gone, as you’d expect — the Berthas and Ethels and Ednas and Myrtles and Zeldas — so are perfectly fine girl names popular when I was born — the Barbaras, Cynthias, Deborahs, Lindas, Lisas, Karens, and Patricias of the world, and even the Marys are fairly scarce. A couple of years ago, during a conversation on names, Lilly characterized “Barbara” (for example) as an “old lady name.” Tempus fugit.

Boys’ names are more stable across the decades, but even so there seem to be fewer Johns, Michaels, and Roberts. Or Toms, Dicks and Harrys. I’m glad to see a Lars and a Homer and an Omar.

First names are a little harder to sort through, but I did pick out some interesting ones: Atyab, Breon, Da-Eun, Destinee (a friend of Lilly’s), Dwji, Heaven, Jax, Nuh, Yash.

I’ve Been Around for a Long, Long Year

Merriam-Webster has an interesting feature on its web site, “Trending Now,” referring to words in the online version of the dictionary whose look-up rates have increased. The other day I noticed that “Lucifer” was No. 1 (with a bullet? Maybe a pitchfork).

The dictionary explains that, “Lucifer rose up from the depths of the dictionary on April 29th, 2016, (spiking approximately 7700% over the previous day’s lookups) on the heels of news reports that former Speaker of the House John Boehner had referred to Senator Ted Cruz as ‘Lucifer in the flesh’ while speaking at Stanford University earlier in the week.”

You’d think that Lucifer would be a fairly familiar name. One of the classics. It’s not like Boehner called him the Beelzebub of the Stump or Astaroth in a Suit and Tie. Maybe people were investigating the nuances. Sure they were. Anyway, the dictionary continued: “Lucifer has been in the English language for a very long time, and has not solely carried the meaning of ‘Satan.’ The word comes from a Latin root — lucifer, in Latin, means ‘light-bearing’ — and has also been used by poets to refer to Venus, the morning star.

“Although it is possible that Boehner was making a muted classical reference, and intended to characterize Cruz as a bearer of light, this seems unlikely, as he in the same talk referred to the senator by another turn of phrase which is incompatible with this imagery.”

Heh-heh. Not a bad turn of insult, Mr. Boehner, delivered (as it turned out) toward the end of a dying campaign. Whatever the merits of either of those politicos, modern American politics needs more clever invective, like we had in the 19th century. We have plenty of invective now, of course, but especially during this campaign season, it’s as dumbed down as can be.

See You Later, Alligator

While walking the dog during the most recent warm day — a few days ago now — I passed a knot of grade-school kids and their bicycles across the street. I didn’t pay them much attention, but after I’d passed by, I clearly heard one of the boys say, directed at one or more of the others, “See you later, alligator! After a while, crocodile!”

People still say that? Kids still do? It sounded old even when I was young, though I can’t say I heard it much. Later I heard the mid-50s song of that name, recorded by Bill Haley, which seems to have popularized the phrase, but not invented it.

I’d always imagined it was from the ’20s. It sounds like it belongs in the same league as the bees’ knees or 23 skidoo or the like, but after looking around a little, its exact origin and timing remain elusive. One source speculates it started with Swing devotees of the late ’30s, which is plausible, but who knows?

On the other hand, I do know that the phrase lives on in the 2010s. Maybe some celebrity who appeals to kids is saying it now.

All My Eye and Betty Martin, Thursday Edition

Sure enough, more snow yesterday. But not much more, and most of it melted today. The snowfall didn’t even mess up the roads very much. Or my driveway. If you don’t have to shovel it, you can’t say it really snowed.

Been reading more by the chattering classes than usual lately, maybe because they’re chattering a lot now. With some reason. There’s also a sizable share of hyperventilating Chicken Little-ism about the political rise the short-fingered vulgarian. He’s going to be the end of Republican party! Of movement conservatism! Of American democracy! Of truth, justice and the American way!

I have to be skeptical on all counts. Of course, I could be wrong, and I’ll be the first to admit it as soon as goons come to take me to one of the detention camps of the new order.

This is some hard candy Yuriko brought back from Japan last month. Or rather, these are images of the Gold Coin of the Meiji Era tin, front and back. We’ve almost finished the candy inside.

Gold Coin of the Meiji EraGold Coin of the Meiji EraThe candy, which is roundish and yellow, is pretty good, but I like the name best of all. The coin pictured on the tin isn’t some fanciful latter-day re-creation, but an image of an actual gold coin of the Meiji era, just like this one, dated 1870 (Meiji 3). Except that the one on the tin is a 20-yen piece, rather than two yen.

Quite a bit of money at the time, and a coin of great beauty, from the looks of the photo. I wouldn’t mind having one, but it isn’t something I want to spend big bucks for. I’ll settle for the Meiji-era copper two-sen coin that I do have, which only cost a few modern dollars.

One more thing along these lines: We cast pearls before swine. The Japanese give gold coins to cats: 猫に小判 (neko ni koban).

And one more coffee cup currently on our shelf.

Oh ShitLilly got that from a friend of hers for Christmas this year. Ha-ha. It reminds me that adults should not use that word. In fact, anyone older than about six or seven should steer clear of it. Certain words should be confined to little children, and that’s one of them. Yet I’ve seen poop used in more-or-less serious writing by people whom I assume are grown. Knock it off.

Coffee Makes Me Crap would be the slogan for short-fingered vulgarians, maybe. Funnier would be Decaf Makes Me Defecate. I don’t drink coffee anyway. Better for me would be Tea Makes Me Pee. True indeed.