Sure, it’s scary to send your writing to a literary agent. But pity the poor agent who must wade through hundreds of terrible query letters a week! One of them shares excerpts from those hilariously bad query letters on a blog called SlushPile Hell. And get ready for some colorful conversation: Purple cows do exist–only they’re made with grape soda and ice cream. And yes, Virginia, there IS an English word that rhymes with “orange”!  Plus, catawampus, mesmerize, all’s I’m saying, plus messing and gauming.

This episode first aired October 18, 2013.

Download the MP3.

 Slushpile Hell Blog Letters
A query letter from SlushPile Hell, the blog of a curmudgeonly literary agent, reads, “Have you ever wished you had represented the author of the Holy Bible and placed it with a publisher?” Erm, sure.

 Fiddlesticks
The exclamation Fiddlesticks!, meaning “a trifle” or “something insignificant or absurd,” goes back to the time of Shakespeare. It endures in part because it’s fun to say.

 Stiletto Made of Sugar
Dorothy Parker, known for her acerbic wit, was once described as “a stiletto made of sugar.”

 Ocupado
What do you say when you’re in a restroom and someone knocks on the door? Many people answer Ocupado!, which has made its way from bilingual signage–including old airline seat cards from the 1960’s–to common speech.

 Miss Word Pageant Quiz
Our Quiz Guy John Chaneski struts his stuff with a Miss Word beauty pageant for words beginning with “mis-.”

 All’s I’m Saying
All’s, as in the common clause all’s you have to do, isn’t grammatically incorrect.  It’s a valid contraction of the archaic construction all as.

 The Writing is Final
Another cocksure query letter received by the book agent at SlushPile Hell includes the line: “The writing is final, and I do not want it changed.” Okay, then.

 Dead On
The idiom dead on, meaning “precisely,” might sound morbid, but it makes sense. It’s a reference to the fact that death is certain and absolute.

 Better Door than a Window
When someone’s standing in front of the TV, do you shout, “Move over!” or something more creative? How about “Your daddy weren’t no glassmaker,” or “You make a better door than a window.”

 Messing and Gauming
Messing and gauming, meaning “dawdling and getting intro trouble,” comes from gaum, a term for something sticky and smeary like axle grease or mud. A baby with schmutz all over his face is all gaumed up.

 No Arguing with Samuel Johnson
Oliver Goldsmith observed that there was no use arguing with lexicographer Samuel Johnson, because “when his pistol misses fire, he knocks you down with the butt end of it.”

 Mesmerize
The term mesmerize, meaning to attract strongly or hold spellbound, comes from Franz Mesmer, the German doctor who purported to heal people by righting their internal magnetic forces.

 Insure vs. Ensure
Insure and ensure mean two different things now, but back when the U.S. Constitution was penned, they were interchangeable. Hence the line in the preamble to insure domestic tranquility.

 Dog Wrote a Book
Another overly optimistic query to the book agent at SlushPile Hell reads in part: “My dog has written a book on how to be a success.”

 Purple Cows
Gelett Burgess famously wrote I never saw a purple cow, but plenty of folks know a purple cow to be a grape soda float.

 Rhymes with Orange
There’s a proper noun out there that rhymes with orange, and it’s The Blorenge, a hill in Wales.

 Catawampus
Catawampus, meaning “askew,” can be spelled at least 15 different ways. It likely derives from the English word cater, meaning “diagonal. ”

 Jealous of the Grand Canyon
J.B. Priestley once described George Bernard Shaw as being so peevish, he refused to admire the Grand Canyon because “he was jealous of it.”

This episode is hosted by Martha Barnette and Grant Barrett, and produced by Stefanie Levine.

Photo by Fredrik Rubensson. Used under a Creative Commons license.

Music Used in the Broadcast

Title Artist Album Label
Cirrus Bonobo Cirrus Ninja Tune
Horny Tickle Clutchy Hopkins Walking Bachwards Ubiquity
Skull Session Oliver Nelson Skull Session Flying Dutchman
On The Hill Oliver Sain On The Hill Vanessa Records
Keep On Sockin’ It Children Phil Flowers and The Flower Shop Keep On Sockin’ It Children A&M Records
One Note Brown The New Mastersounds Keb Darge Presents: The New Mastersounds Cooker Records
Roctober Clutchy Hopkins Walking Bachwards Ubiquity
Rock Dirge Pt 1 Sly Stone Every Dog Has His Day Selected Sound Carrier AG
Josus The New Mastersounds Tallest Man Records Tallest Man Records
Freckles The New Mastersounds Breaks From The Border Tallest Man Records
Let’s Call The Whole Thing Off Ella Fitzgerald Ella Fitzgerald Ella Fitzgerald Sings The George and Ira Gershwin Song Book Verve

20 Responses

  1. Ron Draney says:

    Thirty-eight followers on Twitter may not sound like much, but remember: the writer is a dog, so it’s equivalent to 266 people.

  2. Heimhenge says:

    Regarding the oft-cited “fact” that no English word rhymes with “orange” … I still think proper nouns are ineligible. Unless “blorenge” is also a common noun (to my knowledge it is not). Couldn’t find it in any dictionary I use.

    Dictionary.com cites “sporange” (a sac where spores are formed) as one possible rhyme. But only a botanist would know that. Spell-check flags that word, not surprisingly.

    Personally, I like “door-hinge” as a rhyme for “orange.” Sure, it’s hyphenated, but that pushes the rules less than using proper nouns. If I was writing a poem, I would not hesitate to use it as a rhyme for “orange.”

  3. EmmettRedd says:

    Heimhenge said

    Regarding the oft-cited “fact” that no English word rhymes with “orange” … I still think proper nouns are ineligible. Unless “blorenge” is also a common noun (to my knowledge it is not). Couldn’t find it in any dictionary I use.

    Dictionary.com cites “sporange” (a sac where spores are formed) as one possible rhyme. But only a botanist would know that. Spell-check flags that word, not surprisingly.

    Personally, I like “door-hinge” as a rhyme for “orange.” Sure, it’s hyphenated, but that pushes the rules less than using proper nouns. If I was writing a poem, I would not hesitate to use it as a rhyme for “orange.”

    But, proper names are ‘proper’ for poems:

    You can’t harvest an orange
    On top of the Blorenge.
    It might be something we can do
    if industry keeps spewing CO2.

    laugh

  4. deaconB says:

     Does gloamin have common roots with gauming? 

    About 30 years ago, I talked with Dick Dell (of *that* Dell family, but working for someone else) if it was worth my effort to write the “biography” of a company.  I figured that marketing to the company and their employees, their suppliers, customers and competitors would generate the first 500 sales as easy as falling off a ladder, but the odds of getting another 1000 sales was pretty dismal.  He told me that most editors would welcome a book with those prospects, as 80-90% of all books had an initiual press run of 1000, and maybe 300 were bound.

    So I wouldn’t poo-poo that dog author. The only other dog author I can think of, Millie Bush, had a first printing of 100,000 copies, and had multiple printings..

     

    Sir Joshua said, what I have often thought, that he wondered to find so much good writing employed in them [critical reviews], when the authors were to remain unknown, and so could not have the motive of fame.

    Johnson: “Nay, Sir, those who write in them, write well, in order to be paid well.”

     

    “There, but for a typographical error, is the story of my life” – D. Parker 

  5. Heimhenge says:

    EmmettRedd said

    Heimhenge said

    Regarding the oft-cited “fact” that no English word rhymes with “orange” … I still think proper nouns are ineligible. Unless “blorenge” is also a common noun (to my knowledge it is not). Couldn’t find it in any dictionary I use.

    Dictionary.com cites “sporange” (a sac where spores are formed) as one possible rhyme. But only a botanist would know that. Spell-check flags that word, not surprisingly.

    Personally, I like “door-hinge” as a rhyme for “orange.” Sure, it’s hyphenated, but that pushes the rules less than using proper nouns. If I was writing a poem, I would not hesitate to use it as a rhyme for “orange.”

    But, proper names are ‘proper’ for poems:

    You can’t harvest an orange
    On top of the Blorenge.
    It might be something we can do
    if industry keeps spewing CO2.

    laugh

    Point taken. Proper nouns are used in many poems. But it still seems like “cheating” in the sense the a proper noun (name) can be basically made up to fit the rhyme. Kinda’ like how Lewis Carroll made up “Bandersnatch” to rhyme with “catch” in Jabberwocky. Of course, I’m pretty sure “Blorenge” wasn’t made up simply for the purpose of rhyming with “orange” … its etymology is uncertain, but it could well be derived from someone’s name. Here’s what Wiki says:

    Etymology

    The name is problematic. It has been suggested that it may derive from the Welsh ‘plor’ (‘pimple’) and relating to Middle English ‘blure’ (‘blister’) or else from ‘blawr ais’ (‘grey ribbed’) but neither explanation is wholly satisfactory.

    That said, I propose the following variation on EmmettRedd’s pair of couplets:

    I couldn’t find an orange
    Growing freely on the Blorenge,
    But I did find several sporange
    In some algae near the door-hinge.

    FYI … admins must have line breaks available in their editor toolbar, along with the “img” tag. Regular members don’t. (see this thread and scroll down). So to do what I did above with my poem, I had to click on the “source code” button and insert a <br> where I wanted each line to break. Clunky.

    Since Grant started this thread, maybe he’ll read this and decide to add those editing tools for regular members. Please?

  6. RobertB says:

    Heimhenge, if by line break you mean so it won’t skip too many lines between paragraphs: there is the option Pre below Paragraph.  With that, the carriage return is equivalent to 1 line.

  7. Heimhenge says:

    RobertB said
    Heimhenge, if by line break you mean so it won’t skip too many lines between paragraphs: there is the option Pre below Paragraph.  With that, the carriage return is equivalent to 1 line.

    Ok, lets try that …

    line 1
    line 2
    line 3

    Hey, that works. Many thanks RobertB! That’s WAY easier than going the “source code” route. Good catch. Now if Grant would only make image insertion easier, including local uploads directly from a home computer. How about it Grant?  (I should probably email him directly, and will if he doesn’t respond in this thread.)

  8. katexic says:

    Heimhenge said
    Regarding the oft-cited “fact” that no English word rhymes with “orange” … I still think proper nouns are ineligible. Unless “blorenge” is also a common noun (to my knowledge it is not). Couldn’t find it in any dictionary I use.

    Dictionary.com cites “sporange” (a sac where spores are formed) as one possible rhyme. But only a botanist would know that. Spell-check flags that word, not surprisingly.

    Personally, I like “door-hinge” as a rhyme for “orange.” Sure, it’s hyphenated, but that pushes the rules less than using proper nouns. If I was writing a poem, I would not hesitate to use it as a rhyme for “orange.”

    If one doesn’t mind being a tad off-color, “poor minge” comes immediately to mind. That probably says more about my mind than it does the rhyme…

  9. EmmettRedd says:

    katexic said

    If one doesn’t mind being a tad off-color, “poor minge” comes immediately to mind. That probably says more about my mind than it does the rhyme…

    You do not have to worry about being off-color. See post #25 in this thread.

  10. tromboniator says:

    admins must have line breaks available in their editor toolbar

    What does Shift -Return do for you? It works for me,
    like this

    rather than this.

  11. deaconB says:

    katexic said

    If one doesn’t mind being a tad off-color, “poor minge” comes immediately to mind. That probably says more about my mind than it does the rhyme…

    The Revolutionary Committee of the Chinese Kuomintang, a minor political party in China, is known as the Minge, and there are villages in Azerbaijan and Lithuania named Minge. Might be hard to use them in a poem, though.  I can imagine a limerick about a politician who was orange, though.

  12. Glenn says:

    There once was Prince William of Orange … ?

  13. Heimhenge says:

    Glenn said
    There once was Prince William of Orange … ?

    [This time I’m using Tromboniator’s suggestion of shift+return for single line breaks
    which works just fine as you can see, and is even quicker than RobertB’s paragraph/pre
    menu method, which requires pre/paragraph to undo and get back to double-spaced.
    This info should really be in a closed sticky thread or help file. Moderators?]

    But to complete Glenn’s challenge:

    There once was Prince William of Orange,
    Who was hiking one day on the Blorenge.
    ‘Round the neck of a chilver
    He found a bright silver
    Limerick-fan-attached door hinge.

    Of note: “door-hinge” is not considered a “perfect rhyme.” Multiple-word constructions that rhyme with a single word are called “phrasal” or “mosaic” rhymes, and though not “perfect” are often used to complete a line in a poem. Source: Wikipedia.

    Also of note: lines 3 & 4 contradict another oft-repeated claim that “no word rhymes with silver.” I’ll save you the search: a chilver is a ewe lamb.

    Final note: the last line is a bit self-referential, and uses a somewhat contrived compound adjective, but hey … limericks are supposed to be fun. The meter works, and it makes grammatical sense. I also dropped the hyphen from “door hinge” since I learned about phrasal rhymes. But I have no idea if there really are chilver on the Blorenge.

  14. katexic says:

    deaconB said

    katexic said
    If one doesn’t mind being a tad off-color, “poor minge” comes immediately to mind. That probably says more about my mind than it does the rhyme…

    The Revolutionary Committee of the Chinese Kuomintang, a minor political party in China, is known as the Minge, and there are villages in Azerbaijan and Lithuania named Minge. Might be hard to use them in a poem, though.  I can imagine a limerick about a politician who was orange, though.

    I suspect the colloquial meaning of “minger” would be a lot easier to work into a limerick…

  15. tromboniator says:

    There once was Prince William of Orange
    Who devised a security door eng-
    ineered to let in
    Angela, his lost twin.
    It’s a pity that you’re such a bore, Ange.

  16. deaconB says:

    tromboniator said
    There once was Prince William of Orange
    Who devised a security door eng-
    ineered to let in
    Angela, his lost twin.
    It’s a pity that you’re such a bore, Ange.

    I’d give it an 87, Dick; you can dance to it….

  17. Glenn says:

    I love the limericks!

  18. pixelsound says:

    I’m curious about the origin of Martha’s use of “stop down” or “stopped down,” as she uses it in the Mesmerize section of the show: halting a conversation to discuss etymology. I assume it is a colloquial bundling of plain ol’ “stop” and “bringing down” or “slowing down” – pausing briefly, lowering the tone of a conversation for an aside, as a band leader may say to “bring it down” for a quieter interlude – but not a full blown “bringing down the house” or “burning (or tearing) [something] down.”

    I find it additionally interesting because I am a photographer, and to “stop down” or “stopping down” in photographic terms means to reduce the opening of the aperture of a lens (aperture sizes are measured in f/stops) – to let less light in – which results in a greater depth of field (a wider range of sharp focus.

    Either way – the temporary suspension of the stream of a conversation for an interlude, or for acquiring greater depth of etymological understanding – works for me! But I wonder where it is coming from for Martha…

    Thanks,
    AK

  19. pixelsound says:

    I’m curious about the origin of Martha’s use of “stop down” or “stopped down,” as she uses it in the Mesmerize section of the show: halting a conversation to discuss etymology. I assume it is a colloquial bundling of plain ol’ “stop” and “bringing down” or “slowing down” – pausing briefly, lowering the tone of a conversation for an aside, as a band leader may say to “bring it down” for a quieter interlude – but not a full blown “bringing down the house” or “burning (or tearing) [something] down.”

    I find it additionally interesting because I am a photographer, and to “stop down” or “stopping down” in photographic terms means to reduce the opening of the aperture of a lens (aperture sizes are measured in f/stops) – to let less light in – which results in a greater depth of field (a wider range of sharp focus.

    Either way – the temporary suspension of the stream of a conversation for an interlude, or for acquiring greater depth of etymological understanding – works for me! But I wonder where it is coming from for Martha…

    Thanks,
    AK

  20. BigDan says:

    The discussion about fiddlesticks referred to the bows, but in American folk music (particularly from Appalachia) the term refers to using chopsticks or similar tools to play on the strings while the fiddler draws the bow. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fiddlesticks_(musical_instrument)

    I know the exclamation being discussed predates the folk term, but I thought others may find this use interesting. I learned of it through the Okee Dokee Brothers after their hike on the Trail.