1. This week--writing something--I used the expression took a gander. And I wondered, Where did that come from? Well, not all that complicated, really. It's a word only about as old as my father (Dad: 1913; gander meaning to look about, 1914--USA origin) and it's a word that compares our looking around to a gander's sticking his neck out. My Dictionary of American Slang reveals that Raymond Chandler used the expression in his great Philip Marlowe novel The Big Sleep (1939).
2. I recently finished Hideous Love, a 2013 novel in verse by Stephanie Hemphill. She tells the story of the early life of Mary Godwin (later--Shelley)--from girlhood (she was born in 1797) to the death of her husband, Percy Bysshe Shelley, who drowned off the coast of Italy in July 1822. Hemphill uses a series of short, unrhymed poems, quite a few of which are very good (some--not so good). There's a bad copy-editing error: More than once she mentions Mary's girlhood home on Spinner Street (It was Skinner Street--and Hemphill does use this name correctly a few times, as well.) I like many of the lines. Here's some from Geneva, 1816, when the Frankenstein story is forming in her imagination: I feel something begin / to stir inside me here / amidst the mountains, / and it is not a child (113). But there others that she should have highlighted and hit DEL. Like this: I am as delighted as a kitten / licking her milk-stained paws (156). I have a few other quibbles, but, for the most part, I'm glad I read it.
2. This week I had to get our income tax information ready for our accountant. 'Nuf said?
3. As I've written before, we're trying to "downsize"--and have, indeed, gotten rid of quite a few things. But we keep ordering books, both of us. Just can't quit. Addicts.
4. Yet another book I finished this week--The Poet Edgar Allan Poe: Alien Angel (2014), by Jerome McGann, an English professor at the University of Virginia, an institution Poe attended for a bit (until his departure for a variety of personal failures). It's a very analytical work about Poe's poetry (as the title suggests), and as I've gotten older, I've become more and more interested in the lives of writers than in textual analyses of their work. But McGann takes the verse very seriously and believes Poe--though remaining a popular poet--has perhaps never had his just deserts from literary critics of poetry. Okay. But it's full of observations like this one: Poe's verse is "a mournful and never-ending remembrance, haunted in intertext" (148)--a line that includes one of Poe's own most noted words about his own poem "The Raven" in "The Philosophy of Composition":
The reader begins now to regard the Raven as emblematical—but it is not until the very last line of the very last stanza that the intention of making him emblematical of Mournful and never ending Remembrance is permitted distinctly to be seen
Anyway, I read it slowly--didn't want to tire of the academic diction--and learned some things I'm glad I know.
5. Finally, Joyce asked me this week about why we call someone a heel. (Hmmm, why would she be asking me this?) I guessed that it was probably because a heel is, well, low. But I wasn't sure. I just now looked it up. The OED--and this is some kind of coincidence--dates it around 1914 (the same as take a gander), US origin. Origin uncertain--though they offer a link to the definition of heel as the lowest part of the foot. I love OED definition:
Among criminals: a double-crosser, a sneak-thief; more generally: a dishonourable or untrustworthy person, a rotter.
And, of course, that sent me to rotter ...
A person who is morally corrupt; a dishonest, nasty, or worthless person; a scoundrel.
Whew, I guess Joyce wasn't thinking of me ... was she?