Do you know what a skimmelton is? What’s a “cascade” in North Carolina? Or larruping? Or what about a woopensocker? NPR published a hilarious list of regional slang from around the USA and I’ve never heard of like 80% of them. But whoa! Colorful language.
When a lobster whistles on top of a mountain.
Literal translation: “One afternoon in your next reincarnation.”
What it means: “It’s never gonna happen.”
Other languages this idiom exists in: A phrase that means a similar thing in English: “When pigs fly.” In French, the same idea is conveyed by the phrase, “when hens have teeth (quand les poules auront des dents).” In Russian, it’s the intriguing phrase, “When a lobster whistles on top of a mountain (Когда рак на горе свистнет).” And in Dutch, it’s “When the cows are dancing on the ice (Als de koeien op het ijs dansen).”
The folks at the TED Talks blog went around asking translators what their favorite idioms were from other cultures. The results are awesome. It’s also interesting to see how many of them use animal imagery. The idioms from Japan are almost all about cats. (For instance, “cat’s forehead” is a very small space, often used to describe one’s property in self-deprecating terms. I might start using this one.) Many of them are about wolves, because, I suppose, wolves were a real issue in medieval Europe (or so picture books would have me believe). I love the Russian ones the best, I think, and the Slavic ones. I could see “when a lobster whistles on top of a mountain” catching on pretty easily in Maine, seeing as we have a lot of lobsters and some pretty gorgeous mountains.
Speaking of mountains, the picture above is actually of the other coast by Portland-based (again, other Portland) artist Cathy McMurray. I am completely in love with her style—the big blocks of color mixed with intricate, repetitive detail—and I actually own a few of her prints. Go check her out here.
As a professional blogger/punner/wordsmith, I spend a lot of time thinking about words. At work, I sit around thinking up pithy prologues and alliterative titles; I think I have an entire section of my brain devoted to the many ways to allude to alcohol. Sometimes I get tired of it, but for the most part, I’m pretty thrilled I get to practice word play all day, every day.
Given that introduction, I don’t think I have to explain why I love this blog: Extraordinary Words. So far, I’ve learned words like wamble, logorrhea, and zenzizenzizenzic. Some of the words are obsolete, but all of them are awesome. Czech it out.
I used to hate alliteration. I thought, just because it’s simple, it was a lesser form of wordplay. Not so! When done well, alliteration can make a sentence sing; it can make words pop off the page and make music out of their syllables (these are bad examples, but it’s almost impossible not to get carried away. You try writing about writing, and see what happens).
There are plenty of authors that have made me change my mind, but more recently, io9 showcased the work of Nathan O. Marsh’s series Alphabet Apocrypha. For every letter, Marsh creates intricate illustrations following a set theme. Some are simple—m is maps, j is the jumping jackalope—but others are far more complicated. A few are almost a storybook unto themselves. As a whole, the project is very reminiscent of Edward Gorey, from the twisty, spindly little sketches to the alphabetical material. There’s also a touch of Hieronymus Bosch and a hint of M.C. Escher—which, now that I think about it, isn’t a bad way to describe either Gorey or Marsh.
So far, Nathan has made it to letter Q. He’s posting new illustrations all the time, which are only getting better as he gets further along. Naturally, I really like the entry for K (though L is truly my favorite).
Two Nice Things.
1. I’ve expressed before my love for Roald Dahl. As a kid, I always loved his children’s books, but it wasn’t until I was older that I really started appreciating his amazing sense of humor. His stories for adults are darkly hilarious, and his memoirs walk the line easily between making light of minor horrors (like being caned at the hands of a sadistic school master) to expressing real excitement and sorrow at huge life changes (including the death of a family member and his very first—very exotic—job overseas). The guy lives a fascinating life.
Anyway, I’m loving these papercuts by artist Jayme McGowan. Featured on the Etsy Blog, they’re such a whimsical tribute to the author. My favorite? The misunderstood bookworm Matilda, of course.