Sunday, February 22, 2009

A Provisional Marriage

One of the "barbers' stories" collected by John M. Todd of Portland, Maine:

The town of Houlton, in Aroostook county, received its name from Uncle Jimmy Houlton, one of the early pioneers into that new country. He was a man of strong sense with a sly bit of humor in his composition. He was appointed a Justice of the Peace and, for a time, was the only one in that section. Residing in one of the incorporated places in that vicinity was a young couple who desired to be married and make a wedding journey to Bangor. The route to Bangor was through a forest with sparse settlements. They came to Houlton and called upon Uncle Jimmy to tie the nuptial knot before undertaking their journey. He informed them that his commission had expired and had not been renewed and that he could not marry them legally. They insisted that he should perform the ceremony, and, unwilling that he should disappoint the young lovers, he told them that he guessed he could marry them well enough to last to Bangor. This he did and gave them the following certificate: "This certifies that I have this day united in the bonds of matrimony Mr. A. B. and Miss C. D. of township No. 10; but it is no good, as my commission has run out, and this is to last only to Bangor, and is intended to 'kiver accidents' in going through the woods." [Link]

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Half-Drunk Heirloom

Chris James has discovered a bottle of Bordeaux his relative Arbuthnot Guthrie failed to finish before dying.

Guthrie opened the wine in 1897 and drank half before putting it back in his drinks cabinet. He died soon after and in his will left the castle to his nephew Murray, Chris's great-grandfather.

But he left the contents to his wife Agnes.

In a fit of anger, she took all the keys for the pieces of furniture that she could not move - including the drinks cabinet.

The cabinet had four drawers, one of which had been locked by Agnes more than 100 years ago.

Chris had a locksmith examine the drawer and make a new key last year. [Link]

Thursday, February 19, 2009

A Nonexistent Scofflaw

A mysterious man evaded dozens of parking and traffic tickets in Ireland, always giving the police a different address.

But then his cover was blown.

It was discovered that the man every member of the Irish police's rank and file had been looking for - a Mr Prawo Jazdy - wasn't exactly the sort of prized villain whose apprehension leads to an officer winning an award.

In fact he wasn't even human.

"Prawo Jazdy is actually the Polish for driving licence and not the first and surname on the licence," read a letter from June 2007 from an officer working within the Garda's traffic division. [Link, via Language Log]

Friday, February 13, 2009

Abe's Better-Looking Cousin

"New Jersey Nets dancer Bonnie Lincoln is a descendant of President Abraham Lincoln," says this FOX News affiliate. MSNBC says she's a "direct descendant" of Lincoln.

Bonnie herself knows that's not true. She says that she's descended "thirteen generations down" from John Lincoln, and Abe was descended "eight generations down" from John's brother, Richard. In other words, she is no closer a relative to Abe Lincoln than countless other Americans. But she's a pretty cheerleader, and they're not. And she's got a piece of wood from Abe's log cabin.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Sometimes a Semicolon Is Just a Semicolon

Could this be an early example of an emoticon?

A historical newspaper specialist at the digital archival company Proquest believes he has found an example of a sideways winking smiley face embedded in The New York Times transcript of an 1862 speech given by President Lincoln. Other historians are not so sure, saying the semicolon alongside a closed parenthesis is either a mistake or a misinterpretation of something that is perfectly grammatical for that era. [Link]
I vote for "misinterpretation of something that is perfectly grammatical for that era." I've seen plenty of 19th-century cases where a comma or (less commonly) a semicolon was placed before a closing parenthesis rather than after. All that makes this case notable is that the punctuation follows the word "laughter."

Sunday, February 01, 2009

And That's the Way It Almost Was

Walter Cronkite was almost the son of General Douglas MacArthur.

When my mother was a teenager growing up in Leavenworth, Kansas, one of her beaux at Fort Leavenworth was the young MacArthur—young, but apparently not young enough.

The family legend goes that MacArthur asked for Mother's hand in marriage. Grandfather accused the young captain of being a dirty old man, far too advanced in years for his daughter, and chased him off the front porch, one of MacArthur's few retreats.

Once, at a large reception, I dared mention the matter to the general.

"Helen Fritsche," he repeated. I thought I detected a slight glint in his eyes.

"Ah yes. Yes."

And he returned to greet another guest. [Link]

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