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Cheap Tricks to Achieve Modest Immortality


No, not the spiritual kind. We are in favor of that mode of immortality, but since we cannot really know anything about it, it isn't blog fodder (or fog blodder – see below). What we actually mean is ways to immortalize your name. Yes, yes, charity and good works will probably keep your name going for a while. If you have enough money to make big donations you might get a university building named after you. You could also invent, discover, write, compose or paint things that live on (Alexander Graham Bell, Banting and Best, Shakespeare, Mozart, Picasso, etc). Haley did well with his comet. And then, of course, there is infamy. Doing truly rotten things keeps your name alive as well. We do not recommend this path.

Anyway, this is a language blog. Other than writing great literature, which, let's face it, is time consuming and requires considerable talent, are there language-related ways to attach your name to something so that it will spill off people's lips in the future? If this is your concern, then we are here to help.


We suggest inventing a figure of speech or a poetic form that will acquire the name of the person who practiced or invented it (that would be you). For inspiration, we will now provide an example of each. The rest is up to you.


Let's start with a figure of speech. Spoonerisms are slips of the tongue whereby the initial consonants of two words are exchanged (there are variations in which vowel sounds are exchanged, or sometimes both consonant and vowel). These slips of the tongue certainly occurred before they acquired the name of absent-minded Oxford don and ordained minister William Archibald Spooner (1844-1930), but his tongue reputedly slipped in this way disturbingly often during lectures and sermons. Among the spoonerisms attributed to Reverend Spooner are, "It is kisstomary to cuss the bride," "You have hissed all my mystery lectures" and "Mardon me padam, this pie is occupewed. Can I sew you to another sheet?"

Whether the Reverend actually said these or not, his name became attached to this kind of tongue slippage. There are worse ways to immortalize one's name than providing giggles. After a moment's surprise, your friends will giggle when, touring their new kitchen, you say enthusiastically, "You have a nosy little cook here!" Perhaps later you will have a chance to read your friends' children the story of Cinderella, about a girl who slopped her dripper. And perhaps at bedtime you will pick up the family's guitar and sing everyone a bad salad.

The lesson, dear readers, is this: pay attention to your own verbal idiosyncrasies. There may be something there that will preserve your name.


On to a poetic form: the clerihew. Edmund Clerihew Bentley, born in England in 1875, invented the clerihew when he was a sixteen-year-old schoolboy. The clerihew is a four-line poem with a (usually famous) person's name in the first line. The rhyme scheme is AABB. No particular rhythm is required. The poems are sometimes insulting and usually silly. That's it, those are the rules. Here of some of Bentley's clerihews:


George the Third Ought never to have occurred. One can only wonder At so grotesque a blunder.


The people of Spain think Cervantes

Equal to half-a-dozen Dantes:

An opinion resented most bitterly

By the people of Italy.


Bentley published several volumes of clerihews under the name E. Clerihew, and the poetic form took on his name. W.H. Auden wrote clerihews, as did G.K. Chesterton and others, and the form has taken on new popularity today, oddly, on Twitter, where folks are writing clerihews about people in the news and characters on TV shows. It's a very easy form to work with. Here's one I just dashed off:


Some say Deborah Court's blog,

Is enshrouded in verbal fog

Others, somewhat less spiteful

Find her sporadically delightful.


Okay, back to immortalizing your name. Do you have a verbal idiosyncrasy that might catch on? Perhaps you are constitutionally unable to use the letter 't'? (Try it. Try eliminating one common letter from your speech altogether.)


Do you fancy a verse form with a particular schtick? Rhyming triplets that combine a day of the week, a psychiatric condition and a kind of fresh fruit, perhaps? His Friday psychoses/Demanded great doses/Of banana mimosas. Hmm. Don’t know if that will catch on.


When your idea does begin to catch on, be sure your name actually gets attached. Giacomo da Lentini invented the sonnet in 13th century Italy, but we don't call them lentinis, now do we? Sounds like a kind of pasta.


Those who know me well may remember that I love palindromes. The word 'palindrome' is credited to Ben Jonson in the 1600's, but palindromes themselves (words and phrases that read the same forwards as backwards) are credited to 3rd century BCE Greek poet Sotades the Obscene (I'm not making this up). We do not commonly associate his name with the delightful practice of palindromy, although if you look up "Sotadic verse" you will see that it is defined as a palindromic verse. So I guess old Sotades the Obscene gets a bit of the name-recognition he deserves. And so should you.


Till next time.


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