End of an Era

January 26, 2009

Unsurprisingly, the telephone has not started ringing. But there may be one or two readers out there who rightly surmise that in the general excitement of what those at the Saturday Times will no doubt call a ‘makeover’, Lexiconfusion appears to have perished at the sword of redesign. We have no rebuttal to such an inference. It does indeed appear to be the case.

In other words, as Mrs Spelling so eloquently put it, we ‘got the shove’.

It has been an honour and a privilege to sit in this book-lined Scriptorium warming my feet beside the roaring fire whilst pondering the next homograph to be inserted in the pages of the Times. But all good things must come to an end. Or must they? Perhaps if enough of our dear Readers disagreed with my cliche-ridden assessment and made their disquiet at the loss of Lexiconfusion known to the powers that be at the newspaper, then we might be reinstated… It is just a thought – the editor can be contacted on letters@thetimes.co.uk


This Week’s Word: Cow

November 4, 2008

As Mrs Spelling seems content to remain in our service and our debt, life within the Scriptorium has returned to something resembling normality. Thus it was that, over scrambled eggs and oven-bottom muffins, I congratulated Mr Bennett on his latest rendition of ‘Cow’.

For those dear Readers who have yet to witness his impression, I shall reprint it here as it originally appeared in this week’s Times Magazine:


‘Excellent, Mr Bennett’, I commented. ‘Delightful udders.’

‘Not too Godzilla, Mr Teed?’ my friend enquired. ‘I wanted to allude to the Manga tradition…’

‘No, let me stop you there, Mr Bennett, you have already lost me I’m afraid. Is manga a fruit?’

My artistic confederate peered at me over his half moon spectacles as he spooned more scrambled egg onto his muffin.

‘You are thinking mango, Mr Teed. Honestly, I see I shall have to educate you in the traditions of graphic art…’

‘Stop there, Mr Bennett, you shall do no such thing! I am quite happy to appreciate your rendition of Cow in blissful ignorance and without recourse to a post-modernist examination of graphic novels of the twentieth century.’

‘Your loss,’ my friend muttered into his muffin, along with several other words which were subsequently lost – though I fancy ‘pompous’ and ‘ass’ were amongst them.

‘We should call her Cowzilla,’ I offered, after a difficult silence. Mr Bennett smiled once more.

‘Cowzilla it is,’ he agreed.

Order restored

October 24, 2008

After the unfortunate ‘greased slipper incident’, which was duly noted in the Scriptorium Accident Book (hardly a book, say I: more a child’s jotter kept solely to satisfy the prying bureaucratic eyes of wandering Health and Safety officers), Mrs Spelling was accosted and confronted with our suspicions.

‘It’s true!’ she sobbed into her chamois leather. ‘I put the beeswax on the steps and then forgot to buff ’em up again. I never meant no ‘arm, so ‘elp me!’

‘Mrs Spelling, please get a grip on yourself and stop descending into Dickensian caricature!’ I admonished her sternly. ‘It is most gratifying to learn that the greased steps were an accidental oversight, and encouraging also that you have once more deigned to reside under the Scriptorium’s roof, and to preside over the housekeeping duties. We are much obliged to you. If you had chosen to spend many more weeks at your cousin Mildred’s I am afraid Mr Bennett and I would have passed away with malnourishment.’ As indeed would this blog, although we all might have regarded that as a blessed release.

‘Much obliged, sir’, murmured Mrs Spelling, not quite yet freed from the bonds of caricature, as she retreated from the library.

And so it is that life in the Scriptorium has regained a certain balance at long last. The days are shortening, and the temperature dropping, for we are almost at that juncture in the year when carefree British Summer Time bids us a sad but fond farewell and we once again cower under the surly animosities of the aptly named Greenwich Mean Time. But with a roaring fire in the grate, and the sound of Mr Bennett’s nib scratching in the background, and a steak and kidney pudding in the offing, life is comfortably tolerable once more.

Mrs Spelling

September 17, 2008

We have had an unfortunate event at the scriptorium; namely an oily deposit on the ladders which almost resulted in shoddy  death when the  low friction leather soles of my library-creepers came into contact with it. `I  feel it may  have been the Spelling woman’s fault-  if that is not too Poirotesque an assertion. But let us face the fact that Mrs Spelling  has always struck me as a vicious stunted misanthrope. And yet she has never failed to bring the tea on time.

In Absentia…

June 3, 2008

We must apologise to our dear Reader (the ‘blog stats’, as I believe they are called, indeed indicating that there is only one) for our unexplained absence. Suffice to say that several weeks ago Mrs Spelling was overtaken by a sudden desire to visit Timbucktoo, where her cousin apparently resides, thus plunging Messrs Bennett and Teed into a querulous predicament. When I made mention of the fact, as our dear Housekeeper was almost running to the front door with her suitcase, she merely declared:

‘It’s time you two miserly old miseries learned to fend for yourselves!’

And so it was that my esteemed colleague and I have indeed been relearning various skills associated, we believe, with modern life. Of these, I can report that I am most proud of my success in the kitchen, where only last evening I rendered a fox that had fallen into one of my garden snares into a most edible ragout. (Although Mr Bennett’s comment was merely ‘terrible fox’.)

Of these new lifeskills, however, I must admit that blogging has not been at the forefront.

Gondola (n.): A set of island shelves in a shop: used for
displaying goods.

‘It is a most beautiful rendition, Mr Bennett’, I complimented my artistic amanuensis upon his arrival in the Scriptorium. He looked somewhat surprised at such an unsolicited eulogy so early in the morning.

‘Why thank you, Mr Teed. To which rendition are you referring?’

‘Why, gondola, of course!’ I ejaculated, waving this week’s copy of the Times Magazine in his general direction. ‘It marries perfectly the romance of Venice with the efflorescence of Gap’.

‘If you say so’.

‘And I do. You know we have Mrs Spelling’s niece to thank for that word?’


‘Yes. Pauline Spelling’.

‘Has she? Was she writing something for you?’

‘Sharp, Mr Bennett, sharp. No, Pauline supplied our dear housekeeper with an anecdotal account that in certain fashion emporia at the shopping mall known, I believe, as the Designer Outlet, the assistants refer to the gondalas in the centre of the store. You may also be interested to note, that they term the display shelves against the walls carcasses, although you will be pleased to hear I have spared you the task of illustrating that particular homograph’.

‘Be thankful for small mercies’, Mr Bennett mumbled.

‘Quite so, quite so’.

‘And Mrs Spelling relayed this information to you, freely and of her own volition?’ my esteemed colleague asked in what I can only describe as a tone of incredulity.

‘You are right to adopt such an interrogative mode, Mr Bennett’, I conceded. ‘There was indeed a degree of stealth involved in my recovery of said anecdote’.

‘You mean you’ve bugged old Spelling’s place?’ Mr Bennett cried, eyes wide in excitement and sideburns aquiver.

‘Not quite such daring stealth as that. It was in the course of my secondary morning movement, for which purpose I had repaired to Mrs Spelling’s water closet in the hope of passing the time with her latest copy of Chat magazine, when I overheard Pauline regale her aunt with the account’.

‘Ah, right’, replied my friend as he ascended to his drawing perch. ‘So you eavesdropped from the crapper. Nice one’.

Curry (vb.) To groom (a horse) with a rubber or plastic

‘Your Balti horse is most enjoyable’, I observed to Mr Bennett at breakfast over my bowl of The West Midlands Cereal Co.’s Oatmeal Clusters (Mrs Spelling having refused to purchase Dorset cereals, claiming them ‘overpriced gravel, in my opinion, sir – besides, Aldi don’t stock ’em’). At this point my back molar made fierce contact with a particularly compacted cluster.

‘Careful, Mr Teed’, my colleague offered, not entirely helpfully. ‘You should opt for softly poached eggs like me. No danger of dental misadventures here’. I grunted in agreement. ‘As for curry, I wondered why you didn’t ask me to illustrate ‘curry favour’ or something equally disempowering from the illustrative standpoint, as is your usual wont’.

Here I grunted again, in what I hoped was a conciliatory tone, but Mr Bennett was seemingly heartened by my temporary lack of voice and accompanying dental discomfort.

 ‘Indeed,’ he continued, warming to his theme, ‘I took the liberty of examing the great Dictionary myself on the subject of ‘curry’, and the first definition my eye alighted on was, and I quote, ‘portions of animal slain that were given to the hounds; the cutting up and disembowelling of game; trans. any prey thrown to the hounds to be torn to pieces, or seized and torn to pieces by wild beasts; see QUARRY’. Now why, I wondered, did Teed not give me that one to do? I could have had much fun with curried entrails’. Mr Bennett paused, and what can only be described as a smirk passed across his ginger jowls as he dipped his oven-bottom muffin in the runny yolks before him. 

Finally I had succeeded in dislodging my offensively interdental cluster, thus enabling me to counter my colleague:

‘I think, Mr Bennett, that our dear Readers might object to your colourful renditions of disembowelments so early in the morning. It might, how should I put it, disincline them towards their breakfasts’. Here I pushed my own bowl away from me, unable to face another cluster.

My friend shrugged. ‘Only a thought’, he mumbled with mouth full.

‘Besides which’, I continued, ‘the meaning is obsolete and archaic’.

Mr Bennett guffawed, bespattering the table with shards of egg and muffin.

‘Obsolete and archaic? Sounds heaven-sent for you, Mr Teed, heaven-sent!’ 

Shakespeare’s birthday

April 23, 2008

I have to confess to – and apologise for – becoming invariably unbalanced whenever forced to contemplate the modern age, or society, or youth, or so-called popular culture. However, a quiet morning spent dipping in and out of Shakespeare’s later works restored my calm and equilibrium until I was quite looking forward to Elevenses.

‘Talking of Shakespeare’, I resumed, checking my pocket watch and noting there were still two minutes to pass before Mrs Spelling’s arrival with tea and buns.

‘Were we?’ enquired Mr Bennett.

‘Indeed, some hours ago we were. However, we have been remiss not to note that today is the Bard’s birthday’.

‘And St George’s day to boot’, added my esteemed colleague, swirling his brush in water.

‘Quite so. I fancy some celebration is in order’, I posited. As if on cue, the Scriptorium door opened to admit Mrs Spelling bearing a steaming pot of tea, which she had dressed in a red and white tea-cosy, and a heap of buns lovingly iced with the patron saint’s emblem.

‘Thank you, Mrs Spelling!’ I exclaimed. ‘You are indeed blessed with the powers of telepathy!’

‘I don’t know about that, sir. The tea and tea-cosy was on special at Lidl, and these buns were BOGOF at Aldi’.

‘Ah, Mrs Spelling, as self-deprecating as ever!’

‘I wouldn’t say that, sir…’ the good lady muttered as she retreated from the Scriptorium, the echoing bookstacks absorbing the remainder of her sentence – although I did catch the words ‘pittance’ and ‘housekeeping’ and ‘modern day slavery’.

‘Well then, Mr Bennett, let us toast with tea and buns, courtesy of cut-price German supermarket chains, the swashbuckling knight who is our patron saint, and the great Bard Shakespeare!’

‘Great’, said my artistic confederate, alighting from his drawing stool. ‘I’m parched’.

Less is more

April 23, 2008

I am reminded by Mr Bennett, shortly after completing what I believe the youngsters would call my last ‘post’, that it is more advisable in the world of blogging to keep things short. In fact, his exact words were:

‘For God’s sake, man, keep it snappy! Less is more, and all that’.

My colleague’s words sent a shudder down my spine, not least because he opted to employ the ubiquitous, oxymoronic phraseology of ‘less is more’.

‘Get with the times, Mr Teed’, was his defence when questioned on this matter. ‘You’ll see I only speak truths’.

I repaired to the great Lexicon in an effort to soothe my fraying nerves, for I knew it was society’s fault, not Mr Bennett’s, that every cock and spaniel bandied about that infernal phrase ‘less is more’ as if it meant something.

‘Great Scott!’ I exclaimed, moments later. ‘Mr Bennett, you are almost right!’

‘Only almost?’ enquired my startled friend.

‘According to the Dictionary, and I quote, “Less, sense 5: used peculiarly by Shakespeare with words expressing or implying a negative, where the sense requires more“. Then there are examples from the Winter’s Tale and Cymbeline’.

‘I see’, Mr Bennett said drily. ‘In other words Shakespeare agreed that less is actually more? How more right, in the English language, do you require me to be?’

‘It’s a very narrow sense, hardly used’, I blustered, closing the Dictionary. ‘And besides it is obsolete now’.

Mr Bennett returned to his palette in disgust. ‘Ha! Forget it, Mr Teed. Just keep it snappy’.


Hailstones had begun to pelt the high windows of the Scriptorium as I perused Volume III of The Lost Tribes of America beside a roaring fire.

For the benefit of our dear Reader(s), I should perhaps offer something in the way of explication: Lorimarr Sedgewick was an itinerant anthropologist who spent more than two decades in the early twentieth century criss-crossing North America searching out, interviewing and documenting indigenous peoples previously unacknowledged as having existed on that continent’s soil. He finally published The Lost Tribes of America – four volumes of his findings – in 1936. The following year he was arrested, charged with treason and incarcerated in the newly built prison on Alcatraz, where he died in 1953. All copies of the Lost Tribes were seized and destroyed, the US Government having declared it unconstitutional.

This edition, which found its way into our Scriptorium via a flea market in Beirut, is thought to be the only one in existence. We believe all four volumes were smuggled across the Mexican border by Sedgewick’s Aunt Mabel in the rectum of her pet mule in 1937.

Such fascinating anthropological encounters revealed themselves on every page as I flicked through: the wailing Britnaticus tribe of the Pacific coast, with their shaven heads; the Bushaby tribe of Texas, a warring, stunted, ape-like people; the Clintongantuans of the deep South, a priapic tribe hungry for power at any cost…

‘Got it!’ exclaimed Mr Bennett from distant bookstacks. ‘Well remembered, Mr Teed, it was Genial’.

He returned to the fireside with the giant Index open at the relevant leaves:

Genial (adj.): Of or relating to the chin; situated
on or arising from the chin.

This entry was catalogued as ‘Lex 5; published 5 Oct 04’. There was a penciled marginalium: Sedgewick III.496.

I turned to page 496 in the volume that had so recently dented my sternum and located the following passage:

Barely twenty miles into Iowa, we came across the first of the Wobegone tribe. With their oddly sprouting genial appendages, they were – contrary to one’s expectations – quite literally most friendly and welcoming.

‘One will recall from one’s Greek studies, of course’, I mused, ‘that genus means jaw, and hence genial – rhyming with denial – was invented in the nineteenth century to mean ‘of the chin’. Genial, rhyming with venial, comes of course from the Latin genialis, relating to birth or marriage’.

‘Indeed, Mr Teed, indeed. Quite a disturbing one though, all the same’, noted Mr Bennett. ‘Gives me the creeps a bit – which is saying something, since I was the one who drew it’.