or, stuff that I dragged out of my head

Location: Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Tales From the Crypt

In the preface to this month's cryptic crossword puzzle in Harper's magazine--and if you haven't finished it yet, you had probably better stop reading--is a sentence reading, "Apologies for the entry at 28A."

My natural assumption was that the crossword's author (or, as the British say, compiler), Richard Maltby, Jr., had committed a particularly horrible pun, a form of wordplay that I loathe. I know if I felt compelled to do so--if I had devised a clue that was irresistibly clever, despite its being a pun of some sort--then I would have apologized for it, too.

But no. The entry eventually resolved itself into _HIC_ENS_I_, and I thought, "Chicken suit? Chicken skin?" It turned out to be, and I assume that you are quicker on the uptake than I am, "chickenshit"*.

At first, I thought, "For that he needs to apologize? How fragile does he think the average Harper's reader is, anyway?" But then I thought, well, if you can just blithely toss words like "chickenshit" into your crossword puzzle, then what's the next stop? "Motherfucker"? Probably best to imply that you couldn't not use it (it fits the space, it's a valid word), but at the same time imply that you won't be doing that sort of thing again anytime soon.

Come to think of it, why couldn't he have used "chicken skin"? It's also a valid word, the common term for a dermatological condition properly known as keratosis pilaris.


Speaking of particularly horrible: Where I work, we're perpetually barraged with astoundingly bad corporate-decreed music (really, amazingly, fantastically bad) interspersed with commercials for the store's upcoming events, one of which is an Easter-cookie-decorating thing, which wouldn't interest or affect me in any way except that the gratingly smarmy woman who voices the announcements somehow decided that the word "scrumptious" is properly pronounced "scrumptuous", as if it were derived from "sumptuous", which in fact it probably is, but still--the word is "scrumptious" and is pronounced as it looks, to rhyme with "bumptious", and saying "scrumptuous" makes her sound like she don't actually know what she's doing** (in addition to being gratingly smarmy), and hearing her say it drives me around the bend.

* The clue, for the curious: "Around his kitchen, cooking is really small-time", which is to say "around"="c" plus "his kitchen", cooked, or anagrammed, equals "chickenshit", a word meaning "really small-time". I can see why he couldn't resist using it: it's very good.

** When the Christian Dior scent Poison came out in 1985, I heard a sales clerk--and I would imagine her subconscious mental process, if you can call it that, informed her that it was a French scent from a French house and therefore must have a French name, and also that "Poison" is clearly an English word and therefore could not be the name--pronounce it "poisson", which is the French word for "fish".


Post a Comment

<< Home