Tag Archives: literary oddities

Write It Right: Coat for Coating

“Coat for Coating. ‘A coat of paint, or varnish.’ If we coat something we produce a coating, not a coat.”

Excerpted from: Bierce, Ambrose. Write it Right: A Little Blacklist of Literary Faults. Mineola, NY: Dover, 2010.

H.L. Mencken on Morality

“Morality is the theory that every human act must be either right or wrong, and that 99 percent of them are wrong.”

H.L. Mencken

Excerpted from: Winokur, Jon, ed. The Big Curmudgeon. New York: Black Dog & Leventhal, 2007.

Write It Right: Claim for Affirm

“Claim for Affirm. ‘I claim that he is elected.’ To claim is to assert ownership.”

Excerpted from: Bierce, Ambrose. Write it Right: A Little Blacklist of Literary Faults. Mineola, NY: Dover, 2010.

 Rotten Reviews: 10:30 on a Summer Night

“…has the proud air of saying in her every painful, glottal line, ‘Hup for prose.’”

Hortense Callisher, The Nation

Excerpted from: Barnard, Andre, and Bill Henderson, eds. Pushcart’s Complete Rotten Reviews and Rejections. Wainscott, NY: Pushcart Press, 1998.    

Book of Answers: Dr. Seuss’s First Book

“What was the first book published by Dr Seuss (Theodore Geisel)? And to Think I Saw it on Mulberry Street was published in 1937 by Vanguard Press, after being rejected by twenty-three other publishers.”

Excerpted from: Corey, Melinda, and George Ochoa. Literature: The New York Public Library Book of Answers. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1993.

The Devil’s Dictionary: Adherent

“Adherent, n. A follower who has not yet obtained all that he expects to get.” 

Excerpted from: Bierce, Ambrose. David E. Schultz and S.J. Joshi, eds. The Unabridged Devil’s Dictionary. Athens: The University of Georgia Press, 2000. 

The Algonquin Wits: Robert Benchley

“Benchley spent a short, highly unsuccessful apprenticeship in the advertising department of Curtis Publishing Company, about which he recalled: ‘When I left Curtis (I was given plenty of time to get my hat and coat) I was advised not to stick to advertising. They said I was too tall, or something. I forget just what the reason was they gave.’”

Excerpted from: Drennan, Robert E., ed. The Algonquin Wits. New York: Kensington, 1985.

Write It Right: Clever for Obliging

“Clever for Obliging. In this sense the word was once in general use in the United States, but is now seldom heard and life here is less insupportable.”

Excerpted from: Bierce, Ambrose. Write it Right: A Little Blacklist of Literary Faults. Mineola, NY: Dover, 2010.


“Nighthawks: A painting (1942) by the US artist Edward Hopper (1882-1967), showing people at an all-night coffee stand. A nighthawk is the same as a ‘night owl,’ i.e. someone who likes to stay up all night. A nighthawk—also called a mosquito hawk or bulbat—is also the name for any of a group of American nightjars. Nighthawks has also been used as the title of two films, one (1978) about the night-time cruising of a gay British schoolteacher, and the other (1981) about American policemen pursuing a terrorist.”

Excerpted from: Crofton, Ian, ed. Brewer’s Curious Titles. London: Cassell, 2002.

15 Ranks of the Knights Templar

 “Grand Master * Seneschal * Commander of the Kingdom of Jerusalem * Commander of the City of Jerusalem * Commander of Tripoli and Antioch * Drapier * Commander of Houses * Commander of Knights * Knight Brothers * Turcopolier * Under Marshal * Standard Bearer * Sergeant Brothers * Turcopoles * Elderly Brothers

The Knights Templar were a crack force of armed monks, established in 1129 to protect pilgrims journeying to Jerusalem, and then employed to defend the Crusader kingdoms of Outremer. After the fall of Outremer to Turkic and Egyptian forces, the Templars no longer had a function for a medieval Europe without any appetite for crusading, and in 1312 they were suppressed by the Pope, under pressure from the French King Philip IV. His reason was straightforward: the throne was bankrupt and he wanted the Order’s considerable wealth—lands bequeathed to them, priories in all the nations of Christendom and a banking business. Because of the violence and suddenness of their suppression (and the accusations of heresy levied against them) a conspiratorial glamor continued to attach to the name of the Order, in contrast to its rival Hospitaller Knights of Saint John (who had the good sense to take over the island bases of Malta and Rhodes and still to an extent survive as a charitable institution). Indeed, the traditions of the Templars—or, to give them their full name, ‘The Poor Fellow-Soldiers of Christ and the Temple of Solomon’—would be enthusiastically mined some 400 years later by the quasi-Templar Freemasonry Lodges established in Europe and North America.

During their heyday, the Templars Grand Master was the absolute ruler over the Order and answered only to the Papacy. The Seneschal acted as both deputy and advisor to the Grand Master. The Commander of the Kingdom of Jerusalem, the Commander of the City of Jerusalem, and the Commander of Tripoli and Antioch had the same powers as Grand Master within their own jurisdictions. The Drapier was in charge of the Templar garments. The Commander of Houses and the Commander of Knights acted as lieutenants to higher authorities within the Order. The Knight Brothers were the warrior-monks who wore the white tunic and red cross. Each was equipped with three horses and apprentice-like squires. The Turcopolier commanded the brother sergeants in battle. The Under Marshal was in charge of the footmen and the equipment. The Standard Bearer was one of the sergeants and charged with carrying the order’s banner. The Sergeant Brothers were warriors who did not have proof of eight quarterlings of noble blood and thus had but one horse and no squires to assist them. The Turcopoles were local troops who would fight alongside the Templars. Sick and Elderly Brothers were no longer fit for active service but still members of the order.”

Excerpted from: Rogerson, Barnaby. Rogerson’s Book of Numbers: The Culture of Numbers–from 1,001 Nights to the Seven Wonders of the World. New York: Picador, 2013.