literary curiosities

The unusual, offbeat, and little-known side of language, literature, and authors

Authors Who Died at the Hands of Another (Part 2)

Sir Thomas Overbury (1581-1613) is perhaps best remembered for his collection of Theophrastan characters—brief sketches of persons who typify particular human traits.  But he is also remembered for the horrible way in which he died. Read More…

Pen Names

Authors occasionally adopt pen names, and they do so for a variety of reasons.  It may be that they consider their real names too commonplace, cumbersome, or inappropriate for the kind of writing they produce.  Sometimes they simply want to hide their identities. Read More…

Lipograms

The term LIPOGRAM comes from the ancient Greek leipográmmatos, which means “leaving out a letter.”  A lipogram, then, is a literary work in which one or more letters of the alphabet are excluded. Read More…

The Nobel Prize in Literature

The invention of dynamite brought Alfred Nobel, a Swedish chemist and engineer, substantial wealth.  It also left him feeling guilty for having created such a deadly and destructive material. Read More…

Irish Bulls

A BULL in the literary sense is any statement made ludicrous by its absurd logic. Read More…

Authors Who Died at the Hands of Another (Part 1)

King Henry VIII was not the sort of man you wanted to rile, even if you were one of England’s most distinguished authors. Read More…

The Best Things Ever Said about Words, Grammar, and Punctuation

Those who have a thin body fill it out with padding; those who have slim substance swell it out with words.

 

Michel de Montaigne  (1533-1592) Read More…

Eponyms (Part 2)

One of today’s most popular food items derives its name from an eighteenth century English aristocrat. Read More…

Writers Who Were NOT Great Talkers

We tend to assume that great writers must also be great talkers—that a fluent pen must indicate likewise a fluent tongue.  But this is not always the case. Read More…

Writers Who Were Great Talkers

Some of our finest writers have also been superb talkers.  A few have possessed verbal skills equal to—perhaps even greater than—their writing talents. Read More…

Literary Curmudgeons

Curmudgeons are usually not bad people.  They’re just cranky.  Often, in fact, they are kind, warmhearted people who simply get a little surly when confronted with what they perceive as sham, haughtiness, deceit, or the like. Read More…

Eponyms (Part 1)

Many common words in English derive from people’s names.  The term EPONYM refers to the name of a person that has become so closely associated with a particular object or attribute, that the name now stands for the object or attribute itself. Read More…

Three Authors Who Mysteriously Disappeared

Edgar Allan Poe (1809-1849), who invented the modern detective story with publication of “The Murders in the Rue Morgue” in 1841, vanished for nearly a week, thereby creating an actual mystery that remains unsolved today. Read More…

The Best Things Ever Said about Poets and Poetry

If a man comes to the door of poetry untouched by the madness of the Muses, believing that technique alone will make him a good poet, he and his sane compositions never reach perfection, but are utterly eclipsed by the performances of the inspired madman.

 

Socrates (469-399 B.C.) Read More…

Authors Who Took Their Own Lives (Part 3)

Harry Crosby (1898-1929) came from a family of Boston blue bloods. His uncle was J. P. Morgan, his father a wealthy investment banker. But Harry had no interest in banking or finances. He wanted to be a poet. Read More…

Absentmindedness

Nearly everyone experiences absentmindedness at one time or another, but authors seem to be especially afflicted, along with clergymen, professors, and other contemplative people. Read More…

Misprints and the Misery They Cause

“A poet can survive anything but a misprint,” said Oscar Wilde. Yet misprints seem to be an inescapable fact of life for all published writers. Read More…

The Murder of Percy Shelley

Most readers are familiar with the main circumstances surrounding the death of Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792-1822): he is sailing in an open boat off the western coast of Italy when a late afternoon storm comes up, capsizes his boat, and throws him and his two companions into the sea where they drown. But were the deaths really accidental? Read More…

Puns

All reasonable and intelligent people despise puns. At least they should. That seems to be the message from what some reasonable and intelligent writers in the past have said on the subject. Read More…

Cryptograms and 8†35(5005*.‡8

Cryptograms, or coded messages, have been around for millennia. They were originally used for communicating personal and military secrets. Julius Caesar used a form of cryptography, known as Caesar’s cipher, in some of his correspondence, and later, during the Middle Ages, word puzzles of various sorts were devised for entertainment to pass the time. Read More…

Dueling

Sir Richard Steele, writing in the June 7, 1709 issue of The Tatler, satirized the motives that caused men to engage in “so fatal a folly” as dueling. Supposedly founded on principles of honor and gallantry, dueling, Steele argued, was actually “an imposture, made of cowardice, falsehood, and want of understanding.” Read More…

Authors Who Took Their Own Lives (Part 2)

“Why did Virginia Woolf commit suicide?” asked American poet Sylvia Plath (1932-1963) in a journal entry. “Or Sara Teasdale or the other brilliant women? Neurotic? Was their writing sublimation (oh, horrible word) of deep, basic desires? If only I knew.” Read More…

Byron’s Club Foot and Other Disabilities of Authors

Lord Byron (1788-1824) prided himself on being a strong swimmer.  In 1810 he swam the Hellespont, the channel that separates Europe from Asia, and took pride in the achievement for the rest of his life. Read More…

Odd Volumes

Books come in a variety of sizes, from hefty dictionaries to things no bigger than postage stamps. Read More…

Modes of Literary Composition

Is it better to write in the morning or late at night—at set times or just as the urge dictates—rapidly and hot off the brain or only after careful reflection—on a full stomach or empty—after a few drinks or stone cold sober? Read More…

Grues and Clerihews

GRUE as a literary term refers to a comically sadistic and grisly little poem of four lines. Read More…

Mark Twain and the Art of Swearing

Most people should not swear. This is not a moral judgment but an artistic one. Read More…

The Best Things Ever Said about Critics

They who are to be judges must also be performers.

 

Aristotle (384-322 B.C.) Read More…

Palindromes and Anagrams

PALINDROME refers to any word or sentence that reads the same backwards or forwards. Read More…

Authors Who Took Their Own Lives (Part 1)

A study conducted in 2012 at Karolinska Institute in Sweden found that anxiety, depression, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and substance abuse are more common in creative individuals than in, say, accountants, and that authors in particular are twice as likely to commit suicide as the general population. Read More…