Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Miscellany for an Afternoon

As he lay dying, the last words uttered by Oscar Wilde were, “Either that wallpaper goes, or I do.” No, this is neither a piece about Oscar Wilde or wallpaper, but about an interesting book I pulled down from the shelves recently. It is an extremely witty and fascinating compendium of miscellany, and a fabulously researched book.

It’s called Schott’s Original Miscellany, conceived, written and designed by Ben Schott, and published by Bloomsbury in 2002. There is a companion book called Schott’s Food & Drink Miscellany, published by the same in 2003. I’ll save that one for another time.

The original Miscellany begins with this perfect description of its qualities: ‘Its purpose is to gather the flotsam and jetsam of the conversational tide.’ The book is a series of topical lists, charts and explanations, and much more, bound up in a beautiful design. Categories include, Some Famous Horses, the NATO alphabet, ‘I love you’ in forty-three languages, and…

PHOBIAS - The long list includes a phobia for clowns called ‘coulrophobia’ and one for sea swells (cymobphobia).

SEVEN WONDERS OF THE ANCIENT WORLD - (1) the Great Pyramid of Giza, (2) the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, (3) the Statue of Zeus at Olympia, (4) the Temple of Artemis at Ephesus, (5) the Mausoleum at Halicarnassus, (6) the Colossus of Rhodes, and (7) the Lighthouse of Alexandria.

FOUR HORSEMEN OF THE APOCALYPSE - (1) War-white horse, (2) Slaughter-red horse, (3) Famine-black horse, and (4) Death-pale horse

HOLALPHABETIC SENTENCES - (sentences using all twenty-six letters of the alphabet)

(1) We promptly judged antique ivory buckles for the next prize.

(2) Jackdaws love my big sphinx of quartz.

THE NINE MUSES - (1) Clio-history, (2) Melpomene-tragedy, (3) Thalia- comedy, (4) Calliope-epic poetry, (5) Urania-astronomy, (6) Euterpe-flutes and music, (7) Terpsichore-dancing and lyric poetry, (8) Polyhymnia-mime and sacred poetry, and (9) Erato-love poetry


(1) On Katherine Hepburn: She ran the whole gamut of emotions from A to B.

(2) On being told President Coolidge was dead: How do they know?

(3) You can lead a horticulture, but you can’t make her think.

Schott’s Original Miscellany, great way to fritter away an afternoon.

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Oak Hill, Florida, United States
A longtime expat relearning the footwork of life in America