Monday, August 26, 2013

Chld* (for Child*)

An early scene in the Depression-era film Child Bride shows a young schoolteacher in the Ozarks quizzing her pupils on their homework. A one-room, ragtag assemblage of Appalachian children, even their spelling mistakes leave a lot to be desired: "binh" and "banbhish" for banish, "cataloqe" for catalogue, "motian" for mountain, "milkging" for milking. These kids have a lot on their minds besides getting an education, as do the makers of this so-called "educational" film, who state their intentions clearly at the outset: "Here is a page from the Book of Life ... The characters are real people who live deep in the heart of Thunderhead Mountain. In dramatizing life among these 'back yonder' folks, we aim neither to ridicule nor to defend their mode of living ... and if our story will help to abolish Child Marriage, it will have served its purpose..." The film was denied a "certificate of approval" by the Hays Production Code due to both its supposedly immoral subject matter and a nude swimming sequence involving twelve-year-old actress Shirley Mills (also known for playing Ruthie Joad in The Grapes of Wrath). It was distributed independently of the Hollywood system, but was still banned in many areas across the country. Some critics have called the swimming footage gratuitous and even exploitative, a cynical choice that works to undercut the movie's very theme, but I think it effectively serves two purposes. It allows the girl's lecherous hillbilly wannabe-husband to peep at her in various stages of undress, and it demonstrates an innocent, age-appropriate summer activity for the prepubescent Jennie and sweetheart Freddie, in clear contrast to the ugly "child bride" scenario waiting in the wings. While most of this film is really pretty bad, I was blown away by the scene in which Jennie's actual "old man" threatens her mother, forbids her to see Freddie, tries to bribe her with a store-bought baby doll, and plants a less than toothsome kiss on her literally pouting lips. The moment in which she tells the guy that she'll "try" and be good, and then dashes the doll to the ground as he retreats, redeemed the entire film for me. There were 37 hits on Chld* (for child*) in OhioLINK, and "too many records found for your search" in WorldCat.

(Jennie Colton, played by Shirley Mills, in a still from Child Bride's infamous skinny dipping scene, from Wikimedia Commons.)

Carol Reid

Monday, August 19, 2013

Greatful* (for Grateful*)

The Grateful Dead was a really great band, whose jamming would never grate on any of its fans. Some of whom could often be seen standing outside a concert, hopefully waiting for a "miracle" (i.e., a last-minute ticket to a sold-out show). Truthfully, I've never been on either side of the Dead divide, but I was in a new location for an old pizza place the other night when I spotted this slight syntactical error emblazoned on a tip jar: "Donations of any amount are graciously accepted." While I'm not doubting that these guys would be gracious under almost any working conditions, I'm pretty sure the word they meant to use there was gratefully. Today's typo was found seven times in OhioLINK, and 276 times in WorldCat. (The sort of finding I'm always grateful for, though perhaps not always gracious about.)

P.S. A friend, who admires both the Grateful Dead and former Fairport Convention-eer Richard Thompson, tells me that the latter, during a recent gig in Albany, took a longish minute to tune his guitar, murmuring, "I hope it's worth it..." When he finished playing the song, someone in the audience yelled out, "So was it worth it?" Thompson took a beat and then replied: "That's not for me to say, really." (Gracious, if not entirely grateful.)

(John Perry Barlow, erstwhile lyricist for the Grateful Dead, from Wikimedia Commons.)

Carol Reid

Monday, August 12, 2013

Welll* (for Well*)

Well, well, well. Literary lesbian icon Radclyffe Hall was born Marguerite Radclyffe-Hall on August 12, 1880. Hall is best known for her book The Well of Loneliness, which was published in England in 1928. Both book and author were openly gay and The Well was soon seized by the Home Office and charged with indecency. Virginia Woolf didn't much care for the groundbreaking work ("The dullness of the book is such that any indecency may lurk there—one simply can't keep one's eyes on the page"), but was quite willing to join Hall in a campaign to awaken "the conspiracy of silence" around lesbianism, and defeat censorship "on behalf of English literature." Many in the Bloomsbury set were not, however. "Most of our friends are trying to evade the witness box," Woolf wrote her nephew Quentin Bell, "for reasons you may guess. But they generally put it down to the weak heart of a father, or a cousin who is about to have twins." In the end, the judge banned the book and it stayed banned for the next two decades. 1928 also saw the publication of four other "lesbian novels": Elizabeth Bowen's The Hotel, Virginia Woolf's Orlando, Compton Mackenzie's Extraordinary Women, and the comic roman à clef Ladies Almanack by Djuna Barnes. Radclyffe Hall and her longtime lover, the sculptor Una Troubridge, described themselves as "congenital inverts" (the technical term back then for lesbians and gay men) and lived together for twenty-five years, until Hall's death in 1943. The Well of Loneliness might not be great literature, gay or otherwise, but it is great history. There were nine cases of Welll* (for well*) in OhioLINK, and 293 in WorldCat.

(Paperback book cover of The Well of Loneliness, Falcon Press, 1951, from Wikimedia Commons.)

Carol Reid

Monday, August 5, 2013

Cordinat* (for Coordinat*)

My father used to sell firewood harvested from trees he had cut down while clearing lots. This was long before people owned answering machines, or had more than one telephone number, much less websites set up for small businesses. Instead of just saying "Hello?" we were all supposed to answer the phone by chirping, "Reid's Firewood Service. Fifty dollars a cord, twenty-five dollars a face cord!" We were like the in-house cord coordinators. A cord is a unit of measure for wood that, when "ranked and well stowed" (arranged so the pieces are aligned, parallel, touching, and compact), occupies a volume of 128 cubic feet, according to Wikipedia. A face cord is about a third the volume of a full cord, and is also known as a "rick of wood" in the Midwest. The word cord probably derives from the cord or string that is used to measure it. We cordoned off 12 cases of Cordinat* in OhioLINK today, and 563 in WorldCat.

(A full cord of wood, 8 August 2009, from Wikimedia Commons.)

Carol Reid