Guy Verbose: Episode 4 - The Big Lesson

It’s a dark night in a city that’s forgotten about its dictionaries, but on the first floor of a two-story house in Laurellia, one man is trying to find meaning in a world awash in words. Guy Verbose, Existential Lexicographical Private Eye.

Episode 4: The Big Lesson

It was Friday and my wife’s friends were in the mood for a get-together. And before I knew it, there they were standing in the kitchen clutching bottles of wine and hard cider. They said it was in honor of my wife’s 50th birthday, which was a few days away and coming fast, but I think they just wanted an excuse to get together and have a few drinks. Why our house had to be the place to have those drinks, I didn't know, but I didn't stand in the way.

My evening had already gone off the rails. Instead of kicking back when I closed the cover on my laptop at precisely 5:00 pm, I had to get my daughter to lacrosse practice, which wasn’t slated to end until 8. That left me with roughly 2 hours and 30 minutes to kill. To make the most of the time, I took one for the team and went grocery shopping. Then I drove home to put the groceries away, and then drove back to the field to pick up my daughter. It was 8:30 when I returned home, just a few minutes before my wife's friends started to arrive.

For the record, I like my wife’s friends … most of them. There’s one I try to avoid because she pushes my buttons (maybe on purpose), but I wasn’t invited to the party, so I didn’t have to worry about interacting with her. Or so I thought. After heating up some leftover pasta and retiring to the living room to eat and catch the end of the Law and Order re-run I knew was going to be on channel 735, the psychopath popped into the room.

“I’ve always felt bad that you couldn’t get the previous owners to replace that door,” she said.

She was talking about the large, sliding-glass door separating the dining area from our back patio, the location of the ladies-only get-together. The door, which is large and heavy, can be hard to open on a good day. On a humid night like tonight, it sticks.

“It’s fine,” I said lifelessly, never taking my eyes off the TV. She hung there for a few seconds as if wanting to say something else, and then left the room.

As the minutes ticked by and the amount of pasta before me shrunk, a nagging feeling formed over me like a dark cloud. Had I just been insulted? Yes, the door was cumbersome and difficult to open, so she wasn’t wrong, but who opens a conversation with someone by criticizing something in their home? We’ve been living in the house for nearly five years and she has used that door hundreds of times. Why bring it up now?

Such behavior is why I'm tempted to believe this woman is a psychopath. According to this article from Psychology Today, "Female psychopaths … display their aggression relationally. They are master puppeteers, pushing everyone’s buttons and pulling people’s strings to get what they want." Another article from the same source talks about how these people have a Machiavellian streak and enjoy manipulating others. For these folks, “manipulating others is an impulse, like an alcoholic's impulse to drink. Sometimes this manipulation is done to achieve personal gain, but other times it is just done for fun, or because they can’t stop themselves (e.g., internet trolling).”

To be clear, I take no pleasure in applying such labels to this person (or anyone for that matter), but given my past interactions with her, I know she wasn’t so much criticizing the door as she was impugning me for not doing anything about it. It’s like she was saying, “Hey you lazy moron, your door sucks. How about you fucking get on that?” That is, in this instance she was trying to push my buttons, and when I didn’t get ensnared in the trap she'd set for me, she left the room.

If I had my wits about me and was better at what the French call L’esprit de l’escalier, or “staircase wit,” I could have replied with something like, “You know, we have another door in the front of the house. How about you give that one a try—and then keep going.” Unfortunately, I'm not that quick. To make matters worse, mulling the best response to her insult made me lose track of what happened on Law and Order, and with only 5 or so minutes left, I knew I was never going to catch up. So, I finished eating and turned the TV off before the next episode could draw me in.

The ladies on the back porch were now at peak volume, so I grabbed the copy of Jack Kerouac’s Dharma Bums I’d been working on and headed upstairs to read on my bed. However, shortly after I got supine, I felt restless and a little feral. “I’ve got to get the hell out of here,” I said aloud to no one.

Such restlessness had become familiar. Since the pandemic and my two years as a test subject in the great social experiment known as “working from home,” I’ve developed a new appreciation for the outdoors. It’s not that I’ve grown to dislike my home and its hard-to-open glass door. I’ve put a lot of effort into arranging things just so, especially in the room known as “my office,” and I’m satisfied with the result. Yet, there’s no escaping the limitations of the boxed life. Humans were made to move and one can only move so much inside of four walls. This, after all, is what makes prison a punishment. So, I decided to go for a walk.

Our neighborhood in Laurellia is quiet, with big trees and wide streets. It is also dark. There are no streetlights, which in addition to giving the place a touch of charm, can make walking at night (my preferred time for a stroll) a little dangerous. Donning reflective or at least brightly colored clothing is a good idea (although I never do) and even then you can’t be sure the driver headed your way will see you because chances are he or she is looking at his or her god-damned phone.

Danger aside, I was happy to be out and using my leg muscles, but I couldn’t fully enjoy the feeling of my body in motion because my mind was somewhere else. Kerouac may have had visions of happy wanderers overflowing with peace, love, and charity, but this wanderer couldn’t stop thinking about the nerve of that lady on his back porch. 

Why would she just start talking shit about me and my door?
Who does that?
Why would someone do that?
Did she’d know I wouldn’t throw it back in her face because I’m too nice to tell her what I really think of her?
Did she say that because she saw me trying to relax and she wanted to give me something to be annoyed about?
Did she do it on purpose knowing I’d spend the next 45 minutes turning it over it my head?

I may not have taken the bait but, clearly, my buttons had been pressed.


*          *          * 

Mulling such questions was not out of line. The etymological dictionaries in my possession all agree that word insult comes the Latin word, insultare, meaning “to jump on,” and that’s just how I felt, jumped on. Ambushed.

“The early meaning was ‘exult, act arrogantly’ [from] Latin insultare ‘jump or trample on’ ([which is in turn] based on the Latin word saltare, from salire, ‘to leap’),” reads the Oxford Dictionary of Word Histories. “The noun in the early 17th century meant ‘an attack’ and is from French insulte or ecclesiastical Latin insultus. The main scenes in current use date from the 17th century apart from the medical insult, meaning “an occurrence of damage,” which has been in use since the early 20th century.”

John Ayto’s Dictionary of Word Origins tells a similar tale.

“The -sult of insult comes from a word that meant jump. Its source was Latin insultare ‘jump on,’ a compound verb based on saltare ‘jump.’ This was a derivative of salire ‘jump’, the source in one way or another of English assail, assault, desultory, salacious, and salient. Old French took insultare over as insulter and used it for ‘triumph over in an arrogant way.’ This was how the word was originally used in English, but at the beginning of the 17th century the now familiar sense ‘abuse’ (which had actually developed first in the Latin verb) was introduced.”

No wonder I couldn’t just let it go.  


*          *          * 


It’s been said that the perfect retort, however brilliant or satisfying it may be, is rarely the best way to respond to someone who insults you, because a put-down delivered in response to an insult equalizes you, the insulted, with the insulter. It brings him or her up to your level and you down to his or hers, and thereby gives the insulter, his or her behavior, and his or her insult undeserved credibility or legitimacy. It is much better, although maybe not easier, and more powerful, to simply ignore the remark at your expense.

“We need never take offense at an insult,” says the author of yet another article on the Psychology Today website. “Offense exists not in the insult but in our reaction to it, and our reactions are completely within our control. It is unreasonable to expect a boor to be anything but a boor; if we take offense at his [or her] bad behavior, we have only ourselves to blame.”

Maybe, but where the hell is the satisfaction in that? 

Therein lies the rub. There is no satisfaction in that. As noted in that first article I mentioned, the only way to beat a person like this at his or her own game is not to play it.

“Unfortunately, … the only way to beat psychopath[s] at their own game is to refuse to play. Don’t engage in their petty gossip. Don’t take the bait when they push your buttons. Stand your ground and don’t let them intimidate you. And if all else fails, do what the victims in all those movies with psychopathic serial killers do: Run!”

Or, depending on the severity of the insult, I've found that you can also go for a walk.

OUT NOW! Issue #3 of the Butter Lamb News

Issue #3 of the BLRL's well-received and reviewed newsletter, The Butter Lamb News is out now! 

This issue features: 

  • "Front Matter" on letting references help, reader letters
  • Another installment of "Say What" offering new words and phrases (or words and phrases that are new to me)
  • A slew of reports featuring "Dictionaries and References in the News" 
  • Review and commentary on the "New Additions to the Butter Lamb Reference Library"
  • Thoughts on the lasted publications to arrive in my mailbox in "It Came from the PO Box!"
  • And, of course, another installment of "The Last Word."

And did I mention that this is the biggest installment of the BLN yet? Specs: 32 legal-sized digest (7 x 8.5) pages.

Best of all, you can get a copy for free! All you need to do is request one by email or send a letter to the BLRL (see the "about" page for the BLRL's address).

Guy Verbose: Episode 3 - The Big Fraud

 It’s a dark night in a city that’s forgotten about its dictionaries. But on the first floor of a two-story house in Laurellia, one man is trying to find meaning in a world awash in words: Guy Verbose, Existential Lexicographical Private Eye 


Episode 3: The Big Fraud

I typically don't remember my dreams, which is probably for the best since I lead a pretty dull life. But on this morning, when I opened my eyes I had a distinct memory that I attended a funeral for a friend of Charles Bukowski.

The ceremony took place in a rundown bookstore that shared a wall with an equally run-down diner. There was an opening in the wall so that patrons of each business could go back and forth and they did. A lot of the people in the diner were reading books, and I saw a few people from the diner wander over to the bookstore after they paid for their meals. It was a nice arrangement.

I got to the funeral late and when I spotted Bukowski among the crowd of mourners, I went up and asked how he was doing. In lieu of an answer, he responded to my question with one of his own.

"How' d you know Jimmy?" he asked.

“I didn't," I said. “But I knew he was a friend of yours. I knew you'd be here, so I thought I'd check in and see how you were doing."

Bukowski looked me dead in the eye, gauging my sincerity, and then exhaled cloud of cigarette smoke that enveloped us both.

As the smoke cleared, my eyes drifted up to a video memorial playing on a 1970’s-era black-and-white television suspended from the ceiling. The video showed a series of pictures from the deceased’s life, most of which were candid shots of men in slacks with cigarettes in their mouths and a beer in hand.

After what seemed like a long time, Bukowski turned to me and asked, “Do I know you?”

“What do you mean? Of course you do." I said with a tinge of embarrassment. “Don’t you remember? We used to sit at that table right over there against the wall. We’d drink the shitty coffee they serve here and talk about books.”

Before he could answer, a man sitting at a booth in the diner waved Bukowski over.

“I’ll be right back,” he said as he emitted another cloud of smoke.

“Cool,” I said, but I knew he was done with me.

Standing there alone, a fish out of water, I was forced to admit I didn’t know Bukowski and that we'd never hung out here or anywhere else. I read about the funeral in the newspaper. Somehow, I knew Bukowski and the deceased were friends, so I decided to show up so I could be seen with Bukowski and bask in the reflected glow of his fame and credibility. Why I tried to fool him, or even thought that I could, I couldn't say. I didn't think I was the kind of person who did this sort of thing. Realizing I was made me feel lousy.

Suddenly, the dream shifted and I found myself supine on a worn pleather loveseat in the lobby of a dingy hotel. There were no tables or bookshelves, but I knew it was the same building that housed the bookstore/diner.

A blanket was draped over the lower part of my body, which told me I'd been sleeping there. I was grateful to have the blanket because I wasn't wearing any pants.

A toothless and wrinkled old woman sat in a lounge chair nearby. She was wearing a dirty nightgown and shower cap, and smoking. Without asking, I grabbed her matches and used one to light the cigarette I just rolled. The cigarette paper was too thick and I couldn't get the seal to adhere. I licked it a few more times and lit it anyway. I got only a few puffs before it began to unravel and shards of tobacco ended up in my mouth.

The television—the same one from the bookstore/diner—was showing a movie starring Al Pacino. Pacino was playing a grizzled detective and, at the moment, someone off-screen was shooting at him.

“That Pacino…,” yelled the old woman to no one in particular. “Who the hell does he think he is?”

I nodded approvingly, although I'm not sure why. I wasn't familiar with the movie and I didn't really care about it because I had bigger problems, like how to get  my pants back on without anyone noticing. Then it dawned on me that I didn't smoke and that the shards of tobacco in my mouth tasted awful.


*           *          *


I have five dream dictionaries in my possession and not one has anything to say about the meaning of dreams in which you try to befriend a famous writer. They do, however, offer a few words on dream-based deception. The best of the lot—Theresa Cheung’s Dream Dictionary from A to Z—opines: “If you find yourself lying or cheating in your dream, or you hear someone else doing so, this indicates that you’re feeling guilty about not being honest in your waking life.”

It's a similar story regarding underwear.

Generally, underwear in a dream is though to be a symbol of your hidden attitudes and prejudices. If you dream of feeling embarrassed about being seen in your underwear, it may suggest an unwillingness to reveal your true feelings, or have your opinions made public.

The book goes on to say that dreams of being naked or inappropriately dressed, “involve feelings of exposure and vulnerability, and often include an element of embarrassment or shame.”

So, what am feeling guilty or not being honest about in my waking life? What feelings am I hiding? What am I embarrassed about? Before I answer that, it’s important to note that, according to Cheung, dreams are not to be taken literally.

You need to do a bit of detective work to get to the real message. Just because you dream that a friend is dying does not mean that he or she will die, but rather that they are going through a period of enormous change. In fact, interpreting dreams literally can be harmful. You have your own set of unique dream images and symbols. If you love dogs, what a dog means to you and what a dog means to someone who can’t stand dogs will be different. Always bear in mind that your dream symbols are unique to you.

For me, Charles Bukowski is a figure of authenticity. He was a drunk, a womanizer, and he probably had a host of other distasteful qualities I’m not even aware of and wouldn’t want to possess, but he was committed to his craft. He gave everything he had to writing and he didn’t let anything get in the way. I admire that. I wanted to do the same but didn't have the guts. Instead of going where I wanted, I went where I thought I should. I took the path most obvious and have paid for it ever since in dumb jobs and self-loathing. 

No wonder I smoked in my dream. I don’t smoke in my waking life, so the fact that I tried and failed in the night-world is (I assume) a reflection of my attempts to fit in and do the things everyone else does, even though my heart's not in it.

It's a similar story with my dream-state anxiety about being seen in my underwear, a classic metaphor for not wanting to be seen for who I really am--a sell out writer who isn't committed to the craft, hasn’t given it his all, and hasn’t really risked anything. Great art comes from people who've put it on the line. I haven't, so I'm probably going to end up a nobody, like the unnamed guy in the casket, or worse, a lost soul running out the clock in some god-forsaken room, yelling at the tv.

Granted, now that I've taken this terrifying trip though my subconscious I'm hopeful that I'll do something about it, that I'll start taking the creative impulse to write seriously and get the guts to take a god-damned risk or two. Then again, if past behavior is any indication of future performance, I probably won't. I'm not the kind of person who does this sort of thing. Realizing that has made me feel lousy.

New to the BLRL: The Future Dictionary of America

The Future Dictionary of America

Various authors/editors (2004)


I'm going to be honest with you: I have no idea how to write about this book, as it's not your run-of-the-mill dictionary. In brief, the book contains hundreds of words (some already in circulation, some newly minted) by a sizeable list of contemporary writers in the McSweeny's orbit. The book was published in 2004 "to benefit progressive causes in the 2004 election," which means it leans liberal and to the left. That's not my perspective. As it says at the beginning of the book's introductory note:


This dictionary was conceived as a way for a great number of American writers and artists to voice their displeasure with their current political leadership, and to collectively imagine a brighter future…. Thus, all proceeds from the sales of this dictionary go directly to groups expressing their outrage over the Bush Administration's assault on free speech, overtime, drinking water, truth, the rule of law, humility, the separation of Church and State, a woman's right to choose, clean air, and every other good idea this country has ever had.


The other thing that makes this book interesting, aside from it's peculiar mix of new and existing words and phrases, is the authors'/editors' proclamation of language's importance in the age of YouTube, with its influencers and cat videos, and their awareness that, while publishing a dictionary in the 21st century might be something of an anachronistic approach to consciousness raising, it's the anti-literate who are most at risk.

     I won't say any more. I can't. This book is just something that has to be held and leafed through and absorbed to be fully understood. Ironically, attempting to its encapsulate its essence in mere words falls short. I will, however, leave you with the following excerpt from the book's front matter, which appears under the heading, "Does Our 2Ist-Century World Need Such a Dictionary?"


With the advent of telepathy and other forms of direct comprehension, many have questioned the relevance of this book. Indeed, in an age when mental transmission has replaced articulation as the primary form of expression for fully three-quarters of America's eleven billion citizens, it is often thought (and by extension said, to everyone) that a dictionary that remains rooted in the descriptive tradition, carefully cataloging the words of our age as they emerge and attempting to establish a standard set of spellings and usages, is essentially obsolete, its editors engaged in a wasted effort. It is the belief of the editors of this edition that such ideas arise out of the minds of idiots, or alien infiltrators.

     In this, the sixth edition since 2016, we offer the reader an array of new and useful terms. While the average dictionary user is most likely a student, a time traveler, or an aficionado of historical reenactment, our intended audience is much wider. Those who maintain a professional interest in understanding the English of our day will find a great resource here, but so shall every other man, woman, or genetically-enhanced/sentient plant who wishes to look. Language remains an essential element of modern life; those who ignore its importance, who view it as a curiosity, relegated to the past along with poverty and gravity, simply persist in living In ignorance. In darkness. They too will learn.

For those who have not retreated to customized dimensions or cryogenic stasis-those who wish to engage with the world as it is now--the new terms included here offer a striking picture of our time. Many old meanings and outdated words have been excised, in order to accommodate the au courant intellect, eager to learn only the most recent developments in diction. What is left is an alphabetical adumbration of the modern era, one that reflects the concerns and ambitions of the modern human.

Note: This dictionary came with a CD featuring 20 or so "alternative" or "indie" bands. Since I got this book used, the CD that was supposed to be with it was long gone. 

Guy Verbose: Epidose 2 - The Big Stink

 It’s a dark night in a city that’s forgotten about its dictionaries. But on the first floor of a two-story house in Laurellia, one man is trying to find meaning in a world awash in words: Guy Verbose, Existential Lexicographic Investigator.

Episode 2 - The Big Stink

We were late for church, but for once it wasn’t my fault. Today, A and M were the laggards, even though they had been warned the night before that we were going to 8:00 am Mass and then attending the pancake breakfast to say good-bye to Fr. Mark. Obviously, they didn’t care. Against my advice, A and M are following in my footsteps and becoming night owls, and on this morning we we’re all paying for it.

L, a morning person, is the outlier. So, while the kids and I were quiet and prickly as we drove along the Baltimore-Washington Parkway, she was gregarious and bubbly.

“Remember that podcast I was telling you about? This Podcast Will Kill You? They were talking about C-diff and how it can be treated with a fecal transplant,” she said.

L is somewhat new to podcasts, so whenever she finds one she likes, she brings it up in conversation—a lot. I’ve been through this before. First it was Smartest Guys in the Room, a podcast by my brother and a friend of his from high school. Then there was Smartless, with Jason Bateman, Sean Hayes, and Will Arnett. Now it’s “This Podcast Will Kill You,” a show anchored by two grad students named Erin who, according to the show’s website, use it as a way to “share their love of epidemics and weird medical mysteries with the world,” all while “having a cocktail and chatting about pus and poop.”

L is a microbiologist, so the subject matter of the “This Podcast Will Kill You” is right up her test tube. 

“A what transplant?” I asked. I clearly heard her say “fecal,” but was aghast.

“A fecal transplant,” she said gleefully. She knew full well that I heard her and that the idea made my empty, early-morning stomach roil. “That’s where they give you someone else’s poop.” 

I was able to put that together on my own. Nevertheless, L was right. A fecal transplant, or in scientific terms, a “fecal microbiota transplantation,” refers to the administration of a solution of fecal matter from a healthy person into the intestinal tract of an unhealthy recipient. The aim of the procedure is to change the composition of the recipient’s gut microbiome. It is among the podcast hosts’ “all-time favorite medical interventions.”

In addition to conjuring disgusting mental images, fecal microbiota transplantation has been used to successfully treat recurring Clostridium difficile (or C-diff) infections, which have become a common problem in hospitals. The bacterium is difficult to control in institutional settings and those who develop an infection typically have a hard time getting rid of it.

“Why do they give you poop?” Asked M from the back seat.

“It must be a way for them to introduce good bacteria into your body, to help you fight the disease,” I said, flashing my superficial knowledge of human biology. I hoped the kids would be impressed, but they gave no such indication.

“Yeah. It’s a way to change someone’s microbiome,” L said.

I wasn’t sure the kids knew what a microbiome was. Chances are the people who invented the procedure didn’t know either. Fecal transplants date back to fourth century China, when physicians used it to treat of a variety of conditions including diarrhea, which is also gross. Of course, just because the procedure appears in the historical record does not mean it’s common. If it was, it likely wouldn’t have been the subject of the podcast. Still, records from more recent times indicate that doctors have used fecal enemas to treat conditions like inflammation of the colon since 1958.


*           *          *


The word feces1 has been around much longer than the procedure. Eric Patridge’s Origins: A Short Etymological Dictionary of Modern English (which isn’t short at all) traces the word back to the Latin terms faex, which purportedly refers to “wine-lees,” or “impure residues.” The Chambers Dictionary of Etymology also links feces to faex, but defines the Latin word as “sediment” or “dregs.” As for the English usage of feces to mean excrement, Patridge says this is “of obscure origin.” So does Chambers, but the latter says the use of feces to mean poop began around 1400, when the word appeared in a translation of Lanfranc’s Science of Surgery.


*           *          *


“So, how do they give you the transplant?” I asked. “They must have to insert it in your small intestine or something. They couldn’t put it in your stomach. That would make you sick.”

“I don’t know how they do it,” L said. “I didn’t catch that. I just heard them talk about fecal transplants and I found it fascinating. Don’t you think it’s fascinating?”

“I think it’s gross,” I replied.

A and M laughed. Finally, I was getting through.

“Oh, there’s a driving school.” L said.

“What does that have to do with fecal transplants? She doesn’t have her permit … or C-diff,” I said.

“That’s how everyone does it now. You take a class right before you take the permit test so it’s all fresh in your mind. We need to find a school where we can take the course.”

I groaned in dismay.

“Don’t you think it’s a good idea?”

“No, it makes sense. I guess I’m just not ready to deal with her driving. It’s all too much.”

L laughed. I smiled. It was the best I could do. I was trying to be funny, but as the old saying goes, there’s a half-truth in every joke. How was A, the little girl who was scared of the sharks in Finding Nemo, old enough to begin driving? Too many years had gone by. Too many changes were taking place. It was too much.

Fr. Mark had been around for eight years, long enough for us become chummy with him, and contemplating his departure reminded me of just how long both he and our family have been hanging around. When we first met him, A was eight. Soon we’d be teaching her to drive, watching her graduate from high school, and sending her off to college. Then she’d be off on her own. Likewise, I was 42 when Fr. Mark first appeared behind the altar. Now I’m 50 and have an AARP membership. I don’t feel that old, but when I think about Fr. Mark’s tenure, recall the priests who said the Masses before him, and did the math, I’m reminded of how many years have passed by. Where had the time gone?

“Don’t you want your daughter to drive? Asked L.

“I think I’d rather have the fecal transplant,” I said.



1) Oddly, there is no entry for feces in The Oxford Dictionary of Word Histories, the Dictionary of Word and Phrase Origins (Morris), or the Dictionary of Word Origins (Ayto). I guess the authors of these books found the inclusion of such a word in their texts to be beneath them. Ha-ha. Get it? Beneath them? Sorry....