As the fortunes and the warlike vigor of the Celts declined, their languages were supplanted by those of their conquerors.


Have you ever, unable to sleep at five in the morning, gone to your bookshelf and retrieved your copies of A Concise Anglo-Saxon Dictionary, The Linguistics Encyclopedia, The World’s Writing Systems, Origins and Development of the English Language (quoted above), the Compact Oxford English Dictionary, and Dixon’s The Hardy Boys and the Early Migrations of the Kurgans, in which Frank and Joe solve the mystery of Indo-European language origins – have you ever stacked these volumes on the desk in front of you in the early morning darkness and thought, I’m so damned exhausted, what the hell am I doing?

No. Only one man is that tired and pathetic. But that man now calls on you to look within and consider:

Have you ever wondered when the last native speakers of Cornish and Manx died? Do you lament the dwindling numbers of strong verbs in English? Do you know what Ogham is, and how to say it? Do you know anything at all about Finno-Ugric grammar, and if not, can you make something up? Do you see yourself as the Indiana Jones of etymology? Do you like beer?

If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, then yget upp hroffa ðine fætæss and join the Washington, D.C. Society of Would-be Historical and Comparative Philologists and Gentlemen’s Drinking Club, a cabal of untrained but ruthless intellectuals that Chris and I have founded in order to wrest philology from the dusty grip of academics and place it in the bold hands of devil-may-care youth whose stout minds will hone anew the long-dull blade of historical and comparative linguistics and raise a glass to Dolly Pentreath (d. 1777) and Ned Madrell (d. 1974), the last native speakers of Cornish and Manx, respectively!

Our group is already diversifying and conducting research. The society’s Dead Tongues Posse, after a thorough search, has identified not one remaining speaker of Tocharian B, so that’s done. And the Subcommittee on Never-More-To-Be-Seen Writing Systems Comprehended by Few has had a look at Sumerian Cuneiform. Man, it’s weird!

Not to shun the fairer sex, we are planning a Ladies’ Philological Recruitment Cotillion, so press your fancy britches, gents!

The Society of Would-be Historical and Comparative Philologists and Gentlemen’s Drinking Club’s Special Projects Cohort is currently soliciting ideas for research initiatives. Our first – The International Phonetic Alphabet: Cool! – is only one pending NEH grant away from its rollicking start. What heady days these are for bilabial clicks and epiglottal plosives!

Long live the New Word Order!

I can’t help it, but every time I see a photo of the Spirit rover up yonder on Mars, I think of that robot from Short Circuit. Yes, that is a Johnny 5 fansite.

Mars. I hope Bush’s plan works out; I would love to see him go there. He could ride around on his Segway, which would be easier to master in the low-g. Wouldn’t he be just too cute, zipping up and down the red Martian dunes, a big grin on his face, asphyxiating?

Maybe I spoke too soon about trusting in Elvis. I stand by that, but there’s a new messiah in town. I don’t know who this Joe Gibbs is (being new to DC), but his smiling photo was above the fold in yesterday’s Post, and he was even mentioned in a weather article on the back page of the Metro section. Is he a meteorologist? Did he discover snow?

Today, on his birthday, let’s all give thought to our fallen friend, who showed us the way and left us when he lost the way himself, and yet watches over us, perhaps one day to return.

He saved my life, you know. In college my housemates and I kept a picture of him, a framed photograph bought in Tupelo, hanging in tribute above the bowl in our bathroom. One stormy day I was in that bathroom and began to smell smoke. I ran to the kitchen, but there was no smoke there. I returned to the bathroom and smelled smoke again. Then I saw it, little tendrils coming from the spot where our cast-iron bathtub’s pipes from ran through the floor. Leaning over for a closer look, I placed my hand on the tub. It was electrified, and I felt the jolt through my entire body, but the spirit of the King seized me and knocked me backwards and out the bathroom door. At that same moment, the pipes finally burned through, and a bright arc of lightning shot from the tub to the sink – right where I had stood.

I called the fire department and waited outside in the rain and wind, expecting my house to burn down. Across the street, a huge tree on the corner had fallen across some power lines, knocking them down and ripping them from the side of my house. The firemen discovered that the bathtub’s pipes rested against the ground line beneath my bathroom floor. The falling tree’s roots had tangled up the line somehow, electrifying the pipes and the entire bathtub.

My friends, I might have been caught in that deadly arc of electricity. I might have decided to enjoy a soak in that iron bathtub and been fry-boiled had not the King surely turned my mind from it. Trust in him, and he will take care of your business.

Choose your own tribute. I for one and going to the Washington premiere of “Bubba Ho-Tep,” a film that interprets the life of the King for modern times. Hopefully I’ll report back here.

It works! Missile defense works! I knew it would! Congratulations to everyone over at the MDA.

Yes, rest easy. Pretty soon the American population’s constant, consuming fear of ICBM attacks will be no more. Soon we’ll be hitting every target test missile instead of the current one-in-six. Then we’ll work our way toward hitting a few target test missiles that feature rudimentary countermeasures, won’t that be something!

At the same time, of course, we’ll be aggressively pursuing strategies for hitting targets that we did not launch at an appointed time and place and trajectory, with everyone watching.

Yes, in ten, maybe twenty, thirty-at-the-outside short years, we’ll begin to deploy a somewhat impermeable missile thwartation network. Take that, commies! IC no BM!

God save the Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense Program! The blessings of the saints on Raytheon Missile Systems! May Jesus, in Whose sight be our enemies wicked and unclean, cleave Lockheed Martin Maritime Systems and Sensors to His bosom!

Three a.m. Washington time, but to heck with it, I’m in Nashville. What a long day. Up at seven, finish packing, get to the metro, get to Greenbelt, get on the shuttle to the aeropuerto. Security: I put both shoes in the chute at once, but only one came out. The other was hung up on something, I guess. Me standing there in my old socks, my toes poking right out the ends. The security woman says something about it. My good socks are packed, I say. I was a little sheepish about my socks, there at BWI with one shoe in my hand and the other translucent on the x-ray screen.

Then a very nice, very clear flight, though I hate landing.

Then hours of playing with my four-year-old nephew, Smith. Great little guy, and smart. He explains how his fort made of sofa cushions isn’t stable, so I shouldn’t touch it.

Then rock ‘n’ roll at the Mercy Lounge, which was the Cannery back in the day. Glossary opening for the Guy from Drivin n Cryin. My sister, Smith, is in Glossary, but even if she weren’t, man, they rock.

Now I’m on the sobriety upswing, and dang but it’s late. I’m in Music City all week. I’ll try to keep you posted, Folly followers (all seven of you), but I already feel the inertia of Dixie and home settling in. Though it could be the six beers.

Ginkgoes stink like crazy as their fruit ripens, but they sure yellow up nicely come autumn. The street one block from mine, a lovely street, is lined on both sides with ginkgoes. I walk down this street on my way home. Row houses, families, and shade from the trees. Hurricane Isabel knocked all the fruit right off ‘em, so that within a couple of days the stink compelled me to take another route. Now the smell is almost gone, and this morning tiny yellow fans smothered the street, the lawns, the roofs, the cars.

I’m a little bummed today. I had this big plan for a combination of global prank and mass enlightenment boost, but it fell flat.

The first part went as planned. By standing on the roof and flashing a handheld mirror on the sun at descending Fibonacci intervals, I was able to generate a solar feedback loop that caused a major coronal mass ejection. It was a beaut, let me tell you.

Well, it hit the Earth yesterday, but what a disappointment. It disrupted a satellite or two, sure, and the aurorae were extra fab. What I wanted was to knock out the world’s mobile phone networks so that people walking around yabbing on their phones would suddenly be isolated in their personal space, with nothing to contemplate but their own inner beings. I was sure that the sudden surge of wisdom would initiate an enlightenment cascade and reset the world’s karmic balance.

But no. Dang.

Back from Nashville. Sorry I only got one post in, my Smithlings, but I was keeping busy with other things. Visiting with family, that sort of thing. My nephew, Smith, had his fourth birthday and a big party, and I got him classic wooden blocks. He was unimpressed at first, but, hey, blocks is blocks, and when we played with them later, he was really digging them. His favorite band is the White Stripes. He is a wanton dancer.

He is four, but uncle Smith has a job. So I’m back in Washington, doing my punchclock thing. Sigh. I grew up in Nashville, but the feel of the place is not familiar to me. I feel like a visitor there. On this trip, as usual, I didn’t have time to get behind the town and settle in and, you know, grok its weirdness. One of these days.

Next time you are hungry in Nashville, find your way to the Sylvan Park Restaurant, which is perennially voted Best Meat and Three in town. At lunch there today with my brother, I had excellent catfish, excellent baked squash, excellent green beans, and excellent white beans.

After the Sylvan we were at the Springwater bar, an absolute dive and truly very good place to drink beer, which is a good thing, since this is all they serve. We were on the front patio, from which you can see Nashville’s full-size Parthenon replica. We were just settin’, you know, and this other guy just comes out and sits and starts talking. I’ve been in town since yesterday, and finally a Nashville moment. He says how he used to live in Nashville ten years ago, and they threw this party at Vanderbilt with a gas tanker full of beer that was free for everyone, but he’s been in New Mexico for his father’s death, then just wandering around.

Then a third fellow joins us. “Any of you guys want to by a Kroger card? It has twenty dollars on it, but I’ll sell it to you for fifteen, and you can buy anything you want with it, at Kroger. I’m trying to see Steve Vai tonight, and I need the money for a ticket. Maybe mom will buy it.” He heads back into the bar.

Get to Nashville, friends. Go to the Parthenon, go to the Springwater, play Johnny Cash on the juke.