07/21/14 7:00am
Credit: Ashley Pinciaro

Credit: Ashley Pinciaro

I recently found two columns about books, the first amusing, the other a little troubling. The troubling one was about “trigger warnings,” notes of caution affixed to college reading lists or courses. The premise is that people who have been subjected to certain traumatic experiences should get a formal heads-up that a given book contains themes, chapters, paragraphs — perhaps only words — that revolve around one or more of life’s more unspeakable events. Such writing might cause upsetment, or worse, in someone who’s gone through such terrors.  (more…)

06/22/14 7:00am


Ambrose Clancy’s recent article about the company that prints the local newspapers was wonderful. His descriptions of the thunderous presses, the misting humidity spray, the rolls of paper being fed into the ravenous press were as vivid as they were interesting. I was once present when an endless stream of paper ruptured on a paper-making machine, spewing huge quantities of paper everywhere. It was chaotic as the machine was shut down and workers rushed to jam the paper down the long slit in the floor.

What I need now, though, is a book of fiction centered on a newspaper office, and I can’t think of one.

Movies? Quite a few. One, Orson Welles’ “Citizen Kane,” is considered by some the best movie ever made. A few others weren’t awfully notable but I remember Humphrey Bogart, editor, taking on the underworld in “Deadline USA”; James Stewart, reporter, solving the crime and writing the story in “Northside 777”; and Jimmy Cagney, correspondent in Japan in “Blood on the Sun,” sniffing out the impending infamy and dying heroically in the process.

Books? Anyone out there with a fictional newspaper book?

Broadway! MacArthur and Hecht’s “The Front Page” is a classic stage play; “Newsies” not so much. In fact, “Newsies” was a dreadful 1992 Disney movie, getting two stars in most revues. “The Front Page,” a five-star movie in 1931, was retitled “His Girl Friday” in 1940, five stars again, then returned as “The Front Page” in 1974. Only three stars, in spite of Jack Lemmon and Carol Burnett.

C’mon, there has to be a book. Hemingway? Kate Atkinson?

OK, how about TV? There’s Ed Asner as the irascible Lou Grant, city editor of the Los Angeles Tribune — a successful spinoff from the splendid “Mary Tyler Moore Show.” It also starred Eileen Heckart and Nancy Marchand.


Dickens? Graham Greene? Margaret Atwood?

Well, radio then. Raise your hand if you remember “Big Town,” 1937-1952. The actor who initially played — wait for it — Steve Wilson was Edward G. Robinson; his associate was Claire Trevor. Then there were the inimitable Bob and Ray, who gave us the inimitable Wally Ballou, editor at large. Hysterical.

Twain? Anita Shreve ? I’ll settle for a Danielle Steele.

What about comic strips? One man and two women were reporters in two different strips. The man is fiction’s most famous reporter and one of the women worked with him. The other woman, a flaming redhead, was also a star reporter. Got them? Clark Kent, Lois Lane and Brenda Starr.

I give up on a book, but here’s a famous real-life journalist about whom you’ve heard your entire life: Sir Henry Stanley, who searched for, and found, Dr. Livingston I. Presume.

Here’s to newspapers and the thousands of people responsible for keeping us informed and entertained. I believe they’ll continue to do so, the Cloudiness of today’s communications notwithstanding. A tribute to all printers, written by Beatrice Warde in 1932, is reproduced above.

Mr. Case, of Southold, is retired from Oxford University Press. He can be reached at Caseat-home@gmail.com

04/20/14 6:30am


It was a dark and stormy night. I dragged myself home from an endless stakeout, popped a Dos Equis and sprawled on the couch. Watched a documentary on “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid,” two historic bank robbers who didn’t look much like Paul Newman and Robert Redford. They were hunted down by Pinkerton’s National Detective Agency, whose motto was “We Never Sleep” and whose posters contained a simple drawing of a staring human eye. The film’s narrator said, “This is where the term ‘private eye’ came from.”  (more…)

06/08/12 2:41pm

Remember learning the vowels, A, E, I, O and U, with the teacher inevitably adding “ … and sometimes Y and W”? Well, I’ve come up with 16 impressive and useful words that use a Y as the vowel but none, zero, that use a W. As a matter of fact, there are a dozen other insignificant three-letter words that use the Y — fly, dry, gym, gyp, etc. — but they’re too ordinary, not nearly as impressive as, say, lynx, cyst and myrrh. I tried for a sentence using them all, and got as far as “The rhythms of the pygmy’s hymns floated into the crypt as the gypsy slyly …” and got no further. Maybe a decent start for some spooky vampire thriller, but I stalled out at “slyly,” leaving nymph and tryst and stymie waiting in the wyngs. A word that uses W as its vowel still eludes me. If anyone knows one, would you shyly email it? I will wryly acknowledge you.

English has long been acknowledged as a strange language, with rough, bough, dough and cough usually used as examples. (Why do they never mention hiccough?) What catches my eye, though, are words that change to an opposite meaning when one letter is added. Like laughter. During a slaughter there’s never much laughter. Or when will it stop raining and start draining? And why is there such futility with our utility? A simple letter switch describes my wife and me moving from united to untied when discussing candied broccoli.

Yogi Berra is renowned for contradictory sentences like “It’s so crowded nobody goes there any more” and, regarding Yankee Stadium’s left field sun problems, “It gets late early out there.” But our everyday language needs no help from Yogi. The omnipresent “Watch Your Head” demands an improbable feat of agility, as does the dark and frightening “Louise suddenly found herself lost.” Good trick. And picture this: “We soon realized the professor was speaking tongue in cheek when he said he was trying to keep a stiff upper lip. He was actually beside himself with excitement.”

I wonder why anyone would consider taking a nonstop flight (to the Twilight Zone?) or why something that falls between the cracks doesn’t land smack on the board. Or, just curious, who is it that’s standing in a one-night stand?

Are we having fun yet? What’s the longest word that contains only one vowel? Strengths. What word uses every vowel once and in order? Facetious. (We really should add facetiously, but not facetiouslw). And eleven plus two and twelve plus one not only both equal 13, but use the exact same letters to say so. Also, isn’t this the worst spell of wheather you’ve ever seen? And here’s an every-letter sentence that’s better than the famous “quick brown fox”: Pack my gift box with five dozen liquor jars.

A few oxymorons: old news, pretty ugly, same difference, loose tights, student teacher, mandatory option. Then a couple of familiar acronyms from forgotten sources: self contained underwater breathing apparatus, zone improvement plan codes and DAM, Mothers Against Dyslexia (not really), and I’m through. Thru. Throu. Done.

Mr. Case, of Southold, is retired from Oxford University Press. He can be reached at Caseathome@aol.com.