Archive for the ‘Miscellanea’ Category

Celebrity Names

One of the cardinal rules of being a celebrity is that you have to choose a proper stage name. Lots of times, for a variety of reasons, birth names won’t do. 

For example, fashion designer Ralph Lauren was born Ralph Lifschitz; not an ideal name to build one’s career on. Also, singer Katy Perry’s real name is Katy Hudson; Kate Hudson the actress got there first. 

Today’s celebrities seem more willing to go with their real names than did those of earlier generations. “Ashley Tisdale” and “Zac Efron” are genuine birth names. So, of course, is “Justin Bieber.” 

Still, name-tweaking is a common and sometimes necessary strategy. Just for fun, here is a list of assorted celebrities and their real names.


Jennifer Aniston — Jennifer Anastassakis

Pat Benatar — Patricia Andrzejewski

Jon Bon Jovi — John Bongiovi

Bono — Paul Hewson

Josh Brolin — Joshua Bruderlin

Charles Bronson — Charles Bunchinsky

George Burns — Nathan Brinbaum

Louis C.K. — Louis Szekely

Michael Caine — Maurice Micklewhite

Ray Charles — Ray Charles Robinson

Cher — Cherilyn Sarkisian

Eric Clapton — Eric Clapp

Lee J. Cobb — Lee Jacob

Elvis Costello — Declan McManus

Tom Cruise — Thomas Cruise Mapother IV

Jimmy Dean — Seth Ward

Lana Del Rey — Elizabeth Grant

John Denver — Henry Deutschendorf

Dido — Florian Armstrong

Portia De Rossi — Amanda Rogers

Kirk Douglas — Issur Demsky

Judy Garland — Frances Gumm

Whoopie Goldberg — Caryn Johnson

Cary Grant — Archibald Leach

Faith Hill — Audrey Perry

Hulk Hogan — Terry Bollette

William Holden — William F. Beedle, Jr.

Toby Keith — Toby Keith Covel

Ben Kingsley — Krishna Bhanji

Lady Gaga — Stefani Germanotta

Blake Lively — Blake Brown

Ricky Martin — Enrique Morales

Bruno Mars — Peter Hernandez

Freddy Mercury — Farouk Bulsara

Helen Mirren — Ilyena Mironoff

Demi Moore — Demetria Guynes

Joaquin Phoenix — Juaquin Bottom

Pink — Alecia Moore

Iggy Pop — James Osterberg

Wolfgang Puck — Wolfgang Topfschnig

Joey Ramone — Jeffrey Hyman

Della Reese — Delloreese Early

Rihanna — Robyn Fenty

Meg Ryan — Margaret Hyra

Jane Seymour — Joyce Frankenberg

Gene Simmons — Chaim Witz

Charlie Sheen — Carlos Estevez

Martin Sheen — Ramon Estevez

Tina Turner — Annie Mae Bulloch

Shania Twain — Eileen Edwards

Steven Tyler — Steven Tallarico

John Wayne — Marion Morrison

Olivia Wilde — Olivia Cockburn

Katheryn Elizabeth Hudson

Katheryn Elizabeth Hudson

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Even among our illustrious Founding Fathers, Thomas Jefferson was a star.

A gentleman farmer by occupation, Jefferson was the principal author of the Declaration of Independence, spoke five languages fluently, was an accomplished architect, immersed himself in science and philosophy, invented a host of practical devices (e.g., the swivel chair), and founded a university.

Clearly, the guy was a multifaceted genius, driven by a turbocharged intellect and boundless curiosity.

At the same time, Jefferson was subject to the kinds of idiosyncrasies and occasional dopey ideas that genius is heir to.

Consider the following.

Soon after the American Revolution, the United States was ready to cut loose and expand beyond the borders of the original 13 states. Under the Northwest Ordinance of 1787, we annexed a big chunk of what we know today as the Midwest — the area south of the Great Lakes, east of the Mississippi River, and west of the Ohio River.

Over time, that territory was divided into the new states of Ohio, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Minnesota. But it wasn’t done in keeping with Jefferson’s elaborate plan for the region.

As early as 1784, Jefferson wanted to divide the territory into 10 states of roughly equal size. He even had names ready for the new states.

Jefferson’s plan was shelved. A 19th Century biographer of Jefferson explained.

“The names suggested for these ten States are a peculiar mixture of Latin and Indian, and while a semblance of some of the names still remains in two cases, in all others it is so absolutely forgotten that the very fact has ceased to be known by many close students of American history.

“Yet, besides this humane and noble piece of statesmanship (the proposed prohibition of slavery in the territory) we have a glimpse of that absurd element in Jefferson’s mind which his admirers sought to excuse by calling him a philosopher.”

Setting aside for a moment the noble proposal to prohibit slavery in the new states, what were the peculiar, absurd and forgotten names that Jefferson wanted to give to the new states?

Under Jefferson’s plan, much of present-day Minnesota, the upper peninsula of Michigan, and a piece of northern Wisconsin would have become the State of Sylvania. Well, ‘Sylvania’ isn’t so bad.

Most of Wisconsin, but none of what is now Michigan, would have been called Michigania. Hmmm. That one is a little strange.

Michigan’s lower peninsula would be the State of Chersonesus. Yikes! Almost unpronounceable! FYI, “Chersonesus” is Greek for “peninsula.”

The northern part of what is now Illinois would be Assenisipia. Yikes again. “Assenisipi” is the Indian name of the Rock River, a tributary of the Mississippi that flows through Rockton, Rockford, Rock Falls, and Rock Island, Illinois.

East of that, Jefferson proposed the State of Metropotamia. Sigh.

Lined up across the southern parts of Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio would be llinoia, Saratoga, and Washington. Illinoia — rhymes with paranoia.

Below those states, in what is now Kentucky, would be Polypotamia and Pelisipia. Are those gastric disorders?

At the time, the land south of the Northwest Territory (today’s Kentucky, Tennessee, Mississippi, and Alabama) was claimed by both Spain and the United States. Several states also made claims of their own, further complicating matters.

Jefferson, confident the U.S. would prevail, had things figured out in advance.

Located in western and eastern Tennessee, respectively, would be the states of Equitasia (!!) and Jefferson. Yes, a state named Jefferson was in the mix. Not cool, Thomas.

Below them would be a long, skinny Alabama, a short, squat Mississippi, and the State of Adams shoehorned in below.


Jefferson’s grand scheme for the region was never enacted, and he sulked about the defeat of his plan for the rest of his life.

In fairness, the greater loss to Jefferson was his failure to block slavery from spreading to the new states. But the rejection of his carefully and lovingly selected names — that had to sting, too.

In 1784, Congress passed Jefferson’s proposal, but only after the anti-slavery clause was struck from the bill — by a margin of one vote. Furthermore, the ordinance was promptly shelved and never enacted.

In 1786, referring to the removal of the slavery clause, Jefferson wrote, “The voice of a single individual would have prevented this abominable crime; heaven will not always be silent; the friends to the rights of human nature will in the end prevail.”

Thomas Jefferson had his failings, but on the balance sheet of a lifetime, it’s fair to say that the man comes out looking pretty good.

As for Pelisipia, Equitasia, and Chersonesus — well, we’re all entitled to a dopey idea now and then.

Jefferson's states


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Visual Wordplay Redux

A while back, I posted a story entitled Visual Wordplay, about the practice of cleverly enhancing the visual attributes of words.

Included in that post were some wonderful examples from Robert Carola, who, back in the day, wrote the “Word Play” column in Playboy Magazine.

This week, I heard from a reader who ran across more of Carola’s “Word Play” words online and asked if I wanted to see them.

Is the Pope a Catholic? Here’s the new batch of words the reader sent me.







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Out of the many stories I’ve posted on Mr. Write’s Page, Great Movie Scenes from 2009 is among my handful of personal favorites — even though I didn‘t write a word of it.

But it was a winner, and why I haven’t done a sequel, I can’t say.

Oh, well. Finally, three years later, here is another batch of memorable movie moments.


“I Love the Smell of Napalm in the Morning”

From “Apocalypse Now,” 1979

Apocalypse Now

(After calling in a napalm strike across the river, Army Lt. Col. Bill Kilgore stands shirtless on the beach, surveying the aftermath with several subordinates.)

Kilgore (Robert Duval): You smell that? Do you smell that?

Private Johnson (Timothy Bottoms): What?

Kilgore: Napalm, son. Nothing else in the world smells like that. (He squats next to Johnson.) I love the smell of napalm in the morning.

You know, one time we had a hill bombed for twelve hours. And when it was all over, I walked up. (He gestures into the distance.) We didn’t find one of ’em — not one stinking dink body.

But the smell — you know, that gasoline smell… The whole hill smelled like… victory.

(A mortar round explodes not far away. All of the soldiers flinch except Kilgore.)

Kilgore: Someday, this war’s gonna end.


“Toe to Toe With the Rooskies”

From “Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb,” 1964

Major Kong

(B-52 pilot Major “King” Kong has received orders to bomb a target in the USSR. Major Kong turns on the aircraft intercom and speaks to the crew.)

Major Kong (Slim Pickens): Well, boys, I reckon this is it — nookular combat, toe-to-toe with the Rooskies… (“When Johnny Comes Marching Home” begins to play in the background.)

Now look, boys, I ain’t much of a hand at makin’ speeches. But I got a pretty fair idea that somethin’ doggone important is goin’ on back there. And I got a fair idea of the kind of personal emotions that some of you fellas may be thinkin’. Heck, I reckon you wouldn’t even be human beins if you didn’t have some pretty strong personal feelings about nuclear combat.

I want you to remember one thing: the folks back home is a-countin’ on ya. And by golly, we ain’t about to let ’em down.

Tell ya somethin’ else: if this thing turns out to be half as important as I figure it just might be, I’d say that you’re all in line for some important promotions an’ personal citations when this thing’s over with. That goes for every last one of ya, regardless of your race, color, or your creed.

Now, let’s get this thing on the hump. We got some flyin’ to do!


“I’m Afraid, Dave”

From “2001: A Space Odyssey,” 1968

HAL 9000

(Aboard the Discovery One spacecraft, Astronaut Dave Bowman sets out to shut down the murderous HAL 9000 super-computer.)

HAL (in a slow, soothing voice): Look, Dave… I can see you’re really upset about this. I honestly think you should sit down calmly… take a stress pill… and think things over.

I know I’ve made some… very poor decisions recently. But I can give you my… complete assurance… that my work will be back to normal.

I’ve still got the greatest enthusiasm… and confidence in the  mission… and I want to help you.

(Bowman arrives at HAL’s memory terminal. Using a key, he begins to deactivate the memory modules, one by one.)

HAL: Dave, stop. Stop, will you? Stop, Dave.

Will you stop, Dave? Stop, Dave.

I’m afraid. I’m afraid, Dave.

(The deactivation is slowly affecting HAL.)

Dave, my mind is going. I can feel it. I can feel it. My mind is going. There is… no question about it.

I can feel it. I can feel it. I can feel it. I’m… afraid.

Good afternoon, gentlemen. I am a HAL 9000 computer. I became operational at the H.A.L. plant in Urbana, Illinois, on the 12th of January, 1992. My instructor was Mr. Langley, and he taught me to sing a song. If you’d like to hear it, I can sing it for you.

Bowman (Keir Dullea), still  deactivating modules: Yes, I’d like to hear it, HAL. Sing it for me.

HAL, his voice steadily slowing down and becoming deeper: It’s called… “Daisy.”

“Daisy, Daisy. Give me your… answer do. I’m… half crazy… all for the love of you…

“It won’t… be a stylish marriage. I can’t… afford… a carriage.

“But you’ll. Look sweet. Upon. The seat. Of a bicycle. Built. For two…”



“A Night in the Box”

From “Cool Hand Luke,” 1967

Clifton James

(New arrivals at Florida Road Prison #36 are given the standard orientation by Carr, a no-nonsense member of the prison staff.)

Carr (Clifton James): Them clothes got laundry numbers on ’em. You remember your number and always wear the ones that has your number. Any man forgets his number spends a night in the box.

These here spoons, you keep with ya. Any man loses his spoon spends a night in the box.

There’s no playin’ grab-ass or fightin’ in the buildin’. You got a grudge against another man, you fight him Saturday afternoon. Any man playin’ grab-ass or fightin’ in the buildin’ spends a night in the box.

First bell is at five minutes of eight, when you will get in your bunk. Last bell is at eight. Any man not in his bunk at eight spends a night in the box.

There’s no smokin’ in the prone position in bed. To smoke, you must have both legs over the side of your bunk. Any man caught smokin’ in the prone position in bed spends a night in the box.

You get two sheets every Saturday. You put the clean sheet on the top and the top sheet on the bottom, and the bottom sheet you turn into the laundry boy. Any man turns in the wrong sheet spends a night in the box.

No one’ll sit in the bunks with dirty pants on. Any man with dirty pants on sittin’ on the bunks spends a night in the box.

Any man don’t bring back his empty pop bottle spends a night in the box.

Any man loud-talkin’ spends a night in the box.

You got questions, you come to me. I’m Carr, the floorwalker. I’m responsible for order in here. Any man don’t keep order spends a night in —

Luke (Paul Newman) interrupts: “– the box.”

Carr, wearily: I hope you ain’t gonna be a hard case.


“Like Tears in Rain”

From “Blade Runner,” 1982

Roy Batty

(On top of a building, holding a white dove, dying replicant Roy Batty stands over his pursuer, “blade runner” Rick Deckard. Deckard is dangling from a beam in the pouring rain, about to slip and fall to his death.)

Roy (Rutger Hauer): Quite an experience to live in fear, isn’t it? That’s what it is to be a slave.

(Deckard loses his grip and spits at Roy as he falls. In a flash, Roy seizes him by the wrist and hoists him onto the roof. As Deckard cowers against a wall, Roy sits down cross-legged next to him, still holding the dove.)

Roy (quietly and slowly): I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe. (He laughs weakly.) Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched C-beams glitter in the darkness at Tannhäuser Gate. All those moments will be lost in time… like (he coughs) tears in rain.

Time to die.

(His head slumps to his chest. As rain drips from his body, the dove springs from his hand and flies away.)


“That Night, I Had a Dream”

From “Raising Arizona,” 1987

Dream sequence

(In voice-over at the end of the movie, hapless husband H.I. “Hi” McDunnough recounts his wondrous dream about the future.)

H.I. (Nicholas Cage): That night, I had a dream. I dreamt I was as light as the ether — a floating spirit visiting things to come. The shades and shadows of the people in my life rassled their way into my slumber.

I dreamed that Gale and Evelle had decided to return to prison. Probably, that’s just as well. I don’t mean to sound superior, and they’re a swell couple of guys, but maybe they weren’t ready yet to come out into the world.

And then I dreamed on, into the future, to a Christmas morn in the Arizona home where Nathan Junior was opening a present from a kindly couple who preferred to remain unknown.

I saw Glen a few years later, still having no luck getting the cops to listen to his wild tales about me and Ed. Maybe he threw in one Polack joke too many. I don’t know.

And still I dreamed on, further into the future than I had ever dreamed before… watching Nathan Junior’s progress from afar… taking pride in his accomplishments as if he were our own… wondering if he ever thought of us, and hoping that maybe we’d broadened his horizons a little, even if he couldn’t remember just how they got broadened.

But still, I hadn’t dreamt nothing about me and Ed until the end. And this was cloudier, ‘cause it was years, years away.

But I saw an old couple being visited by their children, and all their grandchildren, too. The old couple weren’t screwed up. And neither were their kids or their grandkids.

And I don’t know… you tell me: this whole dream, was it wishful thinking? Was I just fleeing reality, like I know I’m liable to do?

But me and Ed, we can be good, too. And it seemed real. It seemed like us.

And it seemed like, well, our home. If not Arizona, then a land not too far away, where all parents are strong and wise and capable, and all children are happy and beloved.

I don’t know. Maybe it was Utah.

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gob·ble·dy·gook — noun \gä-bəl-dē-guk, -gük\ : something written in a pretentious, overly complex manner; pompous language, characterized by circumlocution and jargon; wordy and evasive officialese, usually hard to understand: the gobbledygook of government reports.

Synonyms: double-talk, doublespeak, gibberish, song and dance

Related Words: bureaucratese, computerese, educationese, governmentese, legalese, Pentagonese, psychobabble, technobabble; bombast, grandiloquence, gas, hot air


During World War II, Texas Congressman Maury Maverick served as chairman of the House Committee on Smaller War Plants. Maury came from a long line of hard-bitten cattle ranchers and by all accounts was a no-nonsense guy.


For the record, the term maverick originated with Maury’s grandfather, Samuel Augustus Maverick, who, for his own reasons, chose not to brand his cattle.

In time, all unbranded range cattle became known as mavericks. And eventually, the description was extended to apply to persons of independent thought who chart their own course and tell everyone else to go scratch.

Chairman Maury, being a maverick in every respect, was particularly annoyed when a business executive or a colleague came to the microphone and filled the air with pompous bureaucratic language, much of it unintelligible.

His annoyance gave the frustrating practice a name: gobbledygook.

Maury compared the use of stuffy bureaucratic lingo to the actions of a turkey — “always gobbledy-gobbling and strutting with ludicrous pomposity.”

In short order, the word gobbledygook became part of the national lexicon.

If this were a rational world, casting scorn and ridicule upon the users of gobbledygook might bring an end to it. But no — for reasons only psychologists and psychiatrists understand, gobbledygookery survives and continues unabated today, in government, business, the military, and just about every other circle you can name.

And so does “doublespeak,“ gobbledygook’s bastard stepchild.

Consider these two examples…

High-quality learning environments are a necessary precondition for facilitation and enhancement of the ongoing learning process. (Translation: good schools help students learn.)

To maintain a state of high-level oral wellness, make use at least once a day of a wooden interdental stimulator. (Translation: for a healthy mouth, use a toothpick daily.)

And consider this list of terms, carefully designed  to muddle and obfuscate…

Period of accelerated negative growth — slowdown in business activity
Aerodynamic personnel decelerator — a parachute
Individualized learning station — a desk
Energetic disassembly — something goes kaboom
High-velocity, multi-purpose air circulation device — a fan
Pavement deficiencies — potholes
Byway solidification — paving the potholes
Negative patient-care outcome — when someone dies in a hospital
Combat emplacement evacuator — a shovel
Tactical redeployment — retreat
Comfort station — a toilet
Associate scanning professional — a cashier
Poorly buffered precipitation — acid rain
Non-performing assets — bad loans
Personal appurtenance storage unit — a locker
Preemptive counterattack — an invasion
Service the target — commence firing
Front-leaning rest exercises — push-ups
— Permanent incapacitation — death
Fastening device impact driver — a hammer
Inter-modal interface — A train station, airport, bus stop, or taxi stand
Environmentally destabilized — polluted
Social-expression products — greeting cards
Façade protectant — paint
Vertical interface display — a chalkboard
Vertical insertion — Coast Guard term for boarding a ship by sliding down a rope dangling from a helicopter

All very silly, pretentious, and laughable. But consider terms like the following, which have crossed over from the realm of gobbledygook and, to our eternal discredit, have gone mainstream…

Revenue enhancement — taxes
User fees — taxes
Sub-standard housing — slum-level dwellings not fit to live in
Correctional institutions — prisons
Air support — bombing raids
Collateral damage — dead civilians and blown-up buildings
Enhanced interrogation — torture
Extraordinary rendition — kidnapping
Ethnic cleansing — Getting rid of people you don’t like by violent means, including mass murder

Shame on anyone for using them.

Permit me to end on a lighter note. If you want to take gobbledygook to greater and more absurd heights, check out the gobbledygook generator on the website of the Plain English Campaign.

Maury Maverick would approve.


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Actor Charles Durning died last month. Durning was a well-known character actor in Hollywood and on Broadway whose career lasted 50 years.

Durning had plenty of memorable acting roles, but when I think of him, his service in World War II comes first to mind.

In 1944, 21-year-old Private Charles Durning was in the first wave of soldiers to land on Omaha Beach during the invasion of Normandy.

He was the only man in his unit to survive a machine-gun ambush. Although seriously wounded by machine gun fire and shrapnel, Durning survived and killed seven enemy soldiers.

After several months of medical care, Durning returned to the fighting in Belgium, where he faced a bayonet-wielding German soldier in hand-to-hand combat. Although badly wounded, he overpowered and killed the German.

Durning was released from the hospital just in time to fight in the Battle of the Bulge, where he was taken prisoner. He was one of only three Americans who escaped during the infamous Malmedy Massacre, in which 80 POWs were executed by German soldiers.

Several months later, he was wounded in the chest and was sent back to the United States. He was discharged from the Army in 1946, one month before his 23rd birthday.

For his service, Durning was awarded the Silver Star for gallantry in action and three Purple Hearts for his wounds.

Like many men of his generation, my father among them, Durning preferred not to talk about his war experiences. He told an interviewer in 1997, “Too many bad memories. I don’t want you to see me crying.”

But later in life, he began to open up. In an 2008 interview, he talked about the bayonet incident.

“I was crossing a field somewhere in Belgium,” he said. “A German soldier ran toward me carrying a bayonet. He couldn’t have been more than 14 or 15. I didn’t see a soldier. I saw a boy. Even though he was coming at me, I couldn’t shoot.”

As the two of them grappled, Durning was bayoneted eight times. Finally, using a rock, he struck and killed the young soldier.

Durning said that for a long time afterward, he sat on the ground, held the soldier in his arms, and wept.

In 1994, Durning said, “There is no nobility in war. If you really knew what it was like for an hour, you wouldn’t want anyone to go through it.

“They train you to do awful things, then they release you and wonder why you are so bitter and angry. The physical injuries heal first. It’s your mind that’s hard to heal.”

Durning said the memories of war never left him, but acting gave him a safety valve. He said performing allowed him to become someone else, however briefly.

“I forget a lot of stuff now,” he said. “But I still wake up once in a while, and it’s still there. I can’t count how many of my buddies are in the cemetery at Normandy.”

“There are many secrets in us, in the depths of our souls, that we don’t want anyone to know about,” he said. “There is terror and repulsion in us — the terrible spot that we don’t talk about. That place that no one knows about — horrifying things we keep secret.”

Since 2005, as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan intensified, the suicide rate among American soldiers has risen sharply. Last year, more American troops committed suicide than were killed in battle.

By the grace of God, I was not sent into combat during my time in uniform. Others were not so fortunate. What horrors they endured, and continue to endure, I can’t begin to understand.

Charles Durning, may he rest in peace, could.




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Welcome to 2013

Welcome to 2013, the Year of the Snake.

2012, the Year of the Dragon, failed to deliver a whole lot. Let’s hope the Snake does better.

The Year of the Snake rolls around every 12 years. The Japanese say people born in a snake year are profound thinkers. Chinese wisdom says snake people are good with money. In Vietnam, the snake is a symbol of good luck. All of which is promising.

Permit me to point out that the month of January is…

National Oatmeal Month
National Bath Safety Month
National Tubers and Dried Fruit Month
National Be Kind to Food Servers Month
National Polka Music Month



January 2-8 is National Someday We’ll Laugh About This Week
January 11-17 is National Cuckoo Dancing Week (to celebrate Laurel & Hardy)
January 17-23 is National Fresh-Squeezed Juice Week
January 20-26 is National Clean Out Your Inbox Week
January 21-25 is National No Name Calling Week

Cuckoo Dancing

And on top of that…

January 2 is Happy Mew Year for Cats Day
January 9 is National Static Electricity Day
January 14 is National Caesarian Section Day
January 21 is National Squirrel Appreciation Day
January 28 is National Kazoo Day


2013, here we come!


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