Monday, June 26, 2006


Anguish Languish

Wants pawn term dare worsted ladle gull hoe lift wetter murder inner ladle cordage honor itch offer lodge, dock, florist. Disk ladle gull orphan worry putty ladle rat cluck wetter ladle rat hut, an fur disk raisin pimple colder Ladle Rat Rotten Hut.
That's the opening paragraph from "Ladle Rat Rotten Hut", the first "furry tell" in the 1956 book Anguish Languish, by Howard Chace.

The tongue-in-cheek premise, according to Mr Chace, is this, from the Introduction:

The experiments described above, and hundreds of similar ones conducted by SPAL [the Society for the Promotion of the Anguish Languish] show that an unbelievable number of English words, regardless of their usual meanings, can be substituted quite satisfactorily for others. When all the words in a given passage of English have been so replaced, the passage keeps its original meaning, but all the words have acquired new ones. A word that has received a new meaning has become a wart, and when all the words in the passage have become warts, the passage is no longer English; it's Anguish.

The stories therein are meant to be read aloud, as Arthur Godfrey did on his show when the book came out, and they can be quite hilarious fun. Apart from "Ladle Rat Rotten Hut", "Center Alley", and "Guilty Looks Enter Tree Beers", we find nursery rhymes ("noisier rams"), such as

Sinker sucker socks pants
Apocryphal awry
Foreign turnkey blank boards
Bagged inner pyre
...and songs ("thongs"), such as "Freyer Jerker" and "Hormone Derange". Some bits are hard to figure out when you look at them, but just say them aloud, with the right emphasis, and they'll usually reveal themselves.

Anguish Languish is long out of print, though used copies can be found. It's a rarity, and the prices for the used copies are high; a search on has them starting at USD 125. Alternatively, one can find several web sites that have the book transcribed in its entirety, as the copyright has long expired.

If you like words, as I do, check it out, and be amused.

MURAL: Yonder nor sorghum stenches shut ladle gulls stopper torque wet strainers.


Selkie said...

Except for the lines of verse, I can't figure these out at all; I guess I'll have to get you to read them aloud to me. Perhaps I'm too much of a linear thinker? Strange, considering that I can recite Carroll's "Jabberwocky" by heart!

Anonymous said...

I met the author of this book 35 years ago. He struck me as an honest man, which is probably why no one ever mistook him for James Joyce.