Etymologies PDF Print E-mail
Written by Peter J. Leithart   
Monday, 01 August 2011 18:10

Once there was a harpist. He practiced hours and hours every day and became one of the great harpists of all time. Those who heard him felt transported to heaven. His picture appeared on the cover of “Harper’s Weekly,” he recorded CD after CD and performed in concert after concert. He was at the top of the harpist world and seemed destined for even greater things.

But the harpist had one very bad habit. He loved absinthe, which, at somewhere between 100 and 150 proof, is what you might call a strong drink. The harpist loved it. He loved his absinthe almost as much as his harp, and sometimes it seemed he loved it even more. He drank a glass or two with breakfast, he drank another glass or two in place of coffee in mid-morning, he drank some for dinner, and then, to cap off the day, he drank some more.

Everyone told him he was drinking too much. His agent told him that his music would suffer if he did not cut back. His mother pleaded with tears, and his older sister, whom he loved deeply, scolded him unmercifully. He knew they were right, but he could not stop drinking. Morning, noon, and night, he had to have his absinthe.

Then one morning after his second breakfast glass of absinthe, he went to his practice room. When he flipped on the light, he saw a horrifying sight. His harp was in its stand where he had left it, but something had changed. It was scaly and wet-shiny, and quivered and undulated like a snake. He was frightened but he stepped closer, and as reached out to touch his harp he got his first clear sight. The strings were as before, but the mahogany frame had transformed into a writhing, gasping chain of speckled flat fish.

The harpist screamed and ran from the room, and from that day to the end of his life he never touched absinthe, or any other alcoholic beverage again. He started a chapter of Alcoholics’ Anonymous, he composed songs about the evils of alcohol, he campaigned against teenage drinking.

Years later, whenever anyone asked him how he stopped drinking, his eyes would widen with fright, and he would say, in a hoarse whisper, “Absinthe makes the harp grow flounder.”


During a copper shortage , one man decided that he could make a lot of money saving up pennies. He developed an elaborate system. Every time he got a collection of pennies, he would carefully separate them into three groups. Pennies that were not copper went back into his pocket. Pennies that were copper and in perfect shape went into one of those old fashioned piggy banks that you have to break to open. Pennies that were copper but flawed he dropped into an old gray urn that had belonged to his grandmother.

He read the financial pages every day, and as the price of copper inched and then leapt up, he chuckled in a self-contented way. The pennies in the vase were valuable, but the pennies in the bank were something else. There in the piggy bank was his future, his nest egg, the inheritance he would pass on to his children.

One day he found his teenage son sitting at the kitchen table with pennies spread out in front of him. He was scraping pennies with a sharp knife. His father cried out in alarm, “What are you doing?” He son eyed him coolly and replied, “I’m fixing Lincoln’s beard. It’s all wrong.”

His father nearly fainted before he could sit down at the table. “What’s wrong, Dad?” his son asked, still holding knife in one hand and penny in another. Shaking, he took his son’s hand and in a pleading voice cried, “Don’t you understand? Don’t you know that a penny shaved is a penny urned?”

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ambrosis (Registered) 2011-08-02 17:34:40

I had to create an account just to voice the irrepressible groan that just escaped my lungs.
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