Tuesday, July 2, 2013

The Deeper Meaning of Liff

The Deeper Meaning of Liff, Douglas Adams
Read: 17 February to 19 February 2012
4 / 5 stars

I've been reading and loving Douglas Adams's works since I was in middle school. While it's possible to translate this as my sense of humor not evolving much in 15 years, I'd rather embrace the notion that I was saddled with a funny bone (among other things) that would have served me much better had I been born on the other side of the Atlantic. Either way, the real point is that diving into anything penned by one of my all-time favorite writers always feels a little bit like coming home or slipping into a pair of lovingly wrecked Chucks. Especially since I've had a hankering for something delightfully British and wryly executed, which is pretty much a combination that exemplifies Adams perfectly.

This goofy little book starts out with the only instances of me both being positively tickled by a phonetic guide and finding an alphabetical sequence of maps to be decidedly hilarious (my usual inability to accept skewed images of familiar land masses -- like an upside map projection, which just freaks me out -- was deftly avoided by the masterminds' execution). I wasn't really sure what the point of such things was until I deigned to read the book jacket and discovered that the whole premise of this publication is reimagining funny-sounding place names (the easy target of Gobbler's Knob is woefully absent but Wetwang picks up that slack) as simpler ways of naming those hard-to-summarize nouns, verbs and social gaffes that no one wants to acknowledge as common experiences or ever thought to wrap up in easy-to-express packaging for mass usage.

The breakdown of these definitions is equal parts polite renaming of slightly less polite realities (Moisie: the condition of one's face after performing cunnilingus), identifying those small annoyances that comprise a lousy day when you've encountered just the right frequency and parade of them (Salween: a faint taste of dishwashing liquid in a cup of tea; Fladderbister: the part of a raincoat that trails out of a car after you've closed the door on it), recognizing those awkward inevitabilities that come with maintaining the illusion of ours being a civilized society (Shifnal: an awkward shuffling walk caused by two or more people in a hurry accidentally getting into the same segment of a revolving door) and addressing those annoying habits that result in an individual's repulsion being the only universally and implicitly agreed-upon reaction (Dinsdale: one who always plays Chopsticks on the piano), with some uncategorized silliness thrown in for variety.

A celebration of humanity's finer points, it's not -- because where's the humor in THAT? But it is an entertaining and quick little read that offers the unexpected bonus of a warm, tingly assurance that someone, somewhere, appreciated the need for words to describe all the uncomfortable phenomena that one wonders if anyone else has ever experienced. Like that three-week-old unidentifiable lump in the fridge or the feeling one gets when cornered by the least agreeable person at a party, only to have a moment of ecstatic relief to realize that that person isn't you.

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