Euphemisms for Death

alex atkins bookshelf wordsThere is so much death in Shakespeare’s plays. Perhaps the Bard could have softened the blow of death by using something a bit lighter. What if Hamlet had said, “For in that sleep when thou hast been permanently out of print what dreams may come/ When we have shuffled off this mortal coil, \ Must give us pause.” Or “For in that sleep when thou art basting the formaldehyde turkey what dreams may come…” There are so many euphemisms for “death’ — surely the Bard could have used any of these colorful expressions:

Angels carried him/her away
Assume room temperature

Ate it
At peace

At rest
Baste the formaldehyde turkey
Become living-challenged
Beyond the grave

Beyond the veil
Bite the dust
Bite the big one
Blow someone’s brains out
Born asleep
Bought the farm

Breathe one’s last
Brown bread
Buy the farm
Cash in one’s chips
Checking out the grass from underneath

Come to a sticky end
Counting worms
Crossed over

Crossed the Jordan
Crossing the river Styx

Curtains/final curtain
Dead as a dodo
Dead as a doornail
Death by Misadventure

Depart this life
Destroyed/to be destroyed
Die with one’s boots on
Didn’t make it
Done for
Drop dead
Drop like flies

Fading away
Fall off one’s perch

Food for worms
Free one’s horses
Gave/give up the ghost
Go to a better place
Go over the Big Ridge
Go bung
Go for a Burton
Go to Davy Jones’s locker
Go to the big gig in the sky
Go home in a box
Go out with one’s boots on/with a bang/in style
Go to, or head for, the last roundup
Go to one’s reward
Go to one’s watery grave
Go to a Texas cakewalk
Go to the happy hunting ground

Go the way of all flesh
Go west
The Grim Reaper
Hand in one’s dinner pail
Have bought it
Have one foot in the grave
Hitching a ride in the hearse

Hop on the last rattler
Hop the twig
In Abraham’s bosom
Join the choir invisible
Join the great majority
Juggling halos

Justifiable Homicide
Kick/kicked the bucket
Kick the calendar
Killed In Action (KIA)
King of Terrors
Kiss that arse goodbye
Live on a farm (upstate)
Living impaired

Lose one’s life
Make the ultimate sacrifice
Meet one’s maker
Murder Death Kill (MDK)
Not long for this world
Not with us anymore
Off on a boat
Off the hooks
On one’s deathbed
On one’s last legs
One’s hour has come
One’s number is up
On the heavenly shores

Pass away
Pass in one’s alley
Pay the ultimate price
Paying a debt to nature

Peg out
Permanently out of print

Pop one’s clogs
Promoted to Glory
Push up daisies
Put down/put to sleep
Put one to the sword
Rainbow Bridge
Ride the pale horse
Riding the hearse

Send one to Eternity or to the Promised Land
Sent/go to the farm
Shuffle off this mortal coil
Six feet under
Sleeps/sleeping with the fishes
Snuff it
Struck down
Swimming with concrete shoes
Take/taking a dirt nap
Take a last bow
Take the last train to glory.
Take one’s life
Top yourself
Traded to the angels
Turn up one’s toes

Until one’s dying day
Up and die
Wearing cement boots

Wearing a pine overcoat (i.e. a wooden coffin)
Wearing a toe tag

Winning one for the reaper
Wiped out…way up..
With one’s last breath
Worm food
Yield up the ghost

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The Art of Literature

alex atkins bookshelf quotationsLiterature was born not the day when a boy crying wolf, wolf came running out of the Neanderthal valley with a big gray wolf at his heels: literature was born on the day when a boy came crying wolf, wolf and there was no wolf behind him. That the poor little fellow because he lied too often was finally eaten up by a real beast is quite incidental. But here is what is important. Between the wolf in the tall grass and the wolf in the tall story there is a shimmering go-between. That go-between, that prism, is the art of literature.

From Lectures on Literature (1980) by Russian author Vladimir Nabokov (1899-1977), best known for his novels Speak, Memory (1951), Lolita (1955), and Pale Fire (1962).

Andy Warhol was a Hoarder

alex atkins bookshelf triviaAndy Warhol (1928-1987) who began his career as a commercial illustrator became one of the most recognized artists of the 20th century. Beginning in the 1960s, Warhol established himself as a leader of the pop art movement; he is best known for his paintings of the Campbell’s Soup Cans and Coca-Cola bottles. Warhol also cultivated an entourage of underground celebrities that collaborated on art films and socialized at some of New York’s most notable nightclubs, like the infamous Studio 54. It is within this electric and eclectic milieu of celebrity, art, cinema, music, and partying, that Warhol gave us his most memorable quote: “In the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes.”

Although Warhol was always in the spotlight for so many things as previously mentioned, there is one aspect of his life that hid in the shadows: Warhol was a hoarder. The Andy Warhol Museum, located in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, houses important Warhol art in addition to all the crap he collected over several decades — including 610 Time Capsules, containing more than 300,000 items contained in  569 cardboard boxes, 40 filing cabinets, and one large trunk. The museum politely refers to this as Warhol’s “possession obsession.” Claudia Kalb, author of Andy Warhol was a Hoarder, elaborate: “[Warhol] was an accumulator of epic proportions. The man loved to shop, and he did whenever and wherever he could — five-and-dime stores, antique stores, high-end galleries… the artist crammed his Manhattan home with so much stuff — pearl necklaces, Miss Piggy memorabilia, Bakelite bracelets, Lichenstein drawings — that ‘you had to climb over things’ to get around, one visitor told New York magazine after his death… By his own admission, the artist had trouble getting rid of anything… [He stashed] everyday items that he swept off his desk: lunch receipts, ticket stubs, doctors’ bills, letter, postage stamps.” Warhol would have his assistants fill up cardboard boxes and once they were filled they were shipped off to storage.”

Kalb continues: “A tireless shopper, Warhol hit every kind of marketplace — flea markets, antique dealers, galleries, Saks Fifth Avenue. One of his favorite targets was Lamston’s, the old Manhattan variety store, where he’d buy a 30-cent shopping bag and see how much he could cram in. At home, he’d lay out the contents on his bed and rub the prices off with Comet. ‘Then, the minute you’ve put all the stuff away,’ he wrote, ‘you want to go shopping again.” Said, like a true, compulsive hoarder.

“So why did Warhol become a hoarder?” you ask. Excellent question. Warhol had a difficult childhood, straight out of a Dickens novel. His family grew up poor, struggling through the Depression. On top of that, Warhol lost his father, a coalminer, when he was only 13 years old. Warhol was a sickly child (he was diagnosed with Sydenham’s chorea, a nervous system disease), shy, and socially isolated. One of his favorite pastimes was to lose himself in movies, comic books, drawing, and celebrity magazines. He enjoyed making scrapbooks out of newspaper and magazine clippings of celebrities. He picked this up from his mother who was artistic — she was a talented illustrator and made handicrafts out of crete paper and tin cans. (She passed away in 1972, when Warhol was 44). Warhol’s hoarding began when he was in his early 20s. Like most hoarders, Warhol developed strong emotional attachment to things and used this as a way to relieve the anxiety he was experiencing in his life — a coping mechanism that worked well for him as a child, trying to deal with the trauma of his sickness, isolation, and poverty. But of course, the paradox of hoarding is that although accumulating things relieves anxiety, it also produces anxiety. As Gregory Jantz notes in his article “The Psychology Behind Hoarding” for Psychology Today: “The more hoarders accumulate, the more insulated they feel from the world and its dangers. Of course, the more they accumulate, the more isolated they become from the world, including family and friends. Even the thought of discarding or cleaning out hoarded items produces extreme feelings of panic and discomfort.”

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For further reading: Andy Warhol was a Hoarder: Inside the Minds of History’s Great Personalities by Claudia Kalb

Reading Outrageously Bizarre Books on the Subway

alex atkins bookshelf booksWhat would people do if you were riding the subway and reading a really bizarre book? And I don’t mean books with a silly title, but rather a truly weird, in-your-face, politically-incorrect title like Mein Kampf for Kids or The Joy of Cooking Meth that would elicit a double-take, as in “did I really just see that?” Inquiring minds want to know. Enter Scott Rogowsky, creator and star of the hilarious internet series “Running Late with Scott Rogowsky.” Each week Rogowsky and his camera crew roam the streets — and subways — of New York to capture man-on-the-street segments that capture New Yorkers being… well, New Yorkers. For his segment “Fake Book Covers on the Subway” Rogowsky sat in a subway car, minding his own business, reading a fake book with an outrageously bizarre title — and keeping a straight face — while a colleague surreptitiously filmed the reaction of fellow subway riders. It’s hard to say which is funnier: the books titles or the reactions from fellow New Yorkers, ranging from shock and and disgust to chuckles and hearty laughter. And naturally, since we live in the social media generation, many people had to take a photo of Rogowsky immersed in his book to post on Facebook or Instagram with the “can you believe this shit?” emoji. Here are some of the bizarre fake book titles that Rogowsky featured in the videos:

How to Hold a Fart In: The New Rules for Career Success by Don Henderson
The Joy of Cooking Meth by Walter White
101 Penis-Lengthening Tips You Can Do at Home, the Office, or on the Go by Scott Rogowsky
Slut-Shaming Your Baby: Seven Natural Laws for Nursing Mothers by Nancy Mohrbacker
Definitely Not Porn: So What Are You Looking At? Mind Your Own Business by Regular Guy
Gone Girl 2: Even Goner by Lillian Flynn
1,000 Place to See Before You’re Executed by Isis
Getting Away with Murder for Dummies
Mein Kampf for Kids by Adolf Hitler
Ass Easting Made Simple: Seven Natural Laws for New Boyfriends by Nancy Mohrbacker
If I Did It: How I Would Have Done 9/11 by George Bush

Why Women Deserve Less by Porter Brandelle
How to Fake Your Own Death by Prince
Hiding Your Erection From God by Deepak Chopra
Math for Non-Asians: A Skill-Builder and Reference Guide for the Genetically Challenged
Great Vaginas Through History: An Encyclopedia

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The Best Movies with Twist Endings

alex atkins bookshelf moviesThere’s nothing better than watching a movie with a great plot twists — and M. Night Shyamalan is the O. Henry in the world of cinema, known for his surprise twist endings. We don’t need to discuss any spoilers to make a compelling case — you know the ones: The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable, and The Village. asked its reader to rank the best movies with twist endings — not surprisingly M. Night Shyamalan’s The Sixth Sense (“I see dead people”) was voted number one. Here is the list:

The Sixth Sense (1999)
Fight Club (1999)
The Usual Suspects (1994)
Seven (1995)
Primal Fear (1996)
Psycho (1960)
The Others (2001)
The Presitige (2006)
Memento (2000)
Planet of the Apes (1968)
Saw (2004)
12 Monkeys (1995)
Unbreakable (2000)
A Beautiful Mind (2001)
The Game (1997)
American Psycho (2000)
Jacob’s Ladder (1990)
Friday the 13th (1980)
The Village (2004)
Gone Baby Gone (2007)
The Crying Game (1992)
Citizen Kane (1941)
Chinatown (1974)
April Fool’s Day (1986)

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How Did O. Henry Get His Pen Name?

alex atkins bookshelf triviaAmerican short story writer O. Henry was born William Sidney Porter (1862-1910). Incidentally, in 1898, Porter changed the spelling of his middle name from Sidney to Sydney. His short stories feature colorful characters, skillful unfolding of plot, realistic and witty dialogue, and often with a distinctive surprise plot twist ending (often referred to as the “O. Henry twist”). He was a prolific writer, having written more than 600 short stories, published in 13 separate collections of short stories. In the early 1900s, Porter was one of the most widely read and admired storytellers in the country. Two of his best-known short stories are the “The Last Leaf” and the holiday classic “The Gift of the Magi.”

Many people often wonder how Porter came up with the pen name “O. Henry” that seems to have no connection with his birth name, his place of birth (Greensboro, North Carolina), or his professions (pharmacist, bank teller, bookkeeper, and journalist). During his writing career, Porter used many pen names, including James L. Bliss, T.B. Down, Howard Clark, Olivier Henry, O. Henry, and S.H. Peters. Porter used the pseudonym for the first time in December 1899 for the short story entitled “Whistling Dick’s Christmas Stocking.” There are several accounts on the internet that attribute the pen name to individuals he met during his prison term in the Ohio State Penitentiary in Columbus, Ohio. (He was sentenced to five years in prison for embezzling funds from a bank where he worked as a bank teller and bookkeeper; he served only three, being released early for good behavior — and writing really great short stories). Another common fallacy is that he was named after a candy bar (read below). Yet another story claims that he derived the pen name from the name of a girlfriend’s cat. There is no evidence for any of these explanations.

In an interview with The New York Times in 1909 ( entitled “O. Henry on Himself, Life, and Other Things”), Porter gave this definitive account:
It was during these New Orleans days that I adopted my pen name of O. Henry. I said to a friend: “I’m going to send out some stuff. I don’t know if it amounts to much, so I want to get a literary alias. Help me pick out a good one.” He suggested that we get a newspaper and pick a name from the first list of notables that we found in it. In the society columns we found the account of a fashionable ball. “Here we have our notables,” said he. We looked down the list and my eye lighted on the name Henry, “That’ll do for a last name,” said I. “Now for a first name. I want something short. None of your three-syllable names for me.” “Why don’t you use a plain initial letter, then?” asked my friend. “Good,” said I, “O is about the easiest letter written, and O it is.”…. “A newspaper once wrote and asked me what the O stands for. I replied, ‘O stands for Olivier, the French for Oliver.’ And several of my stories accordingly appeared in that paper under the name Olivier Henry.”

Despite some accounts on the internet, O. Henry was not named after the Oh Henry! candy bar introduced by the Williamson Candy Company of Chicago in 1920. Nor was the Oh Henry! candy bar named after the author. According to Nestle, this is the official story of the naming of the chocolate candy bar: “Way back when, there was a little candy shop owned by George Williamson. A young fellow by the name of Henry who visited this shop on a regular basis became friendly with the young girls working there. They were soon asking favors of him, clamoring Oh Henry, will you do this?, and Oh Henry, will you do that? So often did Mr. Williamson hear the girls beseeching poor young Henry for help, that when he needed a name for a new candy bar, he called it OH HENRY! and filed a trademark application the following year.” Now that would have made a wonderful O. Henry short story, don’t you think?

The O. Henry Award, established in 1918, is an annual American award given to short stories of exceptional merit was named after the author. The award, presented by the Society of Arts and Sciences, promotes the art of the short story. His love of language and wordplay was the inspiration for the O. Henry Pun-Off World Championships established in 1978 that celebrates the often-maligned but wickedly funny pun. Punsters from around the globe travel to the O. Henry Museum in Austin, Texas each May to compete in the Punniest of Show, PunSlingers, and Most Viable Punster competitions.

One of the most common questions that librarians and booksellers hear is: “where can I find O. Henry? Is it organized under O or H?” The proper alphabetization of O. Henry is under “H” not “O” — remember the name is not spelled “O’Henry” but rather “O. Henry” as in Olivier Henry. Still, many bookstores stock O. Henry’s books in the “O” section of fiction. Oh Henry!

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A Mashup of Minds: Kim Kardashian and Soren Kierkegaard

alex atkins bookshelf cultureWhat happens when you mashup the thoughts of Kim Kardashian, the poster girl of superficiality, narcissism, banality, self-promotion, and consumerism, with Soren Kierkegaard, the poster boy of existentialism, Christian ethics, and Christian love? You get the humorous and insightful tweets of KimKierkegaardashian, a parody account. It’s a fascinating juxtaposition on so many levels: Kardashian the iconic beautify gracing countless magazine covers, with an insatiable thirst for publicity (and more than 51 million Twitter followers!); as opposed to Kierkegaard the pensive, withdrawn hunchback, who preferred being alone with his thoughts. Despite these dramatic differences, they both have something to say about the human condition. However, in the twitter universe the beauty or value of those ruminations is with the beholder. Here are some sample tweets that make the Danish philosopher relevant again and add a hint of intelligence to Kim’s vacuous tweets:

When I was very young, a barb of sorrow was lodged in my heart. I wanted everything short and low-cut. My look’s a little sleeker now.

New merch available now. Because you are like children, Christianity permits you for the time being to enjoy these early things.

What our age lacks is not reflection, but passion. And so my leather legging addiction continues.

Glamour, menswear, top hat… I stick my finger into existence and it smells of nothing.

Each individual fights for himself, with himself, within himself, in order to free himself before God. I’m gonna be sooo sore tomorrow!

God grant me peace from my foolish earthly desires, my wild longings, the anxious hungers of my heart. I’m craving fro yo so badly.

Just got the best spray tan! There is indescribable joy which glows through us unaccountably.

I scarcely recognize myself. My mind is  like a turbulent sea. I was testing new mascara!

The unhappy person is one for whom the content of life lies outside the self. Can’t wait to go to Miami this weekend!

Why bother detoxing? You bring to your asceticism the same passion for minute trivialities that guided your addiction to pleasure.

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