Sniglets!

MoeHall

Oh, you remember sniglets. That was comedian Rich Hall’s term for “words that don’t appear in the dictionary, but should.” Many of Hall’s sniglets were humorous portmanteau words, and some actually filled a need. My favorite was “cinemuck,” which Hall defined as “the combination of popcorn, soda, and melted chocolate which covers the floors of movie theaters.” We’ve all seen it, or at least felt it cementing the soles of our shoes to the theater floor.

Rich Hall grew up here in Charlotte, North Carolina. Shortly after I moved here, he was scheduled to appear at a local comedy club. As part of the publicity for Hall’s return to his home town, the club sponsored a sniglet contest. The deal was that Rich would read the winning entry during his show, and the winner would receive free passes and drinks for 12 friends for an evening at the Comedy Zone.

My entry won. My sniglet was “evandalism,” which I defined as “the act of spray-painting religious messages on other people’s property.” It got big laughs from the crowd, and I got to meet Rich Hall.

The picture posted above, by the way, is of Rich Hall and Moe Szyslak from “The Simpsons.” Moe was based on Rich Hall.

Now you know the rest of the story.

Quote of the day

“For me, silence had always been another form of communication. After all, you can tell so much just by looking at a person. At home we always knew about each other even if we didn’t talk about ourselves all the time. I encountered a lot of silence elsewhere as well. There was the silence that was self-imposed, because you could never say what you really thought.” – Herta Müller, who won the 2009 Nobel Prize for literature, on the significance of what characters in her novels don’t say.

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A Terrible Beauty

Weapons hold a special place in all cultures. The tradition of a special bond between the weapon and its owner is one we see often in history, folklore, and literature. Think of the samurai’s katana, Thor’s Mjölnir, Arthur’s Excalibur, Bilbo’s Sting, and Davy Crockett’s Ol’ Betsy.

This morning, I attended a presentation at the Charlotte Museum of History on the Mecklenburg Longrifle, a fine and highly sought-after weapon produced here in the Charlotte, North Carolina, area in the 18th and early 19th centuries. Michael Briggs, the author of The Longrifle Makers of Guilford County and The Longrifle Makers of Forsyth County & Davidson County, displayed some breathtaking pieces from his personal collection, and generously identified and discussed longrifles that audience members brought in.

Audience
Author Michael Briggs examining a longrifle.

North Carolina had nine different schools, or regional styles, of longrifles. Those distinctive styles were the outgrowth of the culture of the settler population. The predominant Scots-Irish and German population in the North Carolina Piedmont and Appalachian Mountains brought their woodworking, silversmithing, and metalworking traditions together to craft elegant and vital weapons for life on the frontier.

Longrifles

Click to enlarge

What most fascinated me was the extraordinary detail and ornamentation gunsmiths imparted to their creations. These longrifles are truly works of art. When the Museum of Early Southern Decorative Arts featured a longrifle exhibit, the magazine ad announcing it featured a photo showing the gorgeous detail of an engraved silver stock with the motto “I’ve stopped people in their tracks without firing a shot.”

Pistol

This pistol was the work of Zenas Alexander, who was also a noted silversmith working in Charlotte in the early 19th century. When Michael Briggs showed a photo of a silver pitcher by Alexander, someone behind me muttered, “Guns and tea sets. What a helluva combination!”

But I think there’s no disparity at all in Alexander’s dual careers. The longrifle was more than just a tool. It was necessary for hunting and self-defense. With it, a settler possessed security and independence. For the settlers on the North Carolina frontier, the longrifle was life itself. So the ornamentation wasn’t just an afterthought; it personalized the weapon. As the Museum of Early Southern Decorative Arts said, these guns were stunning works of art. And yes, they were weapons, too. Something that essential to life possesses a beauty of its own, and I think the extra effort Zenas Alexander and the other gunsmiths spent engraving their creations was their way of expressing the natural awe that the future owners of their creations would feel.

As John O’Donohue once said, “The human soul is hungry for beauty; we seek it everywhere – in landscape, music, art, clothes, furniture, gardening, companionship, love, religion, and in ourselves.” I’d add that beauty can be found where we often least expect it — and that makes it all the more compelling.

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