22 January 2018


How did "P.U." get to be used to mean that something smelled bad?

Though it is sometimes spelled "piu," I always hear it pronounced as "pee-yew" with the two syllables often stretched out - and perhaps accompanied by a inched nose.

It is not an expression that is used as much these days. I associate it with my mother's generation. But actually, it is a lot older than that.

In the 1600s, the expression of a foul odor was pyoo. But English spelling had not become standardized, so this expression of disgust was also written as pue, peugh, pew and pue - but always pronounced as pyü. In our time, P.U. is the more common spelling.

This expression's root igoes back to the Indo-European word pu meaning to rot or decay. It is a shortened version of puteo, which is Latin for "to stink, to smell bad."

15 January 2018

Clockwork Orange

Probably best known as the title of Stanley Kubrick's 1971 film, A Clockwork Orange, the title began with a 1962 novel by Anthony Burgess.

In the novel, a clockwork orange refers to a person who "has the appearance of an organism lovely with colour and juice but is in fact only a clockwork toy to be wound up by God or the Devil or (since this is increasingly replacing both) the Almighty State."

The novel and film asks what is "goodness" and whether it makes sense to use aversion therapy to stop immoral behaviour. Director Stanley Kubrick, writing in Saturday Review, described the film as being "A social satire dealing with the question of whether behavioural psychology and psychological conditioning are dangerous new weapons for a totalitarian government to use to impose vast controls on its citizens and turn them into little more than robots."

A clockwork orange is a person who is robotic behaviorally, but one that is, in all other respects, human.

The novel was also adapted as A Clockwork Orange: A Play with Music in 1987 in a theatrical adaptation by Anthony Burgess.

Clockwork Orange was also the name of a supposed 1970s operation to discredit British politicians.

"Clockwork Orange" is a nickname for the Glasgow Subway in Glasgow, Scotland.

"Clockwork Orange" was a nickname for the Dutch national football team in the early 1970s.

Wendy Carlos's Complete Original Score

08 January 2018

Pseudonyms: Criminals

It seems that many major criminals either take on pseudonyms (aliases) or have them assigned to them.

The Unabomber (Ted Kaczynski) was assigned his pseudonym from the FBI acronym for UNiversities and Airline Bomber.

New York Police discovered in 1977 a handwritten letter near the bodies of two victims that was addressed to a NYPD Captain. In the letter, the killer referred to himself as "Son of Sam" for the first time. The press had previously dubbed the killer "the .44 Caliber Killer" because it was the weapon of choice for serial killer David Berkowitz.

Here are some of the better known criminal pseudonyms and their owners.

  • Al Capone was really Alphonse Gabriel Capone
  • Baby Face Nelson (Lester Joseph Gillis; also used the alias George Nelson)
  • Billy the Kid (William H. Bonney; born William Henry McCarty, Jr.)
  • Black Bart (Charles Earl Bowles)
  • Bugsy Siegel (Benjamin Siegelbaum)

  • Butch Cassidy (Robert LeRoy Parker) and The Sundance Kid (Harry Alonzo Longabaugh)
  • Carlos the Jackal (Ilich Ramírez Sánchez)
  • Dutch Schultz (Arthur Flegenheimer)
  • Green River Killer (Gary Leon Ridgway)
  • The Happy Face Killer (Keith Hunter Jesperson)
  • Hillside Strangler was the collective pseudonym used for for two serial killers, Angelo Buono and Kenneth Bianchi.
  • The Iceman (Richard Kuklinski)
  • The I-5 Killer (Randall Woodfield)
  • Legs Diamond (Jack Diamond)
  • Lucky Luciano (Salvatore Lucania)
  • Machine Gun Kelly (George Celino Barnes)
  • Murf the Surf (Jack Roland Murphy)
  • Ned Kelly (Edward Kelly)
  • The Night Stalker (Richard Ramirez)
  • Pretty Boy Floyd (Charles Arthur Floyd)
  • Sara Jane Olson (Kathleen Soliah)
  • The Yorkshire Ripper (Peter Sutcliffe)

We currently do not have real names to attach to some pseudonyms, including from the distant past:  the still unsolved Jack the Ripper murderer  - and the more modern Zodiac Killer.