Monday, May 18, 2015

The Handbook of Conundrums

Edith B. Ordway - The Handbook of Conundrums (1913)

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If you knew that a conundrum is a riddle where the answer is a pun then you're one above me in the vocabulary count.  I thought it just meant a difficult problem and of course was wrong.  (By the way, the word isn't of Latin origin, at least according to a couple of dictionaries I checked, so "conundrums" is the correct plural.)

This book collects conundrums and despite a brief historical introduction gives no sources or other context.  The result resembles a joke book more than anything serious though there's some historical value to the chapter relating to the American Civil War or early examples of the form.

Some samples:

Why are weary people like carriage wheels?  Because they are tired.

How can you distinguish a fashionable man from a tired dog?  One wears an entire costume; the other simply pants.

Why does a duck come out of water?  For sun-dry (sundry) reasons.

Why must a fisherman be very wealthy?  Because his is all net profit.

As you can see most stretch to reach a point and few, if any, are actually funny.  But then maybe they were intended more along the lines of little sayings than jokes.

Ordway also wrote books on etiquette, opera and quotations.  I can find little about her but she seems to have been an American born in 1877, a graduate of Boston University, interested in spiritualism (the last according to Frederick Wiggins' The Living Jesus) and possibly died in 1944.