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Some turns of phrase have origins that can never be traced; others have at least partially documented family trees. A local case in point: last month I was writing to a friend (KM) and successfully provoked a chuckle from her with the parenthetical aside:

... (As you know, my Powers are quite limited --- something like those of a minor imp at best, rather than anything approaching the Great Satan....) ...

I was attempting a self-deprecation riff, alluding to the "Great Satan" image that folks in various other countries have on occasion used to describe the USA.

But my mental jumping-off point for the jest was actually a remark made last October by Bo Leuf (host and administrator of http://zhurnal.net ) who, when I asked whether he could set up sub-accounts within the zhurnal.net domain for my wife Paulette & daughter Gray, replied with a wink that I could already do that myself. Bo observed:

Even as The Almighty when Creating delegated Manifold Responsibilities unto the Hierarchies of Archangels and Hosts of Angels and other myriad minions best left unspecified; why should a lowly Webhost Root Mage presume do do less ...

I responded with the demurral:

I prefer to think of you as Lucifer, and myself as a lesser demon (or maybe just an imp) ... (^_^)

It was that exchange --- floating about months later in the womb of my mind, fertilized at an opportune moment by the "Great Satan" label --- that came forth as the quip first quoted above. The unusual factor in this metaphorical birth was that I could consciously identify the specific immediate sources of the concept.

In general, I suspect that a key aspect of what we call "intelligence" (or at least wit?) is simply a good memory combined with a good ability to cross-link appropriately yet unexpectedly.

And as for the earlier ancestors of my personal bent toward silly word play, I can finger at least one parent: a walk back to the Caltech campus with some fellow physics grad students in late 1974. We had just been to the Burger Continental to eat greasy food, and Comrade CMC was engaged in a comic rant about Richard M. Nixon, one of his favorite bêtes noires. CMC held forth on Nixon's then-recently-diagnosed phlebitis, which he transmuted into "flea bite-tis" in the course of his routine. The rest, as they say, is history ...

(see also GeniusAndComplexity (25 May 1999), IdeasLikeSparks (4 Sep 1999), OnSharpness (14 Nov 1999), IntelligenceAugmentation (25 Aug 2001), CollegeCollage3 (29 Sep 2001), ReadWellAndRemember (31 Jul 2002), ...)

TopicHumor - TopicWriting - TopicPersonalHistory - Datetag20030514

(correlates: AuthorizedVersusForbidden, InverseAphorisms, AirFlow, ...)