Tuesday, April 26, 2011

A Runcible Spoon

John Fairchild sent me a letter recently with a fun little connection he'd discovered. In The Man Whose Teeth Were All Exactly Alike, protag Leo Runcible's surname is more than likely derived from 'runcible spoon' which first appears in 1871 Edward Lear's The Owl and the Pussycat. Here is the relevant stanza:

'Dear pig, are you willing to sell for one shilling
Your ring?' Said the Piggy, 'I will.'
So they took it away, and were married next day
By the Turkey who lives on the hill.
They dined on mince, and slices of quince,
Which they ate with a runcible spoon;
And hand in hand, on the edge of the sand,
They danced by the light of the moon,
The moon,
The moon,
They danced by the light of the moon.

Given PKD's familiarity with children's literature this seems like a very likely source. So when I asked The Great Google about runcible spoons, I was directed to a 15-year-old column from The Straight Dope (god I used to love this column in the Reader in Chicago). Cecil sez,

"In subsequent years Lear applied the principles of runcibility in other fields:

"He has gone to fish, for Aunt Jobiska's Runcible Cat with crimson whiskers!" (1877). "His body is perfectly spherical, / He weareth a runcible hat" (1888). "What a runcible goose you are!" (1895). "We shall presently all be dead, / On this ancient runcible wall" (1895).

Satisfaction with the early results of runcilation led Lear and his admirers to overlook the fact that there were many unanswered questions about the runciatory process, e.g., what it was. Lear's contemporaries recognized that runcility was one of those conditions partaking of the ineffable, meaning it had the same connection to reality as scroobius pips and Gromboolian plains and about a thousand other Learisms--namely none."

A runcible spoon is an impossibility, but I like how Cecil says it, 'one of those conditions partaking of the ineffable' as that seems like such a Dickian idea, this crossing of the profound and the ridiculous, the sacred and the crass, the mundane and the transcendent.

I feel weird admitting this but, reading the synopsis of this novel, it rings no bells and I'm not sure I've read it. Now that there are nice new editions of the book, I have no excuse.


Douglass Truth said...

it's in Gravity's Rainbow, too.

Theophylact said...

The corpse in Anthony Boucher's Rocket to the Morgue (1942) is one William Runcible. Lear is still the probable source.

thik tank said...

I cut my tounge once with a runcible spoon. Well... Actually it was a plastic spork.