Saturday, April 11, 2009

The True Story of G.B.H. Hornswoggler

It's a Saturday, and I haven't found time to finish up any blog posts for today -- and that means another post resurrected from the files of the Straight Dope Message Board; this one was from a thread about what people's names actually meant.

It's my real name. The initials stand for George Bertram Herbert.

No, actually it was the name of a famous riverboat gambler in the 1840s, whose exploits I discovered while working on the suppressed memoirs of James G. Blaine.

Sorry, little joke there. It's really the name of the secret agent who poisoned Edgar Allen Poe in 1849 so that Poe wouldn't reveal the true secrets of the Hollow Earth. Poe's secret manuscript turned up about a dozen years ago, and my employer sent me to verify its provenance. I met Hornswoggler's great grand-nephew (once removed), and his old family tales of derring-do in Pellucidar (old G.B.H. didn't call it that, of course, but you couldn't mistake the dinosaurs) made a great impression on me.

I kid you folks. Hornswoggler was actually the roguish hero of a picaresque novel written by T.F.X. Tumblethwacket and published by Lathrop, Ward and Fortescue in 1877. I first encountered his adventures in old copies of the Illustrated Young Men's Journal and Gazetter, translated into Serbo-Croatian and rendered as comics stories by the inimitable Xerxes F. Xerxes. For months afterwards, I would speak only in my own crude re-translations of Hornswoggler's hilarious phrases, such as "Great Yak of Burma, mind the butter!" and "If I'd wanted to purchase spats from a railway yard, I would certainly not have begun my journey in Oshkosh." Even now, the mere repetition of "The squirrel is on the hunt!" can send me into uncontrollable guffaws.

I'm sorry for leading you astray...

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