Less known about Douglas Adams, the creator of the seminal Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series, is that Richard Dawkins dedicated his treatise The God Delusion to him and that Adams made two brief appearances in the fourth series of Monty Python’s Flying Circus.
Also hiding in the gargantuan literary shadow of Hitchhiker’s is a little handbook and dictionary of sorts called The Meaning of Liff, which Adams co-authored with John Lloyd in 1983.
The book which, incidentally, was in large part the inspiration for my blog’s name, also has a connection with the film,The Meaning of Life. Hardcore Python fans will recall that the opening sequence of the gravestone reads Liff before the lightning bolt strikes the final F and converts it to an E.
Lloyd himself is an intriguing character who, oddly enough, I inadvertently struck up an email exchange with last year on a business-related matter. At the time I had no idea that he was also the creator of QI and wrote for Not the Nine O’Clock News, Black Adder and was part of the winning Trinity College team in 2011’s University Challenge. Never mind that he collaborated with Adams on Hitchhiker’s and The Meaning of Liff.
How I came to be in contact with Lloyd is another story for another time, but suffice to say I was over the moon when I realised that I was corresponding with the man whose name lay alongside Adams’ on the cover of one of my favourite books.
I love The Meaning Of Liff for its fine balance of practical intent coupled with absurd realisation.
Simply put it is a dictionary of things that there aren’t any words for yet. Rather than inventing new words though, Adams and Lloyd thought they’d make existing place names work harder for their keep by assigning them new definitions because the words were already recognisable entities without as such having any sense or meaning attached to them.
The book’s forward says it best:
In Life* there are many hundreds of common experiences, feelings, situations and even objects which we all know and recognise, but for which no words exist.
On the other hand, the world is littered with thousands of spare words which spend their time doing nothing but loafing about on signposts pointing at places.
Our job, as we see it, is to get these words down off the signposts and into the mouths of babes and sucklings and so on, where they can start earning their keep in everyday conversation and make a more positive contribution to society.
Douglas Adams & John Lloyd
*and indeed Liff
Liff itself is a small village near Dundee in Scotland and is repurposed to mean: A book, the contents of which are totally belied by its cover. For instance, any book the dust jacket of which bears the words ‘This book will change your life’. Nice.
Some of my other favourites?
Beccles The small bone buttons placed in bacon sandwiches by unemployed guerrilla dentists.
Barstibley A humorous device such as a china horse or small naked porcelain infant which jocular hosts use to piss water into your Scotch with.
Gastard Useful specially new-coined word for an illegitimate child (in order to distinguish it from someone who merely carves you up on the motorway, etc).
Malibu The height by which the top of a wave exceeds the height to which you have rolled up your trousers.
Nazeing The rather unconvincing noises of pretended interest an adult has to make when brought a small dull object for admiration by a child.
Neen Sollars Any ensemble of especially unflattering and peculiar garments worn by a woman which tell you that she is right at the forefront of fashion.
Skibbern Noise made by a sunburned thigh leaving a plastic chair.
Spofforth To tidy up a room before the cleaning lady arrives.
Vobster A strain of perfectly healthy rodent which develops cancer the moment it enters a laboratory.
Whaplode Drove A homicidal golf stroke.
Whasset A business card in your wallet belonging to someone you have no recollection of meeting.
Happily Australia makes the briefest of appearances thanks to the entry for Yeppoon: One of the hat-hanging corks which Australians wear for making Qantas commercials.
My mother has always said that if you’re struggling to find a present for the person who had everything, a back scratcher is the solution. Wise words though they may be, I’d prefer to tickle my friends’ funny bones with a copy of The Meaning of Liff any old day.