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Thursday, November 15, 2007

Albuquerque Oulipo

In middle school, my friends and I used to play word games in the library after classes ended. We devised as many syllabic variations on spoonerisms as we could; we anagrammed like madwomen; we developed a weird letter-replacement game that now strikes me as something similar to the Oulipo plans for potential literature. This is as geeky as it gets, yet it filled me with pleasure as a thirteen-year-old:

My friend was fooling around with the find/replace option in a word-processing program and decided to substitute uncommon letters for common ones in a 'found text' (in this case, one of her English assignments). She then ran the spell-check on this now-garbled paragraph of entirely misspelled words and picked out new words from the spelling suggestion list. The result was a mess of spell-check-generated gibberish--but correctly spelled gibberish. When she rooted around, she found some funny word combinations that sounded poetic: "I pseudo-moo" was the one that stuck out. That phrase became the name of the game. (My friend later became a linguistics major.)

I was the second generation of this game. For some reason, I decided that my found texts would be only Steely Dan songs (I don't know why this is; it's probably a reaction to hearing Aja every single day of my early childhood. One of my dad's grad students humored me by reading them and remarking, "The best thing would be to put these back into the melodies of the songs."). I decided to modify the game by turning the mass of words into sentences; such an exercise required adding articles, occasionally shifting around words, and picking texts that didn't have many repeating words because it proved difficult to write very many sentences about, say, mooing or mimes. The memorable line that came out of this version was "Thor drugs you with soup." I made little zines of these exercises, but I don't know where they are now--probably that's for the best.

But I wanted to see if the constrained magic still worked, so I tried three substitutions using "Bad Sneakers" as a found text:

(In this substitution, a becomes ie, o becomes ele, t becomes m, and n becomes ck. There were several garbled words that got no hits on the spell-check, so I hit the space bar and made them into two or three non-words that were easier to replace. You'll see that mimes, ice, and eyelet become big preoccupations in these sentences. The thing I notice about including the pseudo-moo version is that nouns and especially adverbs are over-represented, but articles and prepositions are under-represented--probably because articles are shorter and usually contain the vowels and consonants that were substituted.)

Pseudo-moo version: Five chimes mime I check tiredly slicked melee heifer icy quick yells iced mocked iced elected melee chimp wheel silk’s here I check see men liveries mile kicks heel men mimes were gimmick hired iced mime fever slime excite viselike lack leek mages reel baleful envied iced I’m garlicky licks eke iced I’m lieu hack item men friezes relic iced I’m seal idle lackey helices wreck hay gazes cake sack me helmet bide screeners iced tea pickle collide my frock small epic leek men evacuee by revile camp wish tea brick similar iced tea lieges sum elf meekly melee speckled eyelet feline eyelet maverick up men scream eyelet weepier mime white mutedly heel eyelet gazes cake beige men helium delete eyelet meeker e falter tea feeble delete eyelet thick mime I defect’s see mime dims eel pick men vilely mime mere dirges jams fewer me.

Thor drugs you with soup version: Five mimes chime, so I check tiredly on the slicked melee of icy, quick heifers who yell.
I was iced, mocked, iced again, and then elected in a melee.
The chimp-wheel silk’s here. I check and see men in liveries for miles.
Mimes kick their heels, but the men were gimmicks, hired by iced mimes in a fevered slime.
He was excited by the mage’s viselike lack of leeks and reeled balefully.
I envied icy, garlicky licks eked out in lieu of the hack’s menu items.
Friezes, relics, seals-—I’m as idle as a lackey in these wrecked helices.
Hay, gazes, cake, a sack, my helmet, and me: I bide my time with the screeners’ iced tea and pickles.
My frock is a small epic of collided leeks and men evacuated by the reviled camp.
I wish for brick tea, which is similar to the iced tea made by my lieges, a sum of elves who speckled meekly in the melee.
“It’s feline eyelet,” a maverick man screams at the weepier mime, whose white face mutedly heeds the eyelet’s gazes.
As they gaze at the beige cake, the helium men delete eyelet meekly and falter from the feeble tea.
The eyelet is thick with deleted mimes and defects; I see mimes dimly among the eels.
Pick men vilely, or mime mere dirges and jams for feverish me.

(o becomes ai, e becomes ough, n becomes w, t becomes v. This is just the edited version of the sentences. I never want to use the word vouch again. Or yoyo. Or adverbs in general.)

If I vouch the way of the moths I have cawed, I’d hardly have sawed in vain against the rougher wily pig.
Years add mewing weight to the aerogun chimp.
Through what sin’s hour can I caw my soul, though I vouch for the balking ladybugs?
Hail and vermouth are gouging roughly, vying hard for addition.
I have fought, assailed, and ought to have caved to the viewing magi, whose aid waylaid me.
Bouillon unheard, I’m gaining wise dough and I’m laughing.
The van vouched for frail rawness; I ought to add I’m said to be an alias.
Her hair wrought into a haughty whoosh, the Taiwan moth sought ham in a bad swoon.
The gory haiku about pitas, cicadas, and my furloughed scampi aided me in vouching my weight by radio.
The ivy, wavy in viral silver, aided a lark gouging sums of airy maids.
The yoyo wrought vainly sloughed off frugally.
Yoyos were in vogue among the hares, who shrugged as though they thought they were tougher.
Have thorough voodoo shady in the hail while I yoyo from Taiwan.
The sow coughed for days after the vermouth moth vouched.
Fair in a fatal day, the hawk yoyo-ed among the cows, sowing detached aqua in the village.
Have a haughty, rough digit jut from your fair mouth.

(a becomes u, n becomes rm, s becomes qu, t becomes g, o becomes ee. My imaginary rum collection gets more and more disgusting. Oh, and I've added two actual text messages I sent last night re: ANTM. See if you can find them.)

With five hogs in muumuus, I cured the hurdles augured by the hour.
Gee, it was louder on the rim that year: the rummy mermen were eerie and I was a mere chimp squirming on the wheel.
Here I cure the queen ladybug with this gull’s karma I heeded with a grimy urge to gag her.
The hurt-rum hogs formed four queues to excel as the uglier germs in the muggy melee.
Jay wants "desolation-fabulosity!" while standing next to a car on fire.
This beetle-curd rum I’m jeering as impure is the rum I’m laughing at as I rearm from my bug-rum freezer.
I’m queen among the aldermen, but my heresy whirs in their eardrums.
You’ve queered me, hemmed me, and murmured “gee!” as I’ve budded from a kernel of rum.
My prime celadon firearm makes the queen prim.
The germs are overdue in the rudder cage.
The wig you groom as unique is the rummy gear you lunge at as you quit.
Beef is merely supreme in my eyes.
Tyra can communicate with dragons.
The flu makes my eyes gaudier.
“Up?” he queried, eyeing the weird hog.
The Whig’s suede heels stretch from eye to eardrum.
The bugs and hogs deem my eyes gauche.
My fear is my fee.
Eels deem eyes harmful on hogs, but the deer’s queen ditches the rim elegy in the valley of hogs.
The dagger genre brings joy and fear to me.

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Blogger Alexis on Wed Mar 12, 05:08:00 PM:
I was just telling my coworker about this game, and got the crazy idea that I should Google to see if that combination of words had any existence on the internet. Lo and behold, you've blogged about it. How wonderful!