Monday, August 4, 2014

No Profit in Volapük

Quite the knee-slapper!
This is just a short item. I'll try to provide some context.
Depreciated in Value
Old Lady (in bird store)—Can that beautiful parrot talk?
Bird Fancier—Yes, indeed.
Old Lady—How much?
Bird Fancier—One dollar, madam.
Old Lady—So cheap!
Bird Fancier—Yes, madam. He was a good bird, but he's gone off in value. His last mistress taught him volapuk. —Tid Bits.
First, the when. This was published in the Tombstone Epitaph on August 4, 1888. Volapük was about eight years old and already getting ridiculed.

The where. Tombstone Epitaph is clear; the newspaper of Tombstone, Arizona. The Library of Congress notes that it was founded in 1887 and is still being published. Its first edition was August 6, 1887, so it's coming up on its 127th birthday, making it eleven days younger than Esperanto.

What about Tid-BitsTis-Bits (they used the hyphen that the Epitaph omitted) was a humorous weekly illustrated magazine. I'm somewhat surprised that Wikipedia doesn't have an entry on it, since I do remember coming across references in it in various nineteenth-century sources.

Google Books, in one of those frustrating moments has the seventh and eighth volumes of Tid-Bits scanned, but only available in "snippet view." Google says of this:
For books that enter Google Books through the Library Project, what you see depends on the book's copyright status. We respect copyright law and the tremendous creative effort authors put into their work. If the book is in the public domain and therefore out of copyright, you can page through the entire book and even download it and read it offline. But if the book is under copyright, and the publisher or author is not part of the Partner Program, we only show basic information about the book, similar to a card catalog, and, in some cases, a few snippets — sentences of your search terms in context.
The volumes in question are from 1887 (so the joke probably appeared in volume 9 or 10). Of course it's in the public domain, but despite what Google says, you can't "page through the entire book and even download it and read it offline."

In any case, many of the contemporary magazines (which are fully browsable) include advertisements for Tid-Bits. It was a sixteen-page weekly, annual subscriptions were $1.50.
It Never Prints a Dull Line!
Sixteen Pages filled with original matter written for Tid-Bits by the best writers. Tid-Bits touches the life of our times on every side, and is an "abstract and brief chronicle" of current thought—grave and gray.

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