I Am Omnibibulous, or, More Simply, Ombibulous

H. L. Mencken? George Jean Nathan? Errol Flynn? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: During the December holiday season imbibing is commonplace. “Mrs. Byrne’s Dictionary of Unusual, Obscure, and Preposterous Words” lists ‘ombibulous’ with the following definition: 1

someone who drinks everything (H. L. Mencken).

How is the famous commentator and curmudgeon Mencken connected to this word? Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: In 1920 a piece containing this distinctive word together with the closely related synonym ‘omnibibulous’ appeared in “The Smart Set” magazine with two authors specified in the byline: George Jean Nathan and H. L. Mencken. Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 2

As for me, I am prepared to admit some merit in every alcoholic beverage ever devised by the incomparable brain of man, and drink them all when the occasions are suitable—wine with meat, the hard liquors when the soul languishes, beer on jolly evenings. In other words, I am omnibibulous, or, more simply, ombibulous.

The prefix ‘omni’ means all, and ‘bibulous’ means fond of alcoholic beverages sometimes to excess.

In later publications Mencken indicated that the 1920 passage above was his. Mencken did not coin the word ‘omnibibulous’, but QI‘s exploration suggests that he did coin the shortened form ‘ombibulous’. See below for additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading I Am Omnibibulous, or, More Simply, Ombibulous

Notes:

  1. 1980 (1974 Copyright), Mrs. Byrne’s Dictionary of Unusual, Obscure, and Preposterous Words by Josefa Heifetz Byrne, Entry: ombibulous, Quote Page 145, Column 1, University Books: Citadel Press, Secaucus, New Jersey. (Verified with scans)
  2. 1920 February, The Smart Set, Volume 61, Number 2, Répétition Générale by George Jean Nathan and H. L. Mencken, Start Page 45, Quote Page 47, Column 1, Smart Set Company, Inc., New York. (Google Books Full View) link

“Did Hamlet Have an Affair with Ophelia?” “In My Theater Company, Invariably”

John Barrymore? Walter Sichel? William Powell Frith? Anonymous Scene-Shifter? Johnston Forbes-Robertson? Arthur Machen? Cedric Hardwicke? Errol Flynn?

Dear Quote Investigator: The theater world has long been known for complex tempestuous relationships between cast members on and off the stage. One comical tale concerns the ambiguous relationship between Hamlet and Ophelia presented in William Shakespeare’s renowned tragedy.

An inquisitive theatergoer asked a well-known stage manager, “Did Hamlet have an affair with Ophelia?” The manager quickly responded, “In my company, always”.

Would you please explore the history of this tale?

Quote Investigator: In 1923 “The Sands of Time: Recollections and Reflections” by Walter Sichel appeared. The author relayed a story he heard from the painter William Powell Frith who died in 1909. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

At one time he delighted to go behind the scenes of the theatre and chat with the scene-shifters. One of them appeared very intelligent, and Mr. Frith asked him if he had ever himself been a player. He had, in the provinces. Had he ever acted Shakespeare? Of course he had, he had played in ‘Amlick, he had, indeed, acted the chief part.

“Very interesting,” said Mr. Frith, “please tell me what is your conception of Hamlet’s relation to Ophelia. Did he, so to speak, love her not wisely but too well?“I don’t know, sir, if ‘Amlick did, but I did,” was the unblushing answer.

The key line was delivered by an anonymous thespian who also worked as a member of a stage crew. This family of anecdotes is highly variable in expression; thus, the origin is difficult to trace.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading “Did Hamlet Have an Affair with Ophelia?” “In My Theater Company, Invariably”

Notes:

  1. 1923, The Sands of Time: Recollections and Reflections by Walter Sichel, Chapter 8: Editorship—and After, Quote Page 238, Hutchinson and Company, London, England. (HathiTrust Full View)