View Full Version : Question about "The Sphinx Apple"

08-11-2007, 06:11 AM
I’m stuck on the word “nixycomlogical.” Does anyone know what this means?

>“Send for me if you want me again,” says Redruth, and hoists his Stetson, and walks off. He’d have called it pride, but the nixycomlogical name of it is laziness.<

09-24-2007, 10:31 PM
I'm from Austin and it's my understanding, though perhaps mistaken, that my family along with others played no small part in causing Billy Sid's abrupt relocation to his next abode (well, really, you don't expect any of the locals involved to take a fall if an out-of-towner is available to hand, do you?). Therefore, I've always felt some attachment to O. Henry, though not, under the circumstances of course, in expectation of any reciprocality.
Not having read "The Sphinx Apple" yet, this is my first encounter with the word "nixycomlogical". It took me only a little fretitation to tease out a possible meaning of "straight" or "non-BS" from it. Some of us here in Austin go out of our way to avoid such lack of imagination if at all possible and presumably that would also have rubbed off on Mr. Porter a century or more ago. His language in this case seems to bear that out.
La palabra "nixycomlogical" immediately suggests "cum-logical" to me, something reasonable or well-defined, shall we say. That alone should put us more than halfway home. Looking up "nixy" or "nixie" on the Internet (wouldn't my fellow scribe have had more trouble focusing on his bottle had that modern cross been available to him!), anyway looking up "nixy" quickly yields "illegible" as that applies to undeliverable mail, and that's something our government clerk would be all too familiar with, but further investigation shows that the term is likely derived from the acronym NCSC, the Federal Postal Service's National Customer Support Center, something which couldn't have existed in the 1890s. Further poking about shows "nixie" to be some sort of Scandinavian or Germanic shapeshifting water sprite, and that's certainly something William could have picked up from some of the local German settlers in our region. One might also point out that some clerk of that heritage handling illegible mail at the Post Office could likewise be responsible for the NCSC connection, but that's another story.
We can now oppose nixy, meaning shapeshifting or illegible, against logical, meaning well-defined. You can quibble that the Latin term "cum" was meant more to unite than oppose the two terms it separates, but I would have to point out that that's perhaps too fine a point to make to such people as WSP and I living under the shadow of the lah-tee-dah intellectualism of the University of Texas behemothing over everyone here in downtown Austin.
Paraphrasing O. Henry's sentence gives us "He'd have called it pride, but the nixie-cum-logical name for it is laziness." meaning that pride is a bit too slippery and shapeshifting a term for those of us who know that stubborn laziness is really at its heart.

09-25-2007, 12:52 AM

Many thanks, I think that’s a pretty good explanation - I especially like the German/nixie connection because he seemed to like finessing different languages, corruptions of them and mythological monsters into the stories. He also seemed to like the almost private joke - i.e., if you didn’t do a lot of 18th century poetry reading, or if you don’t know French, Spanish or German, you probably wouldn’t get it. And your explanation ends up on the only logical definition that I’ve thought of. (We pretty much know the definition, I just like finding out where he pulled the word from - there is usually a little joke there to be found.)

I still wonder, though. I searched for a couple of weeks to find the meaning of “Texas feet shampetter” (from “The Seats of the haughty”) He used “Grease-us” -a play on the name of Croesus in another story, and
described The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam by Omar Khayyám as a poetry book by Homer K.M and Ruby Ott. - I wonder if it isn’t simpler, and right in front of me and I can’t see it.

I don’t know enough about Spanish.
Do you know if “Ni se como + logical” actually says anything that makes sense? As far as I can find, there is no Spanish word for “logical” but I don’t think Bill would be averse to mixing languages to make a word.

“No way stops; says I to Solly; except to get you
barbered and haberdashed. This is no Texas feet
shampetter; says I; where you eat chili-concarne-con-huevos
and then holler “Whoopee!” across the plaza."

09-25-2007, 01:30 AM
Hmm, wouldn't "ni se como logico" mean "logically unlike", so that the sentence would be saying that laziness isn't like pride? Doesn't the context of the paragraph seem to be equating the two terms rather than opposing them?
I would presume that "feet shampetter" is a corruption of "fete champetre". That used to be a popular French term for an outdoors party or fandango.

09-25-2007, 03:07 AM
Hah! I didn’t include the definition of feet shampetter because I thought you might think it fun to look up - obviously you’re much swoofter than I.

I don’t know any French and “feet shampetter” meant absolutely nothing to me. I can recognize a French or Spanish word that is correctly spelled but feet shampetter blew what little mind I have. I searched forever until I thought of French, by dumb-luck only, and spelled it “fete” in a search engine once. It all became clear then. That example is why I was thinking maybe something like that may = nixycomlogical.

I was thinking that the context was opposing the two terms but I may be wrong. Here is a little more of the story - see if it’s more clear and you can tell me. This is about the 70th paragraph in the story here:

**—Bildad Rose was next invited by Judge Menefee to contribute his story in the contest for the apple of judgment. The stage-driver's essay was brief.

"I'm not one of them lobo wolves," he said, "who are always blaming on women the calamities of life. My testimony in regards to the fiction story you ask for, Judge, will be about as follows: What ailed Redruth was pure laziness. If he had up and slugged this Percival De Lacey that tried to give him the outside of the road, and had kept Alice in the grape-vine swing with the blind-bridle on, all would have been well. The woman you want is sure worth taking pains for.

"'Send for me if you want me again,' says Redruth, and hoists his Stetson, and walks off. He'd have called it pride, but the nixycomlogical name for it is laziness. No woman don't like to run after a man. 'Let him come back, hisself,' says the girl; and I'll be bound she tells the boy with the pay ore to trot; and then spends her time watching out the window for the man with the empty pocket-book and the tickly moustache. —**

Ni (nor,neither), Se ( it, him, her, your, them +self or selves) Como (as, like)or Con (with) + logical.

I was wondering if “ne se como (or con) logical” might mean “he’s not logical” or “he’s not with logic.”

Or: “He would call it pride but he’s not logical so we will call it laziness.”

Maybe it’s a stretch.

09-25-2007, 09:45 AM
Let's consider this: Despite Sally Field's recent (and untrue) assertion of feminine pacificity, those of us who were nourished on the mother's bile of the United Daughters of the Confederacy, like O. Henry in their first generation of regional dominance and I in their last, know otherwise. We both saw all too well a defeated society enduring on pride and little else and we didn't like it. Passing up something good just because the candy-coating on it isn't quite 100% isn't prideful; it's just stupid laziness. Redruth could have had the girl if he hadn't insisted on her doing ALL the work to get it going.
Last night, I was lucky when you mentioned "feet shampetter". I looked up the second word by itself first and found a discussion thread at <http://www.strathspey.org/archive/thread?s=35514> that pointed out that one could tell from Robert Burns' poem "The Fete Champetre" that he was pronouncing it like "shampetter". I immediately left that thread to look up the whole French term and confirmed that it did indeed indicate an event where one might eat and socialize out in a plaza and that the term had been popular among the non-French for a time.
I just went back now and read the rest of the thread (Fred). It had to do with the word "macaronic" and now I know a lot more than I did yesterday. Macaroni isn't just a pasta; it's also a reference to extravagant decoration. That explains a lot about Yankee Doodle's feather and no, the UDC members around didn't allow me to sing THAT when I was growing up. It also describes verse containing mixed languages, something O. Henry was quite fond of doing in his prose. If you have library access to JSTOR, I would very much like to read the rest of Margaret Cannell's 1937 article "O. Henry's Linguistic Unconventionalities" at <http://links.jstor.org/sici?sici=0003-1283(193712)12%3A4%3C275%3AOHLU%3E2.0.CO%3B2-2>.
The last poster on that first site above asserts that the Yankee Doodle ditty includes only the second use of macaroni above and not the third, but I think we can be magnanimous and allow both, just as I think that O. Henry meant "nixycomlogical" both to sneer at the concept of pride and the idea of using such a high-blown term itself like "nixie-cum-logical".
A third opinion, though, couldn't hurt.

09-25-2007, 09:48 AM
BTW, how did you get your references to another site to show up as a link? My attempt to do so by using < and > didn't work.

09-26-2007, 05:00 AM
This is a test. It is only a test. If this had been a real emergency you would have been notified bla bla bla...

--”If you have library access to JSTOR, I would very much like to read the rest of Margaret Cannell's 1937
article "O. Henry's Linguistic Unconventionalities" at:



09-26-2007, 05:15 AM
I had no idea how I did it so I had to experiment. I think the “< & >” may have been the problem. I removed them from your link and left a space before and after — either that or I’m a Pooka and didn’t know it.

I am going to do some checking today to see if I know someone with access to JSTOR. I don’t know why I haven’t already. That was the only web- hit that I ever got from feet shampetter and then it tells me infuriatingly little about it.

10-30-2007, 11:59 AM
ahhh 2 many words help

12-24-2007, 08:51 AM
I'd like to add another possible explanation for the word nixycomlogical: Perhaps it is simply a dialectical contortion of lexicological.