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Squid #470
(published January 21, 2010)
Ask the Giant Squid: Pus in Boot, Poda in Boots
Who is Poor Mojo's Giant Squid?
Dear Giant Squid,

I thought octopi and squid were friends, why are you killing all the Portuguese constituency? Furthermore, how did you manage to introduce "Octopuses" as a plural into accepted english vocabulary? I mean, wtf? Did you brainwash Merriam AND Webster!?

Your pal and quadrolopod,

My Dearest Milt,

<GASP!!!> That an officer and gentleman of your stature, musicianship, and general pleasantness should chance to think to imagine that I might engage in the wholesale slaughter of octopuses despite my staunch and steadfast resolution to refrain from this species of hungry violence for at least three fortnights—well, I am saddened to say that it churns my bile with self-loathing to see the sort of image I have made for myself in the hearts and minds of even my dearest and most steadfast petitioners.

But I find it fortunate that you should happen to mention my time working with Captain Meriwether Merriam and Lieutenant William C. Webster, as those were pleasant years which I have had no call to speak on in some several decades. As you will recall from your boyhood schoolbooks, Cpt. Merriam and Lt. Webster were contracted by President Thomas Hemmings Jefferson to explore points west of the Mississippi river for the purpose of general appraisal of the property and chattels at that time recently purchased from the French (who were looking to sell the land in order to finance military action against England. Ironically, as Jefferson could not raise the ready capital to make the purchase, he instead chose to borrow the money from England, sadly agreeing to a five-year ARM that would ultimately adjust from a reasonable 6.5 percent to a soul-shattering 13.9 percent interest rate, even while the value of the land itself declined due to meteorological developments beyond his control. With his real estate holdings badly underwater, Jefferson was left arrears and obliged to auction several of his most favored cherrywood curios in order to make the two ends meet).

But, at that time, the whole of this purchase was still above water, and so I was obliged to travel in a less-then-fully-reliable clockwork anti-bathyspheric suit as I accompanied Merriam and Webster as their "lexicographer elect and general aide du camp." As we were heading into territories whose aboriginal inhabitants were somewhat hostile to President Jefferson's plans of westward expansion, and who did not fully fathom how their real estate holdings had been transferred without their knowledge (I have to assume that they were simply renting the land from the French, although the matter remains foggy to me to this very day), it fell to Cpt. Merriam and Lt. Webster to play the "nice doggy" game of diplomacy, and for me—stealthy as I was—to gather vital intelligence on the natives, their days and ways, and their vast and intricate technologies. Of special interest to President Jefferson were the vast subterranean libraries of the Sioux Plains Tribes. Although he was avid that we should gain entrance to the Main Lakota Branch, we soon discovered that this required two forms of picture identification, and only Lt. Webster had thought to bring even one (and that an unsigned, expired Kentucky voter's registration card featuring only a half-tone print, not the full-line etching required by Lakota custom).

Fortunately, the lesser Two Kettles branch was a great deal more open in policy and it was there—whilst Cpt. Merriam and Lt. Webster regaled the gathered peoples of the Seven Council Fires with a banjo and bones recital followed by first an eating exhibition and then an earnest eating competition—that I finally gained entrance to the Sioux Public Library System.

As I slowly crept down the steps, I soon discovered that my care was unwarranted: The library had been entirely deserted, as all had gone to attend Cpt. Merriam's and Lt. Webster's diversion. There, beneath the fruited plains, were row upon row of grammars, bound charts of conjugations, instructive primers—and beyond those rows of linguistic reference, and beyond those a plethora of general references, including a 13 volume encyclopedia about the art and science of crafting encyclopedium. I immediately fell to devouring the texts, transcribing as much as I might as quickly as I could.

But, only a slim hour had elapsed before a pair of teenaged lovers, for some reason expecting the glorious reference section of this fantastical library to be abandoned on a feast day, fell to shrill and panicked screaming when they caught sight of me crouched over their treasured volumes, and we all three beat hasty retreats, which had an ill-effect, I fear, and Cpt. Merriam's and Lt. Webster's diplomatic actions above ground, obliging them to forfeit the eating contest to Chief Black Buffalo.

As we rode on the next day, Lt. Webster recounted the many strange—and often ribald—turns of their above-ground adventure of the night prior, culminating, of course, in my quick exeunt from the stone-lion flanked Two Kettles Branch Library steps, and the general chaos that followed.

"Can you believe," Lt. Webster guffawed, "That those devils thought they were under the curséd thrall of not one, but several, octopuses?!?" He laughed on, but Cpt. Merriam only sighed, eye rollingly.

"Webster, now, really; how do you ever expect to make captain with a gaff like that."

Lt. Webster trimmed off the end of his laugh with an almost audible snip and asked, quite honestly, "Gaff like what?"

Cpt. Merriam sighed and re-rolled his optically imperfect eyes. "Octopuses" he repeated, scarring the air with two quotish slashes of the index and middle fingers of either paw. "You honestly believe that is the proper manner to pluralize octopus? Perhaps we should direct this considerable conundrum to any of the several octopi with which I am certain our dear Mr. Squid is acquainted; perhaps we could dictate a letter to be sent post haste, Mr. Squid?"

Lt. Webster chewed his mustache, and then began to mumble "I was just repeating what the injuns said—"

Cpt. Merriam puffed dismissively, "Well, then I don't imagine they shall ever make captain, either."

Lt. Webster was in poor spirits for the remainder of that day's trek and the next, and it was only late the following evening that he slipped his head between the canvas flaps of my tent and begged a moment of my time. As I pivoted in my mechanical suit, I saw that he held a Greek lexicon bound in buffalo hide, his finger holding a place just to the rear half of the thick volume.

"Hey, there, Mr. Squid; I don't mean to be no bother, but I been looking through this here reference work I traded my gun for back at Two Kettles—"

I lifted a tentacle, silencing him.


Lt. Webster looked greatly relieved. "Yeah. If it were Latin, it would have been octopes, and the plural woulda been octopedes, like centipedes, right."

I nodded once, definitively.

"Well, then why the hell didn't you say nuthin'?"

I remained silent because I knew, just as well as Lt. Webster did, that Cpt. Merriam was an almost insufferable douche under normal circumstances, and would have pouted well into Shoshone Territory had we corrected him. But, having learned more than just the difference between second- and third-declension Latin and Greek nouns from our erstwhile native hosts, I chose to keep my council to myself, for nothing feeds quiet work place animosities better than the sense that you have a secret ally in whom you might confide.

I Remain,
Your Giant

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