Friday, July 30, 2010

The Naughty Professor

I know Morris Bishop for his humorous works, specifically "The Naughty Preposition".  I memorized it the day that I first read it.  
A Professor of Romance Literature at Cornell University, Bishop was also University Historian. His reputation for wit and scholarship, and a flair for limericks and mystique was well known to his colleagues and students. They say that he was prejudiced against elves, but who can blame him?

Bishop was a serious academic who wrote biographies of Pascal, Champlain, La Rochefoucauld, and others. He published a history book, The Middle Ages, in 1968 which even today remains in print. 

He had a love of light and humorous verse, but Bishop did not approach his writing lightly. He was a noted linguist who once said: “The words of a living language are like creatures: they are alive. Each word has a physical character, an expectation of life and death, a hope for posterity.” Bishop also found humor in the peculiarities in the English language.  Here is his poem "The Naughty Preposition", published in The New Yorker in 1947.

The Naughty Preposition

I lately lost a preposition;
It hid, I thought, beneath my chair
And angrily I cried, "Perdition!
Up from out of in under there."

Correctness is my vade mecum,
And straggling phrases I abhor,
And yet I wondered, "What should he come
Up from out of in under for?"

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