Merchant of Texas

Here once again is polemics prof Geoff Nunberg making a dick of himself–check his update–while trying to do the same to George W Bush. Anyone who has spent any time with luvvies or second-hand booksellers will be aware that writing may be regarded as a commodity and that commoditisers are not necessarily unsympathetic idiots.

Second hand English is a strange thing, and few things stranger than the basis of this riddle, taken from Richard Chase’s collection of American folk tales and songs:

There was a man who had no eyes,
and out he went, and looked at the skies.
He saw a tree that had good apples grown;
he took no apples off, he left no apples on.

The answer, writes Chase, is in the use of the plural. He was a one-eyed man, and the tree had only two apples on it. “–and one apple’s not apples!”

(Chase’s collection also contains one of the finest American hymns, The Garden Hymn, taken from the first (1835) edition of The Southern Harmony. Tweak the harmony a bit, do a Tom Waits on it, and hey presto.)

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