Category Archives: Dr. Burgess’s Treasury of Wisdom

Profound Insights


[A fanciful and fake etymology from my series Devil’s Derivations: Etymologies from Hell (found here:]

Although no longer used as a compound, “bargain” was originally formed in the early 1700s by combining “bar” and “gain”. While the meaning of “gain” is clear, the relevant sense of “bar” is less certain. Two prominent theories disagree about the correct meaning of “bar”: one theory suggests that “bar” refers here to the legal term associated with lawyers (or “barristers”), while the other theory asserts that the relevant “bar” is the one at which alcohol is served.

Both theories agree that “bargain” referred originally to an agreement disadvantageous to a swindled party and that “bargain” gradually shifted in denotation and connotation from the negative “that which is unjustly obtained at a reduced price” to the more positive “that which is obtained at a reduced price”. The “Legalists”, as they call themselves, argue that “bargain” originally referred to the type of deals sly lawyers managed to obtain for clients. If a clever person swindled someone else, people would say that the beneficiary had gained the sort of deal usually obtained only by “the bar”—a shortened form of “members of the bar”, i.e. lawyers. “Alcoholics,” on the other hand, insist that “bargain” was the sort of “gain” a person might obtain from someone who had been drinking heavily at a “bar;” the Alkies—as many know the group—has found evidence that con artists would pace their drinking carefully to remain more or less sober while befriending drunken people at bars. The con artists would then convince these drunken people to sell or exchange valuables at low prices and coax the intoxicated dupes into making imprudent bets and investments. A successful con would often brag that he or she had walked away with a “bar gain”—i.e. the type of gain one was mostly likely to obtain at a bar.*

*Regardless of the term’s origins, the Alkies’ explanation is the one that most early moderns accepted. Supporting the Alkies’ claims is a well-known example from Anaximander Snope’s An Essay on Witticism:
When fellows get themselves a little drunk,
Transactions smelling foul as any skunk
Obtain with ease their signed and sealed consent
[A fact for which they later will repent]—
…For, while the lads are drinking to my health,
I’m busily depriving them of wealth.
The morning after, dupes will blame their stars,
And I will count the gain I got from bars.

The Absurd Wit and Dubious Wisdom of a Madman

10 Epigrams by Paul Burgess
I. [“Deer Money”]
A conversation quickly makes it clear
That venison’s the meat that’s held most dear.
All people seem to talk about or know
Is how to hunt some bucks or get some doe.

II. [“An Ineffective M.O.”]
To kill with kindness murderers once tried
But found intended victims rarely died.

III. [“Epigram on an Anagram”]
A “poem” might become a mixed up “mope”
Composed by some absurdly gloomy dope.

IV. [When will you write a serious poem?”: an Epigrammatic Reply]
If writing serious and earnest rhymes,
I might be jailed for literary crimes.

V. [“Praying Mantis Mating”]
A praying mantis says, “The sex was great!”
The womantis nods before she grabs her plate.

VI. [“A Teacher’s Epitaph”]
They will appreciate me when I pass.
I know they’ll say, “He had a lot of class.”

VII. [“The Unconscious Liar”]
Don’t trust a snoring man who’s closed his eyes
Because it’s said of him, “Asleep he lies.”

VIII. [“Carpe Diem!”]
Some never feel alive, it’s often said,
Except when doing what might make them dead.

IV. [“Hobbes]
When influential monarchist Thomas Hobbes
Suggests that men in nature are like brutes,
The modern readers say, between their sobs,
“I guess some haven’t left behind their roots.”

X. [“Freud”]
The most insightful book by Sigmund Freud
Says less of mother-loving we’d avoid.
In Civ’lization and its Discontents,
There’s less of Oedipus and more of sense.

“Decadent” and “Downfall”

“Verbal Ticks” Prompt:

While I grant that common usage can change words’ meanings, I object to using a word that means “in a state of decay” to signify richness of flavor. It seems that people at some point associated rich food with the extravagant, wasteful spending that ruined some empires. Perhaps people read about the decadence of the Roman Empire, for example, and associated “luxurious food” with the luxuries owned by the wealthy.

Examples of misuse: 1.This chocolate is rich and decadent.
Oh, how I enjoy decadent sweets!

Many people seem to think that “downfall”—a term best reserved for the literal or figurative destruction of powerful nations and people—has replaced all the words meaning “trivial flaw,” “slight misfortune,” and “minor weakness”.
Examples of misuse:1.He is a nice person, but he is sometimes late . Tardiness is his only downfall.
2. Although he is lactose intolerant, he could not resist drinking milk. One day he drank some and had an upset stomach. His love of dairy products was his downfall.

[Ambition led to the downfall of Julius Caesar. To be assassinated at the peak of one’s powers is to experience a downfall. The milk-drinking protagonist of “Example 2”, on the other hand, will most likely enjoy a long, healthy life after recovering from his minor bout of gastrointestinal discomfort]


“Cheer Up, You Gloomy Bastards!”

A poem in ottava rima by Paul Burgess

Expecting pleasure always, never strife,
You curse existence saying it’s insane
And claim Despair’s your mother, Gloom’s your wife.
Your home you’ve often called the “House of Pain.”
Unmet conditions you’ve imposed on life
Don’t justify the way that you complain.
Refrain from putting poison in your cup—
That’s how to cheer a gloomy bastard up.


“Anagram” (an epigram on the topic–by Paul Burgess; also posted here:

A “poem” might become a mixed up “mope,”

Composed by some absurdly gloomy dope.

2 Limericks on the Topic– by Paul Burgess

If to write’s to complain and complain…
And complain, as if life were all pain,
Perhaps I’m no good,
And maybe I should
…complain and complain, and complain.

Some poets will write as if gloom
Were pervading all life to the tomb.
Of one who would write
With a heart that is light,
They’d declare, “For his kind, there’s no room.”

How to Write Limericks: a Brief Introduction to Poetic Form

“What is a limerick, and why do you write them?”
As my followers have likely noticed, I write more limericks than any self-respecting person should. Some people might wonder why an otherwise normal human being would dedicate so much time and thought to writing absurd poems. The answer is simple: limericks are fun and easy to write, composing them is an enjoyable mental exercise, and sharing them can brighten a person’s day.

Perhaps some of you would like to give writing limericks a try. If so, you might enjoy this guide clarifying the form’s distinguishing features. [Those interested in poetic form, in general, might also benefit from this brief guide’s explanation of essential poetic terms and concepts.]

The form: Limericks are five-line anapestic poems containing three lines of rhyming anapestic trimeter and two lines of rhyming anapestic dimeter. The rhyme scheme is AABBA.

“What is an anapest?”
An anapest is a metrical foot. Before explaining anapests, I will familiarize you with poetic feet. In poetry, a foot is a pattern of unstressed and stressed syllables. The most common foot in English-language poetry is the iamb, which contains an unstressed syllable (usually notated as “u”) followed by a stressed or accented syllable (usually notated as ´); for readers’ benefit, I will use capital letters to indicate stressed syllables and lowercase letters to indicate unstressed ones. Some examples of iambs would be: reCEIVE, beLIEVE, the CAT. Prepositions, articles, and conjunctions tend to be unstressed. To determine which syllables of a polysyllabic word are stressed and which unstressed, divide the word into syllables and pronounce the word while paying attention to the length of each syllable’s sound.

While iambs contain two syllables, anapests contain three that follow a pattern of unstressed, unstressed, stressed: the beLIEF, to deCEIVE, with a BROOM, in the WOODS. Since anapests occur less frequently and naturally in regular speech than iambs, the consecutive anapests in limericks’ lines have a musical and often whimsical quality that distinguishes them clearly as poetry and makes them fun to recite.

“What are dimeter and trimeter?
“Meter” refers to the number and type of poetic feet in a line. Two-part names are used to identify meter: 1. Type of foot [anapest=anapestic, iamb=iambic]; 2. Numerical prefix + “meter” [monometer, dimeter, trimeter, tetrameter, pentameter, etc.]. If the foot is, for example, an iamb, one might refer to the meter as “iambic pentameter.” A line of iambic pentameter—the most common meter in Anglophone poetry—contains five [“penta-“] iambs; for example, “She’d MURD/ered PEOP/le JUST/to WATCH/them DIE” (from my poem “Portrait of a Mass Murder”: ). Scanning the previous example will reveal that the line contains ten syllables divided into five iambs.

In limericks, anapestic trimeter is the meter of lines one, two, and five. The following limericks, which you might recognize from my blog (, will serve nicely as examples. For now, please study lines one, two, and five; the slashes divide the lines into anapests.
at the EDGE,/ he said, “JUMP/ now and DIE!”
But the GIRL/ still reFUSED/ to comPLY.
To make her obey,
He yodeled all day,
And she WAS/ thus perSUAD/ed to FLY.

Please note that many limerick writers substitute an iamb for the first foot of some lines; this substitution is especially common in a limerick’s first line:
a MAN/ who had BROK/en some HEARTS
DeCID/ed to SELL/ them at MARTS.
“Though unable to beat,
There’s no tastier meat,”
he’d SAY/when proMOT/ing those PARTS.

Notice how the first foot (“a MAN”) is an iamb, but the following feet (“who had BROK/en some HEARTS”) are anapests. Despite the initial iambic substitution, the line’s meter is still considered to be anapestic trimeter.

The meter of lines three and four is anapestic dimeter: “though unAB/le to BEAT” and “there’s no TAST/i er MEAT”).
“What is an AABBA rhyme scheme?”
“Rhyme scheme” refers to the pattern of ending rhymes, and ending rhymes are simply words concluding a line that rhyme with words concluding other lines. The traditional method for indicating rhyme schemes is to assign different letters to lines that end with different sounds. If two lines contain the same final sound, one should assign the same letter to both lines. Since it is the first line, “A man who had broken some hearts” would be labeled “A,” and since they rhyme with the first line, the following lines would also be labeled “A”: “Decided to sell them at marts” and “He’d say when promoting those parts.” Line three—“Though unable to beat”–is labeled “B” because it does not rhyme with the first two lines.

“Here endeth the guide”
Thank you for reading, and feel free to contact me with any questions about limericks and poetic form. Please let me know if you would like for me to clarify anything in this guide or write explanations of other forms.

by Paul Burgess


“The Underdog Effect”

A prose reflection by Paul Burgess
– Consistent winners are often polarizing. While hated by many, they are loved by others who enjoy sharing vicariously in their glory. Consider the envy and hostility many spectators feel towards athletes and teams that seem indestructible, and think of the appeal of the ‘underdog’ with whom many identify.

-Perhaps the underdog effect is related to its ability to inspire in people the following thought process: “I, little lowly me, could also succeed at slaying the big dragon. People might look at me as meek, but I have potential. Look at those other underdogs who’ve proven the world wrong! I’d love to obtain similar vengeance on public opinion […or what I’ve perceived as public opinion when I’ve narrated my life’s dramas to myself]. I’d love to have “them” feel that they were wrong […although they likely never think of “me.”]

– Sometimes people who are not underdogs like to feel that they have been in order to experience a sense of vindication  in defying the supposed expectations of the doubters; they imagine the abstract crowd of doubters –often dubbed ‘the world’– thinking to itself, “I sure was wrong about so and so.” What fantasies and narratives we weave about ourselves!

-Might some people’s love of underdogs be motivated by pleasure derived from opposing prevailing opinion? Betting on the underdog means to go against “the crowd” while remaining in the security of another crowd (i.e. the “underdog’s supporters”). Some people might side with the underdog because they enjoy fantasizing about the malicious joy of taunting the mighty. Whether mighty or meek, people often indulge in thinking of themselves as underdogs whose failures can be attributed to their participation in a rigged game; when they succeed despite facing ostensibly long odds, they expect “the World’s” applause to ring more loudly than it would for the entitled victors of “the Establishment”–an abstract group containing miscellaneous “types” with whom they do not identify.

“Reflections on Milton’s *Comus*” by Paul Burgess

Since I share so much nonsense and insanity, I thought I might share a brief sample of the type of ‘intellectual masturbation’ academic work I was trained to do and did…once upon a time. [I rarely did “close readings” of texts; I am sharing this because it is so much shorter than other pieces.  Much of my academic work–though taken at face value–parodied the type of work done by cultural and literary critics and historians].

                                                        Gay Rhetoric and Mere Moral Babble:
Comus and the Lady’s Argument
Most readers would agree that John Milton’s Comus celebrates chastity—and other forms of temperance—while rejecting excess. The action of the masque demonstrates virtue’s power to withstand the assaults of vice: Comus, the tempter, fails to corrupt the chaste Lady who, like her virtuous brothers, earns “a crown of deathless Praise” for triumphing “o’er sensual Folly and Intemperance” (974, 976). But, while events argue for temperance’s superiority, the arguments offered in favor of virtuous behavior are not as convincing, powerful, and logical as those presented in defense of sensual indulgence. By providing the Lady with feeble responses to Comus’ eloquent speeches, Milton has—in the words of the “Spirit”—“let the false enchanter scape” (815); while “Chastity” remains intact, and therefore undefeated, indulgence also “survives” and retains much of its appeal.

From a Miltonic perspective, resisting sin would deserve little praise if sin were unequivocally repulsive. To merit praise, the masque’s heroine must prove chaste when confronted with temptation. Testing the Lady, and perhaps the audience, Milton has Comus make an alluring case for indulging in “all the pleasures/that fancy can beget on youthful thoughts” (670-71). The enchanter argues primarily that people—and especially the young and beautiful—should actively enjoy the delights that Nature has provided. Failing to use Nature’s gifts leaves the “all-giver…unthank’t” and “unprais’d” (724). Making use of the “carpe diem” convention, Comus emphasizes that some of Nature’s gifts—such as “Beauty,” which is “nature’s coin”—“must not be hoarded” because these gifts lose value and fade as one ages. Regardless of Milton’s probable intentions and despite the common perception that Comus speaks in favor of excess, the enchanter’s speech is more a refutation of the idea that abstinence is virtuous than an argument in favor of overindulgence.* Comus does not say that one should feast, literally or symbolically, like a glutton but rather says that one should not ungratefully waste Nature’s bounty. Even if “immoral” and unsound, Comus’ argument appealingly suggests that gratifying oneself praises the “all-giver;”* recognizing that Comus rationalizes sin does not necessarily render his reasoning unattractive.

Providing “virtue” with “tongue to check” vice’s “pride” (760-63), Milton has the Lady attempt to refute Comus’ argument and to prove that the “Juggler” has not deceived her with his “false rules prankt in reason’s garb” (757-59). Deigning to “unlock” her lips in the “unhallow’d air,” the Lady briefly defends the “holy dictate of spare Temprance” (767). She argues powerfully that
If every just man that now pines with want
Had but a moderate and beseeming share
Of that which lewdly pamper’d Luxury
Now heaps upon some few with vast excess,
Nature’s full blessings would be well dispens’t
In unsuperfluous even proportion,
And she no whit encumber’d with her store,
And then giver would be better thank’t,
His praise due paid, for swinish gluttony
Ne’er looks to Heav’n amidst his gorgeous feast
But with besotted base ingratitude
Crams and blasphemes his feeder. (768-78)
Her speech attacks Comus’ idea that nature becomes overburdened with its unused abundance. Aristocrats, she suggests, indulge so excessively that they deprive others of resources; nature’s resources, in her view, are only sufficient for all if people refrain from taking more than their “beseeming share.” Satisfied with herself, the Lady asks rhetorically, “Shall I go on?/Or have I said enough?” (779-80). But her self-satisfaction is unjustified. Although an effective critique of some forms of overindulgence, the Lady’s argument makes sense only in reference to the use of “consumable” resources. She has proven that Comus’ analogies are flawed, but she has not made a logical case against sexual intemperance. According to her reasoning, “gluttony” is harmful because it impoverishes others. But indulging in the sexual equivalent of gluttony does not deprive anyone else of the pleasures of sex. Each time one has sex, he or she is sharing the “resource” of “beauty” with another person. And, in any case, abstinence is more like fasting than temperate consumption.

Rather than strengthen the case for chastity, the Lady devotes the remainder of her speech to insulting Comus and insisting that—if arguing with a virtuous, reasonable person—she could make a case for chastity so strong that her words would move “dumb things” and “the brute Earth would lend her nerves and shake” (795-96). After little discussion, she has come to the conclusion that speaking about the “Sun clad power of Chastity” would be useless because Comus has “nor Ear nor Soul to apprehend/ the sublime notion and high mystery/that must be utter’d to unfold the sage/and serious doctrine of Virginity” (782-87); in other words, she could only “convince” those who already agree with her. And proving herself yet more unwilling—and perhaps unfit—to evangelize, she decides that Comus is not “worthy” that he should “know/More happiness than this” his “present lot” (789-90). By the time she has finished speaking, the Lady has spoken much about what she could say in defense of chastity but has provided little—if any—substantial argument for adhering to the “serious doctrine of Virginity.”*

       Elements of performance— such as costumes, gestures, props, and delivery of lines— could make the Lady more appealing than Comus*. But, when read, the enchanter’s speeches are attractive, while the Lady’s self-righteous speeches suggest that she avoids logically defending chastity either because she does not know how to or because few compelling arguments exist for adherence to the “virtue.” Many Miltonists would likely insist that the poet wants readers to arrive, after struggling, at the conclusion that sin will sometimes appear more attractive than virtue. The same critics would perhaps claim that Milton says less in defense of virtue because the good of chastity is self-evident and needs no defense; the Lady also speaks less than Comus, some might say, because she is “temperate” and refrains from using excessive words.* Regardless of what Milton intends, I would argue that the masque, or at least its text, makes an appealing case for indulgence and that this case is never thoroughly refuted and never rendered entirely repulsive; the Lady’s argument, on the other hand, combines clear and powerful rhetoric with “mere moral babble” (805).


* By the time he writes Paradise Lost, Milton—or at least his epic’s narrator—seems to consider abstinence unnatural. The narrator suggests that sex with one’s husband or wife is a gift from God. Perhaps reacting to Catholic veneration of abstinence, many Protestants expressed the view that abstinence—as an extreme form of behavior—is intemperate.

*I would suggest that Comus’ ideas resemble those of some Christians. For many Christians, Earth and everything provided by nature belongs to man; in keeping with Christian terminology, I have used the term “man” intentionally. Failing to use resources could be considered an affront to the God who has so generously provided for his chosen beings; some anti-environmentalists have continued to believe that everything on Earth has been provided for the benefit of God’s elect—i.e. those belonging to their group. Comus’ argument differs primarily in its application of the idea to matters of sexuality. Without denying that temperance is a Christian virtue, I would point out that the temperance cherished by Renaissance Christians was influenced profoundly by Aristotle and other classical authorities.

* The phrase “doctrine of Virginity” sounds curiously Catholic. If the phrase were not found in the text, one could perhaps assume that chastity, in the context of the masque, means—as it does for Spenser—not abstinence but rather enjoying sex only with one’s (own) spouse.

*Readers should, however, keep in mind that Comus was originally intended to be a “closet drama,” i.e. to be read rather than performed.

* But one could more accurately describe her speeches as full of words but—at times—devoid of substance. She could have actually defended chastity rather than devoting so much energy to expressing the power with which she could defend chastity. I anticipate scholars arguing that events demonstrate the superiority of chaste action to “lewd” words; actions are the tools of the virtuous while words are the tools of the sinful deceiver.


“Life: A to Z”

A prose poem in response to the following prompt:

Achievement is not the child of conquest
Bravery is not the brother of aggression
Courage is not the spouse of violence.

Do not underestimate the mundane
Experience the miracle of breathing
Feel the breaths come and go.

Getting even—becoming an account in need of balance
Hurting those who hurt you
Injuring those who injure you, is never

Kings are often miserable
Lords just as sad, but
Maids might smile sincerely.

Narcissism drowns people in themselves.
Obsession drowns them in others
Paranoia drowns them in delusions about themselves and others.

Quiet when listening
Respectful when speaking
Silent when enraged.

Termites bring down houses
Unseen amoeba destroy humans
Vices bury heroes
Water erodes mountains.

Xenophobia freezes hearts to stone
Young smiles gently melt them to soothing liquid
Zealotry boils hearts, leaving a dry pot.


I planned to write this in series of 3, but I noticed too late that I had left two letters out…I ended up adding those two to existing sets of 3.


P.S. This is a first draft. I welcome feedback.

“Translating Babies” and “Other Family Matters” by Paul Burgess

“Translating Babies”

A Pessimistic Translator:

When babies are born they will cry
A wail that I’d translate as “Why?”
“Oh, why am I here?
And where is a spear
To help me ensure that I die?”

An Optimistic Translator:

When babies are born they will smile
A grin that I’d translated as, “While…
“[While] my parents both toil,
I’m anointed with oil
And relaxing in comfort and style.”

“Ready for Children?”

Ready for a child?

If you think you’re prepared for a child,
Your mind has perhaps been beguiled.
In details exact,
Recall how you’d act
When driving your parents quite wild.

Ready for a kid?

You think you’re prepared for a kid,
But under your memory’s lid
Are tantrums you threw
As a terrible two
And the adolescent evil you did.

“A Husband Avoids Chores”

My reply when a man once did ask
To imbibe a few drops from my flask
Was, “There’s nothing to drink,
But the wife will now think
I’m too drunk to perform any task.

A special, thematic edition of *5 Limericks a Day [To Keep the Dr. Away]*

“What if it’s true?” and “Join the right club!”

PLEASE NOTE: The following post is not about religious beliefs. Careful readers will understand that the post criticizes the ways in which some people express their beliefs and phrase their attempts to convert others.

I. “What if it’s true?”

This phrase, which I have often seen on billboards and bumper stickers, resembles the “persuasive” words an armed robber uses to influence his victim’s way of thinking. When the robber says, “Give me your money, or I’ll shoot,” the victim likely wonders, “What if it’s true? What if he will shoot me?”; unwilling to take such a risk, the victim fearfully surrenders his money. The robber might hold an empty gun, and he might not have the “guts” to shoot, but he succeeds because he understands the psychology of fear. [Do you really think the best analogy for religion is that of a casino in which cautious gamblers must be talked into making what seems to be a safer bet?] Our world has enough fear in it. Preach of peace and love, or remain silent.

II. “Join the right club!”

Another phrase found on several bumper stickers reads: “I believe in God. Join the right club.” While I respect people’s right to express their beliefs, I wish that these people would use less childish and petty ways of appealing to others. Phrases like “Join the right club” prey on insecure people’s need to belong, to avoid feeling inadequate, or—in schoolyard language—to be “one of the cool kids”. Is the point of spirituality to be right, to be popular, to be praised by others? Christianity has dominated the last 2,000 years of Western civilization; considering that many of the Europe and America’s greatest writers have been Christians, there surely must be a wealth of inspiring phrases that can top something on par with the taunts of a playground bully. [One must also consider whether such phrases are likely to convert nonbelievers or only to “pump up” and amuse believers. Implying that people belong to the wrong club—i.e. that they, their parents, or their culture chose poorly—is more likely to provoke them than convert them. True communication occurs only when no party feels disparaged or threatened. ]