The Criticaster LXXIX


“Money, Money”

     --title of song from the musical Cabaret

Of all the letters I’ve read arranged by correspondent, the most interesting are those sent to James F. Morton. It caused me to see a very different Lovecraft--at times I questioned his rationality, at others I figured him for a genius. Rather than putting himself in an avuncular guise--as with his younger correspondents--or in a nepotal role--as with his aunts--he seems closer to who he really was, more intimate, speaking at his most relaxed; at least it seems so.       

There’s a lot of slang used for comical pretentiousness or to show his native exuberance for language. Some must have been common during the 1920s, as ”you tell ‘em, Oswald”[1], or is it a private allusion? Perhaps the most frequent slang synonyms that he slips in is to describe dollars.[2] While the following list harvested from the letters has unintentional omissions, these are the references that I’ve discovered. For readability I have arbitrarily grouped them, with their order chronological.

$23.38, 38 bones; forty-two plunks, twenty-five berries; $10.94; plugged 1804 dollar; copper denarius; jack, fish, “berry pastures”?, £1000; darby, jack, forty-dollar word[3]

fish ($51,000); jack, ONE HUNDRED BERRIES; bucks, fish; century knockout; berries, sesterii; LXII fish; green-berries[4]

twenty-five tin soldiers, $2.35, 21.50; golden dinars; .62 + .62 equals $1.24, pence, jack; dollar, dollar, five bucks, ten or fifteen fish, jack[5]

seventy-five (yes, LXXV!!!) bucks, greenbacks; jack; ducats; modest thou; fifty cent; 36 BUCKS!, fish, shilling; shilling, 48¢, 15¢; $1.50[6]

20¢, 8 bucks, 81¢, $8.81, 59¢, 2 bucks; two bucks; $2.59, 75¢, $1.84, two bucks; excess kale, a few stray grands, buck, five fish; five bucks, $2.50, ten fish[7]

$3.50; ten paounds [sic], fish, $3.75; $3.75; 15¢; half-dollar; $3.50, 25¢, $52.50; 15¢; 25¢[8]

$7.50; 350 bucks; jack; $9.00; sixty-five cent; museum’s jack; twelve fish, four bucks, solitaire, one-spot, buck, four-fish; dollar’s worth, ten-spotter; nickel, twenty-five bucks, buck, berry, jack, twenty-five; berry[9]

a few immediate cents, eight shillings & four pence; 11¢, 70¢, two to three dollars, a dollar, one dollar; five-spot; five bucks; dollar; a quarter; copper-squeezer[10]

$1.50; one hundred forty bucks; $1.95, $3.00; spare pennies[11]

     Of the 123 references 35 are simply numbers ($3.50, 25¢). When it comes down to dollars and its synonyms, the breakdown is this, in order of frequency:

buck(s) (17); fish (11); dollar(s) (10); jack (9); berry(ies) (7); cent(s) (3); shilling(s) (3); pence (2); spot (2); bones (1); plunks (1); denarius (1); darby (1); century (1); sesterii (1); soldiers (1); dinars (1); greenbacks (1); ducats (1); thou (1); kale (1); grands (1); pounds (1); solitaire (1); spotter (1); nickel (1); quarter (1); copper (1); pennies (1)

     There are twice as many numerals as there are references to “bucks”, the most popular synonym for dollars and one that remains in common usage. The conventional, denotative “dollars”, “cents”, “nickel”, “quarter”, and “pennies” require no explication. As for the others, “fish” (dollar) was first recorded in the late nineteenth century, though used in eighteenth- century England for a gambling chip.[12] Among its many meanings “jack” stood for “farthing” in the sixteenth century, and in America meant money in the early nineteenth. The earliest recording for “berry” (i.e., $1) is 1916 and attributed to cartoonist Tad Dorgan, who is credited (see Wikipedia) with numerous slang concoctions, including the expression that turned into the failed organ piece, “Yes, We Have No Bananas”.

     Shilling and pence are words that didn’t become Americanized slang. “Spot” (dollar or pound sterling) is from the early part of the twentieth century. There is no documentation for “spotter”, so I imagine that Lovecraft--a man in love with language--is playing on the established slang term “ten-spot” to derive “ten-spotter”. “Bone” signified a dollar as far back as the 1830’s. One of the examples is from Sinclair Lewis’ Babbitt (1922), though Lovecraft need not have discovered the word there. “Plunk” is a dollar or, when pluralized, money in general. As with the previous “bone”, Green’s quotes from the same source, The Varmint (1910) by Owen Johnson.[13] Perhaps or not, this indicates his reading influence.

     “Denarius” reflects his Roman interest, as does the (etymologically related?) “dinar”, and sesterii. In this matter and with the British coinage (shillings, pence, pounds) he is simply substituting foreign denominations for American coinage. However, with “darby” he is applying British underworld slang, which originated in the seventeenth century. “Century” is $100 or £100 and, from the mid-nineteenth century (so to speak), has underworld connotations, going by the quotes from several sources.

     Since Green’s earliest citation for “soldier” (a dollar) is 1942, by Nelson Algren, Lovecraft’s takes precedence. Etymologically “soldier” has to do with wages, so the idea of money was in the word from its birth. “Greenback” dates from the 1860’s and seems to me one of the more common synonyms, and there are ample citations. “Ducat” originated in the Old World, where 1584 is the earliest date of attestation, but by the 1860’s came to mean a dollar when it reached American shores. “Thou” (1854) is short for one-thousand dollars, which also has for a synonym “grand” (1909).

     A general term for money, “kale” is first recorded in the early twentieth century. The Oxford English Dictionary finds the word in Babbitt (see “bone” above). As a way of describing money “solitaire” is not in Green’s. However, one non-slang meaning is diamond or a similar precious stone; a possible evolution is valuable > money > dollar. When it means money, “copper” is as old as the eighteenth century.

     In describing money, Lovecraft’s usages has little overlap with Merriam-Webster’s synonyms.[14] Some of the words related to money are plain designations (dollars, nickels, etc.), some are flippant substitutions (sesterii and the like), and the remainder are slang. In the article “Money Slang: Tired of ‘Money’? Here’s 101 Alternatives” by Len Penzo the words also used by HPL are “kale”, “fish”, “bucks”, “grand”, “dollars” (it’s there, but it is not slang), “bones”, “jack”, and “greenbacks”. Of the “23 American Slang Terms for Money” only “kale” is duplicated; while in “34 Slang Terms for Currency Notes” there is “bone”, “buck”, “fish”, “grand”, and “jack”.[15] The American Thesaurus of Slang (1953) has “buck”, “fish”, “jack”, “berry”, “spot”, “bone”, “plunk”, “century”, “ducat”, “thou”, and “grand” (but not its plural).

     Based on the above, here are some conjectures.  Of the words that Lovecraft mints for money, “solitaire” is the most curious, since its use in the sense of “dollar” is not in any dictionary I’ve discovered. Perhaps its his concoction; or a lapsus calami; or the editorial transcription to print is incorrect; or my interpretation of its meaning is.

     There are some basic facts of existence that spawn a variety of synonyms. Those related to sex would probably be the most various and numerous. Drunkenness would be another, as documented by Paul Dickson in Drunk: The Definitive Drinker's Dictionary. Obviously, neither enters much in Lovecraft’s conversation. I reckon that substitute words for men (e.g., “bimbo”), women e.g., “Xantippe”), vehicles, and shelter, while not absent, are infrequent. To go out on a limb, I venture that “money” is the fact-of-existence term with the most synonyms in his vocabulary. Any reader is welcome to correct me or come up with a term used with greater abandon.

     Psychological reasons for this could be any of an unsubstantiated number. As a gentleman and as someone who has fallen from wealth into genteel poverty, he was embarrassed to discuss the subject, so he employed jocoserious euphemisms. Or he felt anxious about his straitened situation and disguised it in this way. Money really meant a lot to him and he naturally evoked it due to his inborn verbal dexterity.

     The moral of the famous “one foot by one foot”[16] fire he set at a child applies here, for there are instances when he is exact in quantitative matters--$3.75, 15¢--yet others when he allowed himself license--twelve fish, twenty-five bucks. The dryness of mathematical figures gives way to the playfulness of language, the scientist to the poet.

     (Either deserving of a footnote or a separate article is the theme of money, economics, and status in his fiction. For example, several characters lack money. From “Celephais”: “His money and lands were gone”. “The Shadow over Innsmouth”: “I had no look of excessive prosperity”. “Hypnos”: “when money ran low”. “Facts Concerning the Late Arthur Jermyn and His Family”: “the best education which limited money could provide”. Others have it. Joseph Curwen possesses “the power of wealth”. Delapore “grew to manhood, middle age, and ultimate wealth”. Jervas Dudley is “wealthy beyond the necessity of a commercial life”. And so forth.)

     In the above I have studied a small aspect of Lovecraft’s letters to one correspondent. They should be analyzed in the same way as his fiction, but on their own, with critiques of their themes, style, philosophy, imagery, etc.



     Astronomical artist Ron Miller shows a number of vivid scenes from Lovecraft stories. *** Director Guillermo del Toro owns a life-size statue of Lovecraft, “one of the guys I love the most, and I adore having him in the house. It's like that's my family, in a strange way, my family that has been with me since childhood.” A life-size Poe is being created to keep him company. 



      The National Library of Wales owns a book from his library: Noughts and Crosses (Cassell and Company, 1893) by Sir Arthur Thomas Quiller-Couch.



     The Ashgate Encyclopedia of Literary and Cinematic Monsters (Ashgate, 2014) is edited by Jeffrey Andrew Weinstock, also editor of three volumes of Lovecraft published by Barnes & Noble. Weinstock also delivered the keynote “Lovecraft’s Things” at the “Holy Monsters, Sacred Grotesques” conference (25-27 October 2013; the Humanities Research Center, Rice University). 

     Footnoting with a vengeance, David Haden has produced 8,000 scholarly words for “The Annotated ‘The Lurking Fear’”, which is now the model against which all other annotated Lovecraft works must be measured. (I visit his Tentaclii site on a daily basis, and because some of the links he identifies are of the sort that I have irregularly included, I feel less pressure to call attention to them. Part of the purpose of my ‘aster is to publicize what otherwise might be overlooked.) *** Monstrous Machinery and Vile Visions is a 2013 bachelor’s thesis (Universiteit Utrecht) by A. Kist that looks at “The Whisperer in Darkness” and “Christiane Nord's four levels of problems that can be found when translating”.

     *** Among the essays in Journeys into Darkness: Critical Essays on Gothic Horror (Rowman & Littlefield, 2014) by James Goho are those that look at the influence of “The Fall of the House of Usher” on HPL, relates him to Søren Kierkegaard, and connects his racism to the American Indian. Goho also analyzes Charles Brockden Brown, Arthur Machen, Algernon Blackwood, and Fritz Leiber. *** Los Angeles Review of Books has been carrying relevant reviews, such as that of Weird Realism : Lovecraft and Philosophy by Graham Harman as well as articles featuring Arthur Machen, Ramsey Campbell, etc.

     *** S. T.’s “Cthulhu’s Empire: H. P. Lovecraft’s Influence on His Contemporaries and Successors” is a free read. It forms one of the chapters in the curiously titled Critical Insights: Pulp Fiction of the 1920s and 1930s--for the book deals exclusively with Weird Tales writers, whereas the pulps dealt with a range of subjects. The table of contents is online. *** “Lovecraft’s Doubles” is a chapter in Glenn Willmott’s Modernist Goods: Primitivism, the Market, and the Gift (2nd revised edition; University of Toronto Press, 2008). *** He receives attention in The Unnameable Monster in Literature and Film (Routledge, 2013) by Maria Beville.



     *** Dr. Amy H. Sturgis is teaching “The Gothic Tradition” from January to April, with the 7th of the 12 week course dealing with “The Cosmic Gothic” (i.e., “The Call of Cthulhu” and “The Shadow over Innsmouth”). Via SF Signal.  



      For a holiday meal you might try a Cthurkey or a Cthicken.



     Second Life hosted its Second Annual Lovecraft Festival in November.



     The essay “The Unfilmable? H. P. Lovecraft and the Cinema” by Julian Petley appears in Monstrous Adaptations: Generic and Thematic Mutations in Horror Film (Manchester University Press, 2007) edited by Richard J. Hand and Jay McRoy. *** More evidence about the survival of The Image Maker, for it is listed in American Silent Feature Film Survival Database (“This database focuses on those titles that have managed to survive to the present day”).



     Californian musician Patrick Ransom has the album Necronomicon: A Study in Musical Horror, where each song is about a different Lovecraft story. *** The 2013 album Dreams In The Witch House - A Lovecraftian Rock Opera is available as an mp3.



     Assuming the photos have not been doctored, this Michigan lighthouse hung with icicles is Cthulhu-looking.



     Contributing to his self-education, Haldeman-Julius books are listed via “The Database of Haldeman-Julius Pocket Series and Little Blue Book Titles”. Believer magazine (September 2008) profiles the publisher in “The Henry Ford of Literature” by Rolf Potts.



     A Reader's Book of Days: True Tales from the Lives and Works of Writers for Every Day of the Year (W. W. Norton, 2013) by Tom Nissley makes several nods to HPL, and one to Howard; but Smith is not to be found. :( *** Now an artifact rather than a practical reference work, the 1952 H.P. Lovecraft: A Bibliography (Biblio Press) by Joseph Payne Brennan is online. So too is Brennan’s H. P. Lovecraft, An Evaluation (Macabre House, 1955). I discovered both works thanks to BASE: Bielefeld Acadmic Search Engine, which finds freely available online texts, and has plenty for HPL.



     If you liked the biblical-style ending of “The Shadow over Innsmouth”, consider the mash-up of King James with HPL, courtesy of Charles Stross.



     The Smithsonian Surprising Science blog entry “Why Do We Keep Naming New Species After Characters in Pop Culture?” looks at scientific names drawn from popular culture, with emphasis on Cthulhu macrofasciculumque.



    Trust and Obey by Minneapolis playwright Tim Uren is based on “The Temple”. *** Adapted by Scott T. Barsotti, The Shadow over Innsmouth begins its run in December courtesy of WildClaw Theatre (retrieved 24 November 2013).



     Supernatural Horror in Literature has been translated into Finnish.



     An iPoe app presents in multimedia format "The Oval Portrait," "The Tell-Tale Heart," "Annabel Lee," and "The Masque of the Red Death". *** Among the quotes listed on  a San Francisco literary map wooden jigsaw puzzle is the opening of “The Death of Halpin Frayser”.



      The first professional female Egyptologist in Britain and author of The Witch-Cult in Western Europe, Margaret Murray is the subject of The Life of Margaret Alice Murray: A Woman's Work in Archaeology (Lexington Books, 2013) by Kathleen L. Sheppard. *** In Orbiting Ray Bradbury's Mars: Biographical, Anthropological, Literary, Scientific and Other Perspectives (McFarland, 2013; edited by Gloria McMillan) Bradbury, August Derleth, and Robert Bloch are the subject of “The Sorcerer’s Apprentices: How the Lives of Three Regional ‘Weird Fiction’ Writers Became Creatively Entangled” by Wolf Forrest. *** “A Search for the Father-Image: Masculine Anxiety in Robert Bloch's 1950s Fiction” by Kevin Corstorphine is a chapter in It Came from the 1950s!: Popular Culture, Popular Anxieties (Palgrave Macmillan, 2011) edited by Darryl Jones, Elizabeth McCarthy, Bernice M. Murphy. *** The North Carolina Speculative Fiction foundation has instituted the Manly Wade Wellman Award for Science Fiction and Fantasy “to recognize outstanding achievement in science fiction and fantasy novels written by North Carolina authors”.

     *** According to Andrew Liptak’s “The Influential Pulp Career of Francis Stevens” (Kirkus) she was ”a major influence” on HPL--to which I say “hah”!--even though the author agrees that Stevens editor Gary Hoppenstand, following Sam Moskowitz, wrongfully believed that a letter writer, Augustus T. Swift, was Lovecraft, who had used the pseudonym; the complimentary letter described a Stevens work as “amazing and thrilling”, picked up as a blurb with a Lovecraft attribution. One big reason to disputes a Lovecraft authorship is the style, for his was as identifiable and separable from other writers as a fingerprint, and the Swift was prosaic. I had planned on giving a review of her The Nightmare and Other Tales of Dark Fantasy (University of Nebraska Press, 2004), but several years have gone by, and my chief memory is the mediocrity of the stories. The details of individual tales having slipped away, I can no longer give a précis of any work nor justify the reasons that led up to my judgement.



     “A Darker Magic: Heterocosms and Bricolage in Moore's Recent Reworkings of Lovecraft” by Matthew J. A. Green is one of the essays in Alan Moore and the Gothic Tradition (Manchester University Press, 2013), also edited by Green.



      The 2014 Word Fantasy Con has for its centennial themes Robert Aickman, Virgil Finlay, and the Great War.


Once More Unto the Breach: 164 Mailing

     Ken (EOD Letter): While we all may know Poe, I wonder how many researchers have delved into the Munsey pulps, Black Cat, etc. that, if nothing else, would contextualize HPL’s narrative inspirations? Part of the challenge is finding the magazines, then having interest enough to read several years’ worth of their stories. *** Some facts about Lovecraft are based on single-witness testimony. Sonia told the truth (e.g., “devastating”) as she recollected it, but her recollection may be faulty. As a result, a superstructure of suppositions--in part wish-fulfillment--is built on her comments. Too bad that there is no corroboration. *** Besides it appearance in his collection, the “wonderful essay” by David Haden (“Of Rats and Legions”) is freely available.

     *** In passing you refer to Colin Wilson, who has recently died. I found on Wikipedia that he has had a stroke, alas, and can no longer speak. *** Those who wish to return to Providence will have to find another excuse than swigging from the drinking fountain outside the Athenaeum, which remains now a superannuated decoration due in part to its failed plumbing as well as its water becoming non-potable. *** You speak of an alternate universe where HPL married Kathleen Banigan. Marriage is a way of solving a problem with a greater problem.

     Wilum (Lovecraftian Euphoria): When traveling, have a photocopy of your driver’s license or passport; and if you can, scan it onto a flash drive. If the original is lost/stolen, you can show the copy at airport security.

     Don and Mollie (The Morgan and Rice Gazette): With its towers of magazines and papers, Donald Wandrei’s dwelling sounds like it would have been heaven for a pulp archaeologist.

     T. E. (The Cosmicomicon): In his interview, Thomas Ligotti says “Lovecraft’s use of adverbs … is invariably embarrassing”--an adverb, italicized no less, to attack adverbs. And as for his complaint about Lovecraft’s “repetition of plot elements,” in music this is called motifs, and it strengthens a work rather than the reverse, giving it coherence. And that he “telegraphs what’s going to happen next” is disputable. For example, in “The Shadow over Innsmouth” there is subtlety and skill in foreshadowing the climactic identity of the narrator. *** All people have degrees of mental illness, just as all have degrees of health. Unfortunately, sometimes this causes a disproportionate dysfunction in your life.

     Alex (Inane Titter): If The Assaults of Chaos is “bad as an amateur work”, what is a good amateur work (and by “amateur” I suppose you mean incompetent, feckless)? The gimmick of using authors’ actual words to create a conversation was done by T. E. D. Klein for a Lovecraft “interview” in Rod Serling’s The Twilight Zone Magazine (August 1983).

     *** You write approvingly “about the absurdity of Lovecraft’s monologues and the impossibility of a person being able to deliver such a lengthy treatise without interruption”, giving “Pickman’s Model” as an example. Yet the effortless, essayistic, dense quality of Lovecraft’s letters seem equally impossible, but there they are. As with a few people--Henry James, William F. Buckley--he had the gift of what Vladimir Nabokov called “spontaneous eloquence.” You are not the first, nor the only, person to observe the incestuous character of the Lovecraft community--which must be true of any driven groups or cults. If there is any particular fault with your piece, it’s an overstatement or generalization, e.g., “praise, reflects everything wrong”--everything?

     David (Cthulsz): I’ve seen a few Lovecraft manuscript pages. They were choked with crossings out, interlineations, marginalia, and blottings, so to have a variorum edition reflecting this is mind croggling. *** Print bibliographies belong to the past. You don’t normally read a bibliography serially--which is what print is good for--but seek out certain parts, which is where online shines and saves a lot of browsing time.


“Is Chicago a Crime-Ridden City?”

     On 18 September 1930 Lovecraft sent his final dunning letter to revision client “Lee Alexander Stone, M. D.” for work on the above title. Presumably this is the 16 page item reprinted from The Chronicle of Chicago that appeared in 1929 with the title Chicago: Greatest Advertised City in the World, Not the Wickedest. Perhaps this was ghost written by Lovecraft. Stone produced other titles, the majority being slender efforts related to sex:


Fraternal Orders: Their Intents and Purposes (1913)

Eugenics and Marriage: A  Treatise upon an Important Phase of Social Hygiene (1915)

Feminism (1915)

Sex Discussion (1915)

The Woman of the Streets (1919)

Racial Efficiency (1919)

A Step Forward to Better Citizenship (1919)

An Open Talk with Mothers and Fathers: Presenting Some Present Day Problems in Social Hygiene (1920)

Sex Searchlights and Sane Sex Ethics: An Anthology of Sex Knowledge (1922)

The House of Secrecy (1922)

Emerson Hough, President, White Paper Club (1923)

Increasing Human Efficiency (1924)[17]

Pacifists and Reds (1925)

The Needs of a Nation (1925)

The Power of a Symbol (1925)

The Story of Phallicism (1927)

Chicago's Birthday Party: A Story of Chicago … [sic] (1928)

It Is Sex O'clock (1928)

Madera County Health Unit. [Letters] to the Cotton growers … [sic] (1934)

Rattlesnake Bite: Its Treatment and Care (1936)

Migratory Labor and Migratory Labor Camps (1937)

Uncovering the Hidden Menace, a Discussion of the Problems of Venereal Disease Control (1937)

A Report to the Board of Supervisors of Madera County... (1939)

The Complete Book of Sex Knowledge (1945)


Stone has an entry in Who’s Who in America (e.g., 1930-31, p. 2118). Besides his background in medicine, he had professorial and military associations. Although an editor of at least one big book, he did not write any works of substantial length, so perhaps writing didn’t come easily to him. Certainly paying didn’t.



“the place was eldritch--a world jerked straight from some ancient Gothic tale of goblin and of sprite.”--Clifford D. Simak, “The Big Front Yard”

“It was the mummy case on which I gazed. At last it burst, and forth stepped the thousand years’ old king, the mummy form, black as pitch, black as the shining wood-snail, or the slimy mud of the swamp.”--Hans Christian Andersen, “The Marsh King’s Daughter”


Thanks for reading the 3,759 words of The Limbonaut (no 50), put online 9 September 2015. Its print version is issue 79 of The Criticaster, which appeared in the Esoteric Order of Dagon mailing 165 for February. Written by Steve Walker in Georgia font, sizes 9 & 11. 



[1]H. P. Lovecraft, Letters to James F. Morton, edited by David E. Schultz and S. T. Joshi (Hippocampus Press, 2011), 31

[2] According to, “The 1920s and 1930s were a particularly rich time in terms of American slang terms for money”, though the majority of terms used by HPL were at least decades old, if not hundreds of years. See page 2 * 3 of this article for a history of some of the terms he used.

[3] Page numbers that follow are from Letters to James F. Morton: 32; 41; 43; 44; 54.; 62.

[4] 66;  67; 69; 71; 73; 74; 75

[5] 81; 89; 90; 92

[6] 115; 122; 129; 137; 138; 139; 143

[7] 146; 149; 160; 163

[8] 177; 183; 210; 220; 223; 224; 231; 232

[9] 233; 235; 246; 250; 251; 290; 291; 292; 293

[10] 307; 311; 318; 319; 321; 326;336

[11] 342; 344; 362; 381

[12] These and other facts are drawn from the three-volume Green's Dictionary of Slang (Chambers, 2010) by Jonathon Green.

[13] One of the “Lawrenceville Stories” that concerns a boy at a prep school.

[14] See "dough".

[15] Money: Everything You Never Knew About Your Favorite Thing to Covet, Save & Spend (Chronicle Books, 2011) by Sandra & Harry Choron, 120-121.

[16] According to W. Paul Cooke in I Am Providence, 59.

[17] This 16 page reprint on STD ’s includes "A Gossip About Lee Alexander Stone" by Vincent Starrett.