Dept. of Word Lists

Sipping and Supping at the Algonquin Club

These scenes from my life in Boston — when my wife Carol and I lived there many years ago and during our recent work there on "More Words That Make a Difference" — employ a number of words that appear in that book, with illustrative sentences from the Atlantic Monthly.

The centered sections entirely  in blue are complete word entries from "More Words That Make a Difference" and are intended to better familiarize readers with the blue words in the Boston story. The definitions in those blue sections fit the words in the Boston story, as well.

A few days after Carol and I arrived in Boston, in July 2005, for what was to be a 10-month stay to work on More Words That Make a Difference at the Atlantic Monthly's offices, we walked around Back Bay, the neighborhood where we had lived when we first met and married, circa 1960. Except for a few renovations, little seemed to have changed during block after shady block of beautifully kept nineteenth-century brownstones.

The two apartments we had lived in 45 years earlier were intact, too. Our first, an $18-a-week claustrophobic room on the third floor of a four-story walk-up on Gloucester Street, with a hallway bathroom we shared with other tenants, held only unpleasant memories for us. It had been a miserable place to live.

intact in TAKT
not broken; left entire; untouched; uninjured, undiminished
The big estate owners were the bitterest opponents of the state park and parkway program on Long Island. They said they would fight to the death to keep their ancestral acres intact and to exclude the riffraff from town, but they sold to developers who in most cases literally hacked the estates to pieces.
—Robert Moses, December 1950

Our next place, three small rooms in a Marlborough Street second floor walk-up, was a considerable step up from the previous apartment. It was where we would bring our baby home to when it was born in a few months. Indeed, her incandescence was to make whatever shortcomings it had irrelevant.

incandescent in kin DE sint
brilliantly glowing
On March 31, 1952, something happened for which music lovers around the world had been waiting, none too patiently, for a quarter century. Arturo Toscanini, eighty-five years and six days old, walked into Carnegie Hall to put on RCA Victor records his incandescent interpretation of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony. Patently he had rededicated himself all anew to the score, after fifty years' acquaintance with it. Each note sounded as if it might have been written the day before. As he played, there grew in the minds of his listeners the inescapable conviction that they never really had heard the symphony until now. Quite possibly they hadn't; quite possibly nobody had..
—John M. Conly, October 1952

After the baby was born, I supplemented the financial support my parents were giving Carol and me with a waiter's job at the Algonquin Club, a venerable Boston institution designed by McKim, Mead, and White, the architects who gave us the original Pennsylvania Station and the Boston Public Library. While the building looks as it did in the 19th century, the club's culture has not remained immutable: Women no longer have to use the Algonquin Club's "ladies entrance," which appears to the left of the main entrance in the photo here.

immutable i MYOO: tuh buhl
never changing or varying; unalterable
The Darwinian theory is erected on the primary foundation of a natural law acting through all time, — a persistent force which is applied to all creation, immutable, unceasing, eternal; which determined the revolutions of the igneous vapor out of which worlds were first evolved; which determines now the color and shape of a rose-bud, the fall of the summer leaves, the course of a rippling brook, the sparkle of a diamond; which gives light to the sun and beauty to a woman's eye. It rejects utterly the idea of special creation, and maintains that the globe, as it exists to-day with all its myriad inhabitants, is only one phase of that primeval vapor which by the force of that law has reached its present state. As a little microscopic egg becomes in time a full-grown, living, breathing, loving animal by the operation of natural laws which we term growth, so has the universe, with its denizens, become what it is by the workings of Natural Law.
—Charles James Sprague, October 1866

The Algonquin Club's elegant, wainscotted and subdued dining room had a no-tipping policy. Waiters received $5 for serving lunch, and $7 for dinner, not much money today, but, to put things in perspective, our favorite restaurant, the English Grill, on Newbury Street, had three-course dinners for $2.50; a Boston movie cost 50  cents; and my college tuition was about $500 per semester. One always hoped for an unrequired tip from guests, but in my experience, no club member ever breached that rule.

My Algonquin Club experience was enriching in ways beside monetary remuneration. One night, after a group of officials from MIT had left a cocktail party in a smaller room to repair to the main dining room, I sat down at a table in the small room, which I had been assigned to clean up, and had one of the most delicious meals of my life — cheddar cheese, which I cut from a foot-square block; crackers that weren't Ritz; mixed greens from a punch bowl; and ginger ale. Up to that moment, my cheese life experience had been American cheese and Velveeta. The cheddar was a revelation. And never having had anything but iceberg lettuce, at home or anywhere else, the greens were exotically tasty. The ginger ale complemented the food wonderfully.

remuneration ri myoo: nuh RAY shuhn
payment for work or services performed; reward; compensation
If the quality of  the men and women taking up the profession of teaching to-day is inferior to what it was a generation ago, the blame must rest on our shoulders. We have failed to show the members of the teaching profession the high honor which is their due, and to give them the adequate remuneration which is their right. We owe them sympathy and understanding in the gigantic task which is laid upon them.
—Cornelia James Cannon, November 1923

I put some cheddar cheese and crackers in a little bag and brought them home to Carol, who enjoyed them, too, although cheddar had already been within her cheese constellation.

constellation kahn stuh LAY shuhn
a group of related objects or concepts
Elloris Cooper, the supervisor of adult reading programs for Mississippi's Hinds Community College, says, "There's a whole constellation of things poor people face that make potential adult learners hard to reach, hard to recruit, and even harder to keep in programs, beginning with transportation to classes and child care for young mothers."
—Jonathan Maslow, August 1990

I often brought home other tasty leftovers that no Algonquin diners had touched, but the tastiest items I took home were never leftovers. People just don't leave over shrimp. To add some luxury to our meals, therefore I would bring non-leftover shrimp home from the club. How did I acquire those non-leftover shrimp? I filched them, dear reader, I pinched, I pilfered, I purloined them.

filch filch
to steal something of little value at an opportune moment
The building of Chicago has been a much more difficult thing than those who traverse its streets to-day can appreciate; for it rests on a sandy slough, where the lake once rocked; its buildings are erected on piles, its streets have been elevated, and miles upon miles of its substructure are composed of practically solid masonry. Hundreds of acres have been filched from the lake, which, jealous of the theft, batters at the sea wall and undermines the esplanades. But in spite of all this, boulevards skirt the lake, intersect the city, and pass about it in a vernal belt from park to park.
—Elia W. Peattie, December 1899

When I brought an order for a shrimp cocktail to the Algonquin kitchen, the salad chef would ask me to take six shrimp from the the walk-in refrigerator, which I would do after first placing several shrimp in the commodious pocket of my white waiter's jacket. In the employees' dressing room, I'd empty the shrimp into my coat pocket, and at home Carol and I would wash them off and eat them — slowly, savoringly and appreciatively — with our own recipe cocktail sauce.

commodious kuh MOH dee uhs
spacious; roomy
Science has made or is making the world over for us. It has builded us a new house,— builded it over our heads while we were yet living in the old, and the confusion and disruption and the wiping-out of the old features and the old associations, have been, and still are, a sore trial — a much finer, more spacious and commodious house, with endless improvements and convenience, but new, new, all bright and hard and unfamiliar, with the spirit of newness; not yet home, not yet a part of our lives, not yet sacred to memory and affection. The question now is: Can we live as worthy and contented lives there as our fathers and grandfathers did in their ruder, humbler dwelling-place?
—John Burroughs, September 1912

I learned about cocktails, too. The bar was on a different floor from the dining room, and when a dinner guest asked for a drink, I would go to the bar to order it, then bring it to the dining room on a bar tray, first imbibing just a drop during the elevator ride back up; a drop, mind you, a teeny taste to see what a martini, a Gibson, a Tom Collins, an old fashioned, a grasshopper, a daquiri, and dozens more tasted like. I tasted them all, and have never had another since, although I'm always game to taste a new drink. And, oh yes, I did wipe the rim of the glass with a napkin during the ride up two flights.

imbibe im BIGHB
to drink in; take in; absorb
Do we imbibe our families' psychological issues and concerns along with the mother's milk that we drink?
—Maggie Scarf, November 1986

Despite the dozens of mixed drinks I tasted as the Algonquin's elevator rose, my education had a few gaps. After I put the desserts down on his table, a man asked for B&B. I thought it unusual for someone to order bread and butter at the end of a meal, but we did have excellent bread. As I was about to push open the swinging doors and walk into the dining room with a plate of bread and butter, Kirk, another waiter, put his hand on my shoulder.

"Where are you going with that, Greenie?"

"A customer asked for B&B."

"Greenie, you idiot. It's a drink. B&B. Brandy and Benedictine."

I turned on a dime, put down the bread and butter, and went downstairs to the bar to get a B&B, which I sampled in the elevator on the way back up.

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Bob Greenman is the author of Words That Make a Difference; and, with his wife, Carol, More Words That Make a Difference, vocabulary enrichment books based on words and passages from The New York Times and The Atlantic Monthly. Bob taught English and journalism at James Madison and Edward R. Murrow High Schools, and at Kingsborough Community College, all in Brooklyn, N.Y. He is a newspaper in education consultant for The New York Times, and his website has a section devoted to journalism education. Click here to read more articles by Bob Greenman.

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Comments from our users:

Wednesday November 25th 2009, 8:06 AM
Comment by: Jerry M. (Indianapolis, IN)
Entertaining while educating; what a concept!
Wednesday November 25th 2009, 8:52 AM
Comment by: paul D. (n myrtle beach, SC)
All I can say is: Great writing Mr. Greenman.

I thoroughly enjoyed. Keep up the Great work.
Wednesday December 23rd 2009, 2:05 PM
Comment by: Aviva L. (Wellesley, MA)
Mr. Greenman’s latest article begins innocently enough…just a few strolls in old Backbay Boston’s memory lane with Mrs. Greenman. However, as we continue onward, Mr. Greenman reveals quite a naughty side of himself, a side which, depending on the perspective of the reader, in this case mine, could not believe of the venerable Mr. Greenman. Written with charm and boyish innocence, Mr. Greenman’s memories of his newly married life draw us into picturesque Boston Backbay and we watch, unseen, as Mr. and Mrs. Greenman move from their first flat, “a miserable place to live” to their next flat, “a considerable step up from the previous apartment” as well as follow him to The Algonquin Club where he dons his waiter’s garb and begins his workshift where his charming sordid tale of pilfering begins. That said, as my eyes fell upon the words, my mouth formed an “O” and then cackles of sheer delight burst forth from unrestrained lips to no one in particular, “Mr. Greenman!!! How did you….how could you….I can’t believe…!!!” But there it was, in his own writing for all to see. In the span of one most endearingly written article, Mr. Greenman has kindly shared a piece of his life, taught us a selection of notable drinks, as well as spiked my curiosity of the delights of The Algonquin Club, to which I will be asking my husband to take us for our next occasion.
Tuesday December 20th 2011, 11:11 PM
Comment by: Fiona W. (Portland, OR)
Nice job. I like your column

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