Announcing the passing of Robert (Bob) Birch on 2005 July 25

O-Bitch-Uary for and by Robert L. Birch

Inventor of Puns Corps and Minero Passes a Whey


Mr. Robert L. Birch, ISPE, last surviving Virginia representative of the Pogonotrion, passed a whey 2005, July 25.

Diabetes, of possibly a more advanced stage, triabetes, has been diagnosed as the occasion of passing of the whey.  Mr. Birch guessed recently that the whey was a combination of sour grapes and shugger {and the milk of human kindness}.  He had recently designated his walking stick as a "shugger cane" with the observation that walking clumsily is "shugging."

Inventor of the Puns Corps, to promote the creative uses of ambiguity, Mr. Birch pioneered in the development of the concept of "kissing-cousin words" made up of sets of words that have the same pattern of consonants, like kissing and cousin, or bread, breed, bride, brat, and beard.

A memory expert, Mr. Birch built up a grammar and vocabulary for Minero, a language based on the concept of a "beach-head vocabulary" consisting of words cognate in various languages.  Chaos theory and the use of a fractal-like approach makes the Minero vocabulary comparatively easy to memorize.  For instance, "roke" means "to fly" and "roketa" refers to a rocket or other flying vehicle.  A "rokelu" is a wing.  The word "fimi" is associated with euphemism and means "to speak."  The compound word, "rokeluyofimi" suggest "flying word" or prayer.  Similarly, "chane" relates to chain and join, and suggests enslavement and marriage, which may have something in common.

"Wordsmanship" or the creative use of words, was viewed by Mr. Birch as analogous to swordsmanship.  Thus, in the phrase "Can a bee resting?" the last word can refer to the concept of a be "re-stinging" and can be related to a queen bee killing off her rivals.  Similarly, the word "release" can be taken to refer to the expiration or the renewal of a lease.

Library filing activities during his services at the US Patent Office Scientific Library led Mr. Birch to notice a pattern in the alphabet, whereby each vowel is followed by a sequence of consonants; the same sequence for each vowel.  The pattern is:

A          B          C                           D

E          F          G          H

I          (J)          K          L          M          N

O          P          Q          R          S          T

U          V          X          Y          Z                 ( J and W are new letters, and break the pattern.)

The choice of sounds to associate with a given meaning relates sometimes to linguistic iconism, the manner in which words sometimes reflect something about their meaning.  This led Mr. Birch to notice that many words beginning with the sound of f have a negative meaning, like feeble, frail, fictional, etc.  Some linguists have pointed to the way words with the letter i often refer to small things.  Similarly, words that refer to high things, like mountain peaks, are named by words that are high-pitched.

The custom of consonant coding to help actors, bards, and reciters to keep track of what is coming next in a presentation, led Mr. Birch to notice the way in which the “mad” scenes in Hamlet and in Romeo and Juliet, for instance, encode the act and scene, since M and D stand, respectively for act 3 and scene 1, where the madness of Hamlet and Mercutio are brought into focus.  It is interesting to note that the same pattern of consonant coding was used by Alex Haley in roots and by Margaret Mitchell in Gone with the Wind.  Donizetti’s placement of Una furtiva lagrima in act 2, scene 8, of Elisir D’amore, follows the same tradition.

French influence, transmitted through Francis Fauvel-Gouraud, was especially helpful to Mr. Birch in his development of memory-aid work, in which he co-authored Memory Dynamics, with the late Judge William Fauver.  The pattern of correlation of the consonants and digits used by Mr. Birch and by many predecessors, from Homer through Mark Twain, is given here for reference.

0=S          1=T      2=N     3=M     4=R      5=L      6=J     7=K      8=F      9=P

___________________________________________________ Biography:

Robert Louis Birch was born in Mobile, Alabama, 1925, August 9, and lived most of his childhood in Cuba, especially on the Isle of Pines; it was in Cuba that he learned Spanish and German, along with English.

Bob’s early use of various languages led him to become interested in confusions among words and in punning, and the art of using one word to mean several different things, such as the idea that “sun-down” is a fuzzy, downy stuff made from the shredded rainbow.  When Bob was about four years old he was climbing a mahogany tree.  Since it was a small tree, he suggested that it was a “ma-pig-any” tree.  Bob eventually got a degree from the University of Miami, Florida, with a double major in literature and philosophy.  After military service at the time of the Korean War, Bob settled down to raising a family and obtained a master’s degree in library science from the Catholic University of America in 1958.

Bob’s work as a librarian included ten years each at the Patent Office Scientific Library and at the National Agricultural Library.  While he was with the Agriculture Department, Bob taught for the UD Department of Agriculture Graduate School and developed a course in English called Poems, Puzzles, Puns, and Paradox, which grew out of his interest in Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address.

One of Bob’s students gave him a book on memory work, published in 1845.  This led him to a new career in the systematic use of the memory.  Bob is co-author of Memory Dynamics: A complete Memory System, in which he collaborated with Judge William Fauver to produce a guide to how people can use coded memory pictures to recall information.

Bob lived in Falls Church, Virginia, a few miles west of Washington DC, and founded the Puns Corp, which is intended to help people have fun with words.  Bob and Grace, his wife of 50 years, raised eight children and delighted in them and his six grand kids and a great grand son.  He now lives in the hearts of all who knew his kind wit and generous wisdom.  We will celebrate his life, and share our memories of him at a memorial ceremony on Saturday afternoon, September 10. 


With loving memories & best regards,

          John Birch

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