Inventoires des mots.

This post originally sent to Amy who FWD’d a long list of lit’ry personages engaging pallor in simile and descriptive.

I often feel as though poems are nothing but glorified inventories, invented, idea piled upon idea, a colour process, a series of print-making processes, the inexhaustible (seeming) mind and its erotic thirst for knowing, knowing aspect, knowing texture, knowing through the senses.

I like the word lists. I love old dictionaries. I have a British dictionary from the 1880s. It is a wonderful juxtaposition to contemporary lexical indices (another inventory!) in that, at that time, the desire-to-know was obsessing over taxonomy of species and biological processes. A contemporary dictionary is, on the other hand, riddled through with economics and market terminology. ‘Shows where we’re at, or, at least, where power is at. Perhaps tomorrow’s diction will be completely digital, fetishizing the Chinese, and somewhat pro-fuedalist.

Demancipate the serfs!



  1. Pale as cardboard —Paige Mitchell
  2. Pale as white wine —Sir Kenelm Digby
  3. Blanch like conscious guilt personified —Charlotte Brontë
  4. Bleached like the skeleton of a stranded walrus —Herman Melville
  5. A face like paper —J. B. Priestly
  6. Face like parchment —G. K. Chesterton
  7. (His long, pendulous) face looked as if it had been dusted with white talc —Aharon Megged
  8. Face … pale as a Chinese mandarin’s —Nadine Gordimer
  9. Face … pale as a dead man’s —Ivan Turgenev
  10. Face … pale as a fish —T. Coraghessan Boyle
  11. Face, pallid and simmering like a milk pudding over a slow flame —Julia O’Faolain
  12. His waxy pallor was touched along the underside of his jaw with acne, like two brush burns —John Updike
  13. Look [pale] like Yom Kippur before sunset —Isaac Bashevis Singer
  14. Pale as a silkfish —Diane Ackerman
  15. Pale and dirty as a pulled root —George Garrett
  16. Pale as a birch —Louise Erdrich
  17. (A scar) pale as a fishgut —Davis Grubb
  18. Pale as a ghost with pernicious anemia —Anon A twist on the cliche, “Pale as a ghost.”
  19. Pale as a hyacinth grown in a cellar —Edith Wharton
  20. (Looking as) pale as a magnolia blossom —Sarah Bird
  21. Pale as a primrose —William Shakespeare
  22. Pale [after donating a lot of blood] as a princess after a date with Dracula —Kenzaburo Oë
  23. Pale as a prisoner —Carlos Baker
  24. (Always cool and) pale as a root —Jayne Anne Phillips
  25. Pale as a shell —James Wright
  26. Pale as a smooth-sculptured stone —John Keats
  27. Pale as a white rose —Nathaniel Hawthorne
  28. Pale as bleached clay —Z. Vance Wilson
  29. Pale as candles —Reynolds Price A more specific version by McKinlay Kantor is “Pale as a tallow candle.”
  30. Pale as china —Sylvia Plath
  31. (The desert looks) pale as death —Henry Chettle According to Stevenson’s Book of Proverbs, Maxims, and Famous Phrases, Chettle was the first to use the simile in his seventeenth century play, Hoffman. The earliest linkage to the complexion is variously attributed to Walter Scott’s Guy Mannering, Thomas Hardy’s The Mayor of Casterbridge and Henry James’ The Madonna of the Future.
  32. Pale as distemper —Miles Gibson
  33. Pale as his shirt —William Shakespeare
  34. Pale as ivory —Ouida
  35. Pale as junket —Christina Stead
  36. Pale as milk —William Shakespeare The similes from masters like the Bard are often used “as is” or with minor additions such as “Pale as cold milk” seen in Davis Grubb’s novel, The Golden Sickle.
  37. (Face) pale as sand —Stevie Smith
  38. Pale as straw —William Evans
  39. Pale as the bottom of a plate —Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu
  40. Pale … as the mist that hangs over the river —Oscar Wilde
  41. Pale as the soap in the dish —Jean Thompson
  42. Pale as the tenant of a tomb —Edgar Allen Poe
  43. Pale as waxworks —Maxine Kumin
  44. Paler than ashes —Algernon Charles Swinburne
  45. Paler than grass in summer —Algernon Charles Swinburne
  46. (Thighs) pale and soft as snow —Lyn Lifshin See Also: SOFTNESS
  47. So white she was almost transparent —Jonathan Gash
  48. The transparent pallor of her skin was luminous like a sea-shell in green shadow of the pine-trees —Elinor Wylie
  49. Turned white as a tablecloth —Rudyard Kipling
  50. Wan as the Polar snows —Stephen Vincent Benét

– love,

ps. are you suggesting I’m beginning to resemble tripe?


3 responses to “Inventoires des mots.

  1. Yes, I am suggesting that you are beginning to resemble …
    1. The rubbery lining of the stomach of cattle or other ruminants, used as food.

    or possibly it is that you are now seeming to be a…

    3. (Life Sciences & Allied Applications / Anatomy) (plural) Archaic informal intestines; belly

    …or is it…

    Tripe Soup has been out of action for a while as my imac g5 has been repaired.

    …then again…maybe…

    I don’t dig potato chips
    A can’t dig torts
    Tripe my guacamole, baby
    Tripe my shorts

    Hype boogie
    Tripe boogie
    Hype boogie
    All night Long

    or more likely, none of the above.

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