As It Happens

A Dog Pissing At The Edge of a Path wins prize for oddest book title of the year

Gregory Forth thinks it’s the bees' knees that his book about animal metaphors won the Diagram Prize for Oddest Title of the Year.

The book, by Canadian anthropologist Gregory Forth, explores animal metaphors in Eastern Indonesia

A Dog Pissing at the Edge of a Path is not, in fact, about a dog urinating on a path. (Rosmarie Wirz/Getty Images)

Gregory Forth thinks it's the bees' knees that his book about animal metaphors won the Diagram Prize for Oddest Title of the Year.

The Canadian anthropologist's book, which explores animal metaphors used by the Nage people of eastern Indonesia, is called A Dog Pissing at the Edge of a Path.

"That means to somebody who doesn't get on with things. They start one job, one task, but they don't finish it before skipping to something else," Forth told As It Happens host Carol Off.

"It does remind me — and this is something I mentioned in the book — somewhat of our English language metaphor, if I can say this on CBC, of 'pissing about.'"

The Diagram Prize is an annual contest run by the U.K.-based trade publication Bookseller. In a recent interview with As It Happens, co-ordinator Tom Tivnan billed it as "the purest literary prize going."

"We don't care about what's in the books. We just go for the title," he said.

He noted that many of the contenders, like Forth's, are "serious academic titles" that probably don't seem super funny to the experts in those fields.

But while Forth wasn't aiming for a funny title, he sees the humour in it. 

"Yeah, it's a serious book. But a lot of these metaphors are amusing, and they're amusing to the people who use them. Just as some of our animal metaphors, I expect,  would be found amusing to us and perhaps other people as well, " he said. 

"When you put animals and humans together, it creates a kind of ambivalence, I think, which is closely linked with jokes and humour. So I'm not surprised in that respect."

Canadian anthropologist Gregory Forth interviews people in Eastern Indonesia for his award-winning book. (Submitted by Gregory Forth, McGill/Queen's University Press)

Forth spent years as busy as a beaver interviewing the Nage and documenting their metaphors. 

One example from the book is: "It's like leaving nothing behind, having even beaten the walls and floors to remove the bedbugs and dog fleas."

That means someone left and took everything with them. He likens it to the English equivalent of taking "everything but the kitchen sink." 

Another example is "a monkey fooled by the sun," which refers to an elderly man who marries a younger woman and then dies soon after.

"There's a kind of a story, or an idea, about monkeys, or a monkey, that when they see the sun is still shining … at the top of the volcano in the late afternoon, they think, you know, sun set's a ways off, so there's still time to go down ... to a nearby stream or pond [and] take a bath," Forth said. 

"But when he gets out, of course, the sun is already set and he's left shivering and cold, just like an old man who I guess, overestimates the amount of time he has in his life."

Some of the year's finalists for the 2020 Diagram Prize for Oddest Title of the Year, left to right: How to Make Love to a Despot by Stephen D. Krasner; Lawnmowers: An Illus­trated History by Brian Radam; The Slaughter of Farmed Animals: Practical Ways to Enhance Animal Welfare by Temple Grandin and Michael Cockram. (W. W. Norton, Amberley Publishing, CABI)

The retired University of Alberta professor is as happy as a clam to claim victory from among a dog's breakfast of other contenders like Introducing The Medieval Ass, How To Make Love To A Despot and Lawnmowers: An Illustrated History.

In fact, he's hoping the attention from the prize will be something of a cash cow.

"One typically doesn't make a lot of money from academic books, at least not through sale," he said. 

"If, you know, you can get promotions at universities for writing a good book. But I'm already retired, so I've missed the boat on that one."


Written by Sheena Goodyear. Interview produced by Chloe Shantz-Hilkes. 

Add some “good” to your morning and evening.

A variety of newsletters you'll love, delivered straight to you.

Sign up now

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

now