M is for mollusk by Professor Percival P. Pennywhistle


I am the very model of a mollusk* made of minerals.
At least my calcareous** shell is, and that shell is typical €”
You’ll find me in the finials
And jewelry made by criminals €”
I am the very model of a mollusk made of minerals!

Our bodies aren’t segmented so no one can tell a part from us
(Excepting snail antennae, octopodal arm*** €”they’re obvious):
We’ve all a mantle, nephrostome,****
We metamorph in monochrome
And if you mean to murder us, just be aware, we’ll make a muss!

It’s true that though we’re spineless,***** this is merely anatomical,
For we’ve defensive strategies both multiple and plentiful:
Our bites and stings aren’t minimal,
We’re poisonous, in general,
Our reputation’s well-deserved: when threatened, we’re maniacal!******

So if you meet a mollusk at the mall, though we look marvelous
Do not make contact (hand or eye), don’t moon about or munch on us
For gastropod or octopus,
With venom or tongue chitinous,*******
We’ll make you wish you’d minded us and leave you feeling bilious!
*With apologies to Gilbert and Sullivan, those alphabetical augurers in matters €˜most poetical.

**This particular word should be pronounced €œkal-kuh-rhee-us, € but never in polite company.

*** €œOctopodal € here means €œof the octopus. € It may mean something entirely different somewhere else, like in Finland, for instance. The professor notes that many people think octopi (more than one octopus, not eight different kinds of pie, though pie is delicious) have legs, but this is ridiculous: the Professor has never seen an octopus in pants or leggings, never mind shoes or socks.

****According to Random House, a nephrostome (neff-row-stohm) in zoology is €œthe ciliated opening of a nephridium into the ceolum. € In embryology, it is €œa similar opening into a tubule of the embryonic kidney. € The professor trusts that you now understand perfectly.

*****The scientific term is €œinvertebrate, € which hardly seems applicable to a mollusk that is right side up, but may well describe one that is up side down.

******Of course, it’s silly to ascribe (that is, €˜assign to,’ usually in hushed, gossipy tones when the mollusk isn’t looking or has just left the room) human characteristics like €œmania € to animals. Except to sharks. Well, sharks and tigers. Well, sharks and tigers and snakes. And housecats.

*******This word, €œkitten-us, € does not have anything to do with kittens. Really. Unless, of course, you’re talking about the ill-tempered, scratchy kind of kitten. Then it is appropriate to call the kitten chitinous.


NOTE: In the accompanying image of a common nudibranch–pronounced “noo-duh-branck” (the ‘c’ is silent)–found in that great German study of the subject of nudibranchia by the famed nubranchist Rudolph Berg (1824-1909), entitled, naturally, Neue Nacktschnecken der Südsee : malacologische Untersuchungen (1873), we see clearly the sinister and duplicitous nature of all mollusks on clear display. This sea slug, rather coquettishly presenting itself as a fuzzy little puppy with short legs waiting for its belly to be scratched, is, in fact, poised to swallow the unsuspecting urchin–the sea or land variety (for mollusks are indifferent eaters)–whole.

For Professor Percival P. Pennywhistle’s bio and more of his work published on WIZ, go here, here, and here.

(Post edited to add illustration and Note on August 18 at 6:01 p.m.)