The benefit of speedpills
U 7.1021-2: DAMES DONATE DUBLIN’S CITS
SPEEDPILLS VELOCITOUS AEROLITHS, BELIEF
As late as mid-September 1921 Joyce added a second, slightly cryptic line to this sub-headline, in which speedpills is equated to “velocitous aeroliths” = speedy meteorites.
It would be tempting to think that he came across the word speedpill at the very last moment, spotting it by chance in one of the earliest adult baseball fiction books, the short-story collection Hearts and the Diamond (1921) by Gerald Beaumont, one of whose stories bears the title “The Speed Pill”, a reference to its hero Clyde Brennan (p. 187):
But there were significantly earlier occurrences of the term in other senses. At first it seems to be used jocularly and literally as a name for a speed-inducing drug for race horses:
Two years later we witness the transition from a literal pill to a metaphorical one on the baseball field:
The word pill, however, had been used as a synonym for "ball" since at least 1896, according to the OED, and found its way into baseball language around the turn of the century predating the chemical speed pill by a few years:
As the above quotations show the word seems to have had two meanings in relation to baseball. It could refer to a particularly fast base runner or to a "fastball", a particularly fast pitch.
There can be little doubt that the sub-headline in Ulysses uses the latter, as the plum stones that the two “ould ones” spit from the top of Nelson’s Pillar are turned into speed pills, velocitous aeroliths, fastballs:
The journalistic hyperbole of headlinese also transforms Penelope into PEN THE CHAMP and the two harmless old women into FRISKY FRUMPS1.
1 Could Joyce have spotted that collocation in Amy Charlotte Bewicke Menzies‘ Further Indiscretions (1918, p. 243), where we are told: “One of the saddest sights in life is a frisky frump!”?
Joyce's Words >