Spelling It Out

In the 17th century, French architect Thomas Gobert planned 12 churches whose forms spelled out the words LOVIS LE GRAND (where each letter is doubled mirrorwise, for symmetry):

gobert

In 1775 Johann David Steingruber designed a castle whose floor plan formed the initials of Prince Christian Carl Friedrich Alexander of Anspach:

steingruber

And in 1774 Anton Glonner designed a Jesuit college based on the name of Christ (IHS, the first three letters of Jesus’ name in Greek):

glonner

The H contained the kitchen, the dining room, and the sacristy, and the S contained the schoolrooms.

(From Ulrich Conrads and Hans G. Sperlich, The Architecture of Fantasy, 1962.)

Alchemy

Mike Keith found this amazing correspondence in 2004. The two 6×6 squares below contain 72 different entries from the periodic table of the elements:

mike keith chemical squares

The two squares are equal in three different ways:

  1. If you spell out the name of each element listed (hydrogen, beryllium, etc.), the square on the left is an anagram of the square on the right.
  2. The sum of the atomic numbers of the 36 elements on the left (2019) equals the sum of those on the right.
  3. If you replace each symbol with its alphabetic score (where A=1, B=2, etc.; e.g. Li = L + I = 12 + 9 = 21), then the sum of the scores on the left (737) equals that of those on the right.

Keith writes, “The next largest pair of triply-equal squares like this would be 7×7 in size, containing a total of 98 different elements, [and] it seems quite unlikely that 98 of them could be so arranged. If this is true then the 6×6 pair presented here is the largest possible (at least for now, until many more new chemical elements have been discovered and named).”

(Mike Keith, “A Magical Pair of 6×6 Chemical Squares,” Word Ways, February 2004.)

United Nations

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Detail_Lewis_%26_Clark_at_Three_Forks.jpg

In August 1805, Lewis and Clark encountered a band of Shoshone Indians led by Chief Cameahwait. In order for Lewis to communicate with Cameahwait, the group had to speak four languages: Lewis spoke English to Private Francois Labiche, who spoke French to interpreter Toussaint Charbonneau, who spoke Hidatsa to his Shoshone wife Sacagawea, who spoke Shoshone to Chief Cameahwait. Cameahwait’s reply passed back up the chain in the opposite direction.

Amazingly, Cameahwait turned out to be Sacagawea’s brother. They had been separated for five years, ever since her abduction by Hidatsa in 1800. Overjoyed at the reunion, he gave the expedition much-needed guides and horses to help them cross the Rocky Mountains.

In a Word

jawsmith
n. a talkative person

meropic
adj. able to speak

obmutescent
adj. speechless; remaining mute

Mr. Justice Norris, in the Calcutta High Court, recently delivered what is understood to be the shortest summing-up on record. It was as follows: ‘Gentlemen of the jury, the prisoner has nothing to say, and I have nothing to say. What have you got to say?’

The Green Bag, October 1890

Borrowed Insight

In 2015, University of East London psychologist Tim Lomas encountered the Finnish word sisu, which means something like extraordinary determination in the face of adversity. The word has no direct analog in English, but it describes a universal human trait — an English speaker who learns it can more easily recognize and appreciate sisu in herself and others, which enriches her life.

Lomas began collecting similarly specific words that describe positive feelings:

  • Desbundar (Portuguese) – to shed one’s inhibitions in having fun
  • Tarab (Arabic) – a musically induced state of ecstasy or enchantment
  • Shinrin-yoku (Japanese) – the relaxation gained from bathing in the forest, figuratively or literally
  • Gigil (Tagalog) – the irresistible urge to pinch or squeeze someone because they are loved or cherished
  • Yuan bei (Chinese) – a sense of complete and perfect accomplishment
  • Iktsuarpok (Inuit) – the anticipation one feels when waiting for someone, whereby one keeps going outside to check if they have arrived

Northeastern University neuroscientist Lisa Feldman Barrett says that learning to make fine distinctions in identifying one’s feelings increases “emotion granularity,” which has real benefits — people with a rich emotional vocabulary recover more quickly from stress and are less likely to drink alcohol. Yale psychologist Marc Brackett, who has seen similar benefits among children, agrees that Lomas’ word list could help people to identify and appreciate their positive feelings. “The more granular our experience of emotion is, the more capable we are to make sense of our inner lives.”

Lomas’ list now numbers more than 400 words — you can browse them here.

(Thanks, Greg.)

Polyglot Ten-Squares

Since 1897 wordplay enthusiasts have been seeking an order-10 word square — a 10 × 10 array of letters whose rows and columns, read in order, produce the same set of 10 words. In English this is so difficult that it’s been called the Holy Grail of logology, but the task gets dramatically easier when we increase the vocabulary, and one way to do this is to admit words from multiple languages:

A  A  N  G  E  H  A  R  D  E  Dutch
A  P  E  R  N  A  S  E  I  S  Spanish
N  E  C  E  L  I  S  T  V  I  Czech
G  R  E  N  A  D  E  R  E  N  Norwegian
E  N  L  A  G  U  N  A  R  E  Spanish
H  A  I  D  U  C  E  S  T  E  Romanian
A  S  S  E  N  E  R  A  I  S  French
R  E  T  R  A  S  A  R  S  E  Spanish
D  I  V  E  R  T  I  S  S  E  French
E  S  I  N  E  E  S  E  E  N  Finnish

Graham Toal produced this example, as well as 775 others, in 2004, to prove the concept; Word Ways editor A. Ross Eckler estimated that Toal’s program might produce 135,000 such squares. In 2004 Toal told Eckler that some further efforts were being contemplated using distributed computing, but I haven’t seen anything since then.

(A. Ross Eckler, “The Polyglot Ten-Square,” Word Ways 37:3 [August 2004], 207-208.)

Q.E.D.

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Lewis_Carroll_1863.jpg

From the Daily Telegraph‘s obituary of Charles Dodgson, Jan. 15, 1898:

The sayings attributed to him at Oxford would fill an entertaining volume of Carrolliana. Among other things, his ‘etymology of the bell’ is still quoted with relish by scholars. There was a provisional belfry at Christ Church College, which was familiarly known to Oxonians of the time as ‘the meat safe.’ Mr. Dodgson, undertaking to explain this epithet etymologically, split up the word belfry into two parts — the French word belle and the German word frei (free). Then he went to work as follows:

Belle = beautiful = comely = meet (meat);
Frei = free = secure = safe
Result: ‘Meat-safe.’

His nephew, Stuart Dodgson Collingwood, wrote, “No one who was not by nature a lover of logic, and an extreme precisian in the use of words and phrases, could have written the two ‘Alice’ books.”

Effles

An effle is a grammatical English sentence that no one would ever say — they tend to turn up in textbooks for students learning English as a foreign language:

The farmer kills the duckling.
This is a pencil. This is a boy. Peter is a boy. Peter is not a pencil.
A hat is not food.
A man has a dog.
Is this my finger or your finger?
A tailor sews with a needle.
He’s not very good so I can’t marry him.
One praises a pupil when he works hard.
You can’t go to a restaurant if you don’t have money.
Shall I leave without paying?
These are the people’s lunches.
Ouch! O, foolish bee!

Struck by these absurdities while trying to learn English from a textbook in 1950, Eugene Ionesco wrote a play, The Bald Prima Donna, with the same inane tone:

MARY: I am the maid. I have just spent a very pleasant afternoon. I went to the pictures with a man and saw a film with some women. When we came out of the cinema we went and drank some brandy and some milk, and afterwards we read the newspaper.

MRS. SMITH: I hope you spent a pleasant afternoon. I hope you went to the pictures with a man and drank some brandy and some milk.

Mr. SMITH: And the newspaper.

MARY: Your guests, Mr. and Mrs. Martin, are waiting at the door. They were waiting for me. They were afraid to come in on their own. They were meant to be dining with you this evening.

In his 1973 book The Language Laboratory and Language Learning, linguist Julian Dakin recalls a school textbook for foreign learners in which two children are continually asking one another their names. In Lesson 6 it turns out they’re brother and sister.

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