A Little Help

In 1987, a Palermo physicist named Stronzo Bestiale published major papers in the Journal of Statistical Physics, the Journal of Chemical Physics, and the proceedings of a meeting of the American Physical Society in Monterey.

Why is this remarkable? Stronzo bestiale is Italian for “total asshole.”

Italian journalist Vito Tartamella wrote to one of “Bestiale’s” co-authors, Lawrence Livermore physicist William G. Hoover, to get the story. Hoover had been developing a sophisticated new computational technique, non-equilibrium molecular dynamics, with Italian physicist Giovanni Ciccotti. He found that the journals he approached refused to publish his papers — the ideas they contained were too innovative. But:

While I was traveling on a flight to Paris, next to me were two Italian women who spoke among themselves, saying continually: ‘Che stronzo (what an asshole)!’, ‘Stronzo bestiale (total asshole)’. Those phrases had stuck in my mind. So, during a CECAM meeting, I asked Ciccotti what they meant. When he explained it to me, I thought that Stronzo Bestiale would have been the perfect co-author for a refused publication. So I decided to submit my papers again, simply by changing the title and adding the name of that author. And the researches were published.

Renato Angelo Ricci, president of the Italian Physical Society, called the joke “an offense to the entire Italian scientific community.” But Hoover had learned a lesson: He thanked “Bestiale” at the end of another 1987 paper, saying that discussions with him had been “particularly useful.”

(From Parolacce, via Language Log. Thanks, Daniel.)

Eodermdromes

A spelling net is the pattern made when one writes down one instance of each unique letter that appears in a word and then connects these letters with lines, spelling out the word. For instance, the spelling net for VIVID is made by writing down the letters V, I, and D and drawing a line from V to I, I to V, V to I, and I to D.

Different words produce different spelling nets, of course, but every spelling net is an example of a graph, a collection of points connected by lines. A graph is said to be non-planar if some of the lines must cross; in the case of the spelling net, this means that no matter how we arrange the letters on the page, when we connect them in order we find that at least two of the lines must cross.

A word with a non-planar spelling net is called an eodermdrome, an ungainly name that itself illustrates the idea. The unique letters in EODERMDROME are E, O, D, R, and M. Write these down and run a pen among them, spelling out the word. You’ll find that no matter how the letters are arranged, it’s never possible to complete the task without at least two of the lines crossing:

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Eodermdrome.png
Image: Wikimedia Commons

Ross Eckler sought all the eodermdromes in Webster’s second and third editions; another example he found is SUPERSATURATES:

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Supersaturates2.png
Image: Wikimedia Commons

Since spelling nets are graphs, they can be studied with the tools of graph theory, the mathematical study of such networks. One result from that discipline says that a graph is non-planar if and only if it can be reduced to one of the two patterns marked K5 and K(3, 3) above. Since both EODERMDROME and SUPERSATURATES contain these forbidden graphs, both are non-planar.

A good article describing recreational eodermdrome hunting, by computer scientists Gary S. Bloom, John W. Kennedy, and Peter J. Wexler, is here. One warning: They note that, with some linguistic flexibility, the word eodermdrome can be interpreted to mean “a course on which to go to be made miserable.”

Enochian

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Enochian_alphabet.png
Image: Wikimedia Commons

In 1581, using a “shewstone,” or crystal, astrologer John Dee and seer Edward Kelley set out to discover knowledge that couldn’t be gleaned from books or experimentation.

They succeeded: Angels gave them the “Celestial Speech,” the language that God used to create the world and taught to Adam, who lost it in his fall from paradise.

After transmitting the 21-letter alphabet above, Dee said, the angels sent him a series of texts, some with translations, that formed the basis for a vocabulary.

Some features of “Enochian” suggest that Dee was “speaking in tongues” while transcribing the language, while others show suspicious similarities to English grammar and syntax. But then, Dee maintained that modern languages arose through Adam’s attempts to reconstruct the language he had lost.

“No language has a stranger history than the Enochian language,” wrote Australian linguist Donald Laycock, who studied the curious system. “Perhaps strangest of all is that we still do not know whether it is a natural language or an invented language — or whether it is, perhaps, the language of the angels, as its originators believed.”

Anamonics

https://pixabay.com/en/scrabble-game-board-game-words-243192/

A Scrabble player needs a way to recognize the potential in any collection of tiles. If your rack contains the seven letters AIMNSTU, for example, what eighth letter should you be watching for to create an acceptable eight-letter word?

If you arrange your seven letters into the word TSUNAMI, and if you’ve memorized the corresponding phrase COASTAL HARM, then you have your answer: Any of the letters in that phrase will produce an acceptable eight-letter word:

TSUNAMI + C = TSUNAMIC
TSUNAMI + O = MANITOUS
TSUNAMI + A = AMIANTUS
TSUNAMI + S = TSUNAMIS
TSUNAMI + T = ANTISMUT
TSUNAMI + L = SIMULANT
TSUNAMI + H = HUMANIST
TSUNAMI + R = NATURISM
TSUNAMI + M = MANUMITS

TSUNAMI: COASTAL HARM is an example of an anamonic (“anagram mnemonic”), a tool that tournament players use to memorize valuable letter combinations. Devising useful anamonics is itself an art form in the Scrabble community — one has to create a memorable phrase using a constrained set of letters. Some are memorable indeed:

GERMAN: LOST TO ALLIES
NATURE: VISIT GOD’S SCHOOL
SENIOR: OLD MVP JOGS WITH A CRUTCH
WAITER: A MAN RAN PANS

“One of the first anamonics I ever read, back in 1998, was PRIEST: EVERYONE COMPLAINED OF THE SODOMY,” wrote Jeff Myers in Word Ways in May 2007. “I couldn’t believe it. The letters in that phrase — no more and no less — could combine with PRIEST to make 7-letter words.”

When the word list TWL06 appeared, PERITUS became a legal word. That’s PRIEST + U, so the mnemonic phrase now needed to include a U. “One simple fix is: EVERYONE COMPLAINED OF YOUTH SODOMY,” wrote Myers. “Now maybe even more startling.”

John Chew maintains canonical lists of anamonics using the official Tournament Word List and the alternate SOWPODS list.

In a Word

altivolant
adj. high-flying

aspectable
adj. capable of being seen, visible

terriculament
n. a source of fear

John Lithgow’s eyes pop out of his head momentarily at the climax of “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet,” the final segment in Twilight Zone: The Movie (1983). In the segment, a remake of the famous television episode from 1963, Lithgow plays a nervous air passenger who discovers a gremlin on the wing of his plane. At the moment when he lifts the shade, the edit shows the monster for 17 frames, then Lithgow’s face for 10 frames, then the monster for 42 frames, and then a 5-frame shot of Lithgow’s head incorporating the eye-popping effect.

Of these 5 frames, the first three show a wild-eyed Lithgow, the fourth shows bulging eyes, and the fifth is shown below. “This 5-frame sequence is on the screen for 1/5 second, but the most distorted image is only visible for 1/24 second,” writes William Poundstone in Bigger Secrets. “Blink at the wrong time, and you miss it. But if you watch the shot carefully at normal speed, the sequence is detectable. Lithgow’s eyes seem to inflate with an accelerated, cartoon-like quality.”

Here’s the frame:

twilight zone movie

Two Odd Etymologies

https://pixabay.com/en/nachos-food-chips-mexican-salsa-795612/

Nachos are named after a person, Ignacio “Nacho” Anaya, who owned a restaurant known as El Moderno in Piedras Negras, Mexico, across the border from Eagle Pass, Texas, in the early 1940s. Around 1943 he began serving fried tortilla chips topped with melted cheese and jalapeño peppers, calling the dish “Nacho’s Especiales.”

The taser’s name was inspired by a 1911 adventure book for boys, Tom Swift and his Electric Rifle, involving a rifle that fires electricity rather than bullets. The taser’s inventor, NASA scientist Jack Cover, thought this was an apt description of his own weapon, so he made an acronym of Tom Swift’s Electric Rifle.

Both origins are borne out by the Oxford English Dictionary.

Query

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Mina_Edison_1906.jpg

Thomas Edison proposed to his second wife, Mina, in Morse code.

“My later courtship was carried on by telegraph,” he wrote in his diary. “I taught the lady of my heart the Morse code, and when she could both send and receive we got along much better than we could have with spoken words by tapping out our remarks to one another on our hands. Presently I asked her thus, in Morse code, if she would marry me. The word ‘Yes’ is an easy one to send by telegraphic signals, and she sent it. If she had been obliged to speak of it, she might have found it harder.”

Sound and Sense

In the early 1970s, Alan Berry and Ronald Morehead visited the Sierra Nevada of eastern California and emerged with “the Sierra Sounds recordings,” 90 minutes of vocalizations and wood knockings that they attributed to Bigfoot. In studying these and other recordings, “Bigfoot language expert” R. Scott Nelson has devised a Sasquatch Phonetic Alphabet to record the utterances:

0:4.5 (W) (W)

0:8.62 (W) (W) (W)

0:15.11 RAM HO BÄ RÜ KHÄ HÜ

0:16.70 WAM VO HÜ KHÖ KHU’

0:17.52 NÖ U PLÄ MEN TI KHU

0:18.82 NÄR LÄ

0:20.21 NA GÖ KÜ STEP GÄ KÜ BLEM

0:21.25 Ü KÜ DZJÄ

0:21.76 FRrÄP E KHÜK LE

(A fuller transcription, and Nelson’s notating conventions, are here.)

What should we make of this? Nelson claims that “the creatures mentally process information at a much higher rate than humans do, or at least they are able to communicate their ideas much faster,” which makes their speech impossible for humans to understand, but “we have verified that these creatures use language, by the human definition of it.”

“No, we haven’t,” answers linguist Karen Stollznow in Language Myths, Mysteries and Magic (2014). “Before creating a transcription of this ‘Bigfoot language’, Nelson first needed to demonstrate that this is language. He has tried to authenticate the recordings, rather than analyze them in an unbiased way. Unknown sounds don’t immediately qualify as ‘language’, any more than an Unidentified Flying Object must be extraterrestrial.”

“There is no solid physical evidence to support the existence of Bigfoot. Before we establish the existence of Bigfoot language, we need to establish the existence of Bigfoot.”

An Elizabethan Word Square

lok square

Princeton scholar Thomas P. Roche Jr. calls this “an astounding piece of ingenuity,” one of “the most elaborately numerological poems I have found in the Renaissance.” Poet Henry Lok created it in 1597, in honor of Elizabeth I. It can be read as a conventional 10-line poem, but there are fully eight other ways to read it:

“1. A Saint George’s crosse [+] of two collumbs, in discription of her Maiestie, beginning at A, and B, in the middle to be read downward, and crossing at C and D to be read either singly or double.”

Rare Queen, fair, mild, wise
Shows you proof
For heavens have upheld
Just world’s praise sure.

Here Grace in that Prince
Of earth’s race, who
There shields thus God
Whom choice (rich Isle, stay!) builds.

“2. A S[aint] Andrew’s crosse [X], beginning at E and read thwartwaies, and ending with F, containing the description of our happie age, by her highnesse.”

God crowned this time, wise choice of all the Rest,
And so truth, joy of just kings’ known, God blest.

“3. Two Pillars in the right and left side of the square, in verse reaching from E and F perpenddicularly, containing the sum of the whole, the latter columbe hauing the words placed counterchangeably to rime to the whole square.”

God makes kings rule for heauens; your state hold blest
And still stand will their shields; fear yields best rest.

“4. The first and last two verses or the third and fourth, with seuenth and eighth, are sense in them selues, containing also sense of the whole.”

“5. The whole square of 100, containing in it self fiue squares, the angles of each of them are sense particularly, and vnited depend each on other, beginning at the center.”

1 Just, wise of choice
2 Joy of kings’ time
3 This truth all known
4 So crowned the God
5 Blessed God and rest.

“6. The out-angles are to be read 8 seuerall waies in sense and verse.”

“7. The eight words placed also in the ends of the St. George’s crosse, are sense and verse, alluding to the whole crosse.”

Rare grace here builds
There shields for heaven.

Rare Grace there shields
For heaven here builds.

“8. The two third words in the bend dexeter of the St. Andrew’s crosse, being the middle from the angles to the center, haue in their first letters T. and A. for the Author, and H.L. in their second, for his name, which to be true, the words of the angles in that square confirme.”

THis ALl
T[he]H[enry]is A[uthor]L[ok]l

“9. The direction to her Maiestie in prose aboue, containeth onely of numerall letters, the yeare and day of the composition, as thus, DD. C. LL. LL. LL. LL. VV. VV. VV. IIIIIIIIIIIII. For, 1593. June V.”

The whole square is intended to demonstrate the powers of language to accommodate the queen’s praises in God’s providential order. Further, the arrangement of the words forms a comment on the political situation at the time: St. George is the patron saint of England, St. Andrew is the patron saint of Scotland, and the pillars may represent Elizabeth’s chosen emblem, the Pillars of Hercules. “The fact that the words of the square can be forced to yield meaning within the imposed specifications is amazing in itself.”

(Thomas P. Roche Jr., Petrarch and the English Sonnet Sequences, 1989.)

In a Word

synodite
n. a traveling companion

dépaysé
adj. removed from one’s usual surroundings

credenda
n. things to be believed; matters of faith

David Livingstone reaches the Atlantic, May 31, 1854:

The plains adjacent to Loanda are somewhat elevated and comparatively sterile. On coming across these we first beheld the sea: my companions looked upon the boundless ocean with awe. On describing their feelings afterwards, they remarked that ‘we marched along with our father, believing that what the ancients had always told us was true, that the world has no end; but all at once the world said to us, “I am finished; there is no more of me!”‘ They had always imagined that the world was one extended plain without limit.

(From his Missionary Travels and Researches in South Africa, 1857.)