Language

In a Word

impervestigable

adj. incapable of being fully investigated

Misc

  • Alexander Pope was 4 foot 6.
  • SOCIAL INEPTITUDE is an anagram of POTENTIAL SUICIDE.
  • 6! × 7! = 10!
  • Is the correct answer to this question no?
  • “Do something well, and that is quickly enough.” — Baltasar Gracián

In a Word

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Achillize
v. to harass or chase in a manner reminiscent of Achilles

Brad Pitt, who played Achilles in the 2004 film Troy, tore his Achilles tendon during production.

About Face

It was British wordplay expert Leigh Mercer who coined the classic palindrome “A man, a plan, a canal — Panama” in Note & Queries on Nov. 13, 1948. He later said that he’d had the middle portion, PLAN A CANAL P, for a year before he saw that PANAMA fit.

Mercer published 100 palindromes in N&Q between 1946 and 1953 — a selection:

See, slave, I demonstrate yet arts no medieval sees
Now Ned I am a maiden won
Here so long? No loser, eh?
Trade ye no mere moneyed art
Ban campus motto, “Bottoms up, MacNab”
No dot nor Ottawa “legal age” law at Toronto, Don
Now ere we nine were held idle here, we nine were won
Egad, a base life defiles a bad age
“Reviled did I live,” said I, “as evil I did deliver”
I saw desserts, I’d no lemons, alas, no melon, distressed was I
Sue, dice, do, to decide us
Sir, I demand — I am a maid named Iris
No, set a maple here, help a mate, son
Poor Dan is in a droop
Yawn a more Roman way
Won’t lovers revolt now?
Pull a bat, I hit a ball up
Nurse, I spy gypsies, run!
Stephen, my hat — ah, what a hymn, eh, pets?
Pull up if I pull up

… and the remarkably natural “Evil is a name of a foeman, as I live.”

Mercer didn’t confine himself to palindromes — he also devised this mathematical limerick:

mercer limerick

A dozen, a gross, and a score
Plus three times the square root of four
Divided by seven
Plus five times eleven
Is nine squared and not a bit more.

In a Word

marabou
n. a person who is five-eighths black and three-eighths white by descent

griff
n. a person who is three-fourths black and one-fourth white

mulatto
n. a person having one white and one black parent

The ultimate in racist lunacy was reached in Haiti in the eighteenth century, where Saint-Mery developed a classification of physical types based on the notion that each individual was divisible into no less than 128 separate parts (rather like genes):

‘Thus a blanc (white) had 128 parts white, a nègre (Negro) 128 parts black, and the offspring a mulâtre (mulatto) 64 parts white and 64 parts black. In addition, he also listed sacatra (8 to 23 parts white), griffe (24 to 39 parts white), marabou (40 to 48); quateron (71 to 100); metif (101 to 112); mamelouc (113 to 120); quateronné (121 to 124) and finally a sang-mêlé (125 to 127).’

Given the additional presence of Indians as well as Negroes, Mexican castas were even more complex.

— Peter Worsley, The Three Worlds: Culture and World Development, 1984

In a Word

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:David-Andromache_Mourning_Over_Body_of_Hector.jpg

viduity
n. the state of being a widow

Misc

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  • SWARTHMORE is an anagram of EARTHWORMS.
  • The sum of the reciprocals of the divisors of any perfect number is 2.
  • We recite at a play and play at a recital.
  • Is sawhorse the past tense of seahorse?
  • “Things ’twas hard to bear ’tis pleasant to recall.” — Seneca

In Book II, Chapter 9, of H.G. Wells’ novel The War of the Worlds, a sentence begins “For a time I stood regarding …” These words contain 3, 1, 4, 1, 5, and 9 letters.

(Thanks, Dheeraj.)

Repeat Performances

A “poem for stutterers” by Harry Mathews:

Mimi, our hours so social shall secede;
And answer surlily tie-tidied deed.

And a sentence composed by Leigh Mercer:

“Bye-bye, Lulu,” Fifi murmured, “George Orr pooh-poohs so-so Tartar cocoa beriberi Dodo had had.”

In a Word

scalariform
adj. resembling a ladder

Above the facade of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem is a ladder that has remained in place since the 19th century. At that time an edict was passed holding that the church’s doors and window ledges are “common ground” for the various Christian orders; as a result, no church can move anything near the window — including the ladder. It’s visible in the engraving below, which was made in 1834.

(Thanks, Randy.)

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Immovable-Ladder-1834.png

Opposites Attract

In 1967 Dmitri Borgmann made his way from UGLY to BEAUTIFUL by means of dictionary definitions:

UGLY — OFFENSIVE
OFFENSIVE — INSULTING
INSULTING — INSOLENT
INSOLENT — PROUD
PROUD — LORDLY
LORDLY — STATELY
STATELY — GRAND
GRAND — GORGEOUS
GORGEOUS — BEAUTIFUL

Kipling called words “the most powerful drug used by mankind.”

In a Word

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Frits_Thaulow_Towards_the_Pont_Lovignon_in_Quimperl%C3%A9.jpg

transpontine
adj. across a bridge

Diction Airy

In 1856 Samuel Hoshour reflected that students might learn new words more easily if they were presented in context rather than in long gray lists of definitions. The result was Letters to Squire Pedant, an imaginary correspondence salted with ten-dollar vocabulary words:

Dear Sir, At my decession from you; your final alloquy, and concinnous deport laid me under a reasonable obstriction to impart to you, a pantography of the occidental domain upon which I had placed my ophthalmic organs. I now merge my plumous implement of chirography into the atramental fluid, to exonerate myself of that obstriction. From my earliest juvenility, I possessed an indomitable proclivity to lead those that are given to the lection of my lucubrations, to the inception of occurrences. And it would be a dilucid evagation from my accustomary route, would I not now insist upon a regression of your mind to the locality where we imparted mutual valedictions.

Unfortunately, he gets a bit carried away. “Longevous Sir,” begins Letter IV, “The day sequacious to the vesper on which I effectuated in a certain cabaret an exsiccation of my habiliments by torrefaction, was not very inservient to the progress of a pedestrious emigrant.”

Alignment

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By Lee Sallows: Assign the letters JHMLCNVTURISEYAPO to the integers -8 to 8 and you get:

sallows planets alignment

And a reader points out that ERIS gives 10.

Cold Faith

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Apropos of Eskimo, I once heard a missionary describe the extraordinary difficulty he had found in translating the Bible into Eskimo. It was useless to talk of corn or wine to a people who did not know even what they meant, so he had to use equivalents within their powers of comprehension. Thus in the Eskimo version of the Scriptures the miracle of Cana of Galilee is described as turning the water into blubber; the 8th verse of the 5th chapter of the First Epistle of St. Peter ran: ‘Your adversary the devil, as a roaring Polar bear walketh about, seeking whom he may devour.’ In the same way ‘A land flowing with milk and honey’ became ‘A land flowing with whale’s blubber,’ and throughout the New Testament the words ‘Lamb of God’ had to be translated ‘little Seal of God,’ as the nearest possible equivalent. The missionary added that his converts had the lowest opinion of Jonah for not having utilised his exceptional opportunities by killing and eating the whale.

— Lord Frederic Hamiliton, The Days Before Yesterday, 1920

Roundabout

sensuousnesses palindrome

SENSUOUSNESSES is a circular palindrome — when written in a circle, it can be read both clockwise and counterclockwise.

In a Word

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

scripturient
adj. having a desire for writing or authorship

“The Twenty-Third Psaum”

The Lord is my Shepherd; my wants are a’ kent; the pasture I lie on is growthie and green.

I follow by the lip o’ the watirs o’ Peace.

He heals and sterklie hauds my saul: and airts me, for his ain name’s sake, in a’ the fit-roads o’ his holiness.

Aye, and though I bude gang throwe the howe whaur the deid-shadows fa’, I’se fear nae skaith nor ill, for that yersel is aye aside me; yere rod and yere cruik they defend me.

My table ye hae plenish’t afore the een o’ my faes; my heid ye hae chrystit wi’ oyle; my cup is teemin fu’!

And certes, tenderness and mercie sal be my fa’ to the end o’ my days; and syne I’se bide i’ the hoose o’ the Lord, for evir and evir mair!

— William Wye Smith, The New Testament in Braid Scots, 1904

Words and Numbers

A common error resulting from bad penmanship is the substitution of letters for figures, or the reverse: thus, in the report of a coal-market, where the writer intended to say that there was an over-supply of egg size, the types laid that there was an over-supply of 299; similarly, where a writer described a house with zigzag staircases, he was made to give it the extraordinary number of 219,209 staircases. In an obituary notice of Sidney Godolphin Osborne, the London Times described him as the author of the celebrated tract ‘No Go,’ when what the writer meant was the tract No. 90. But no similar excuse can be urged for the printer who made Tennyson’s famous lines read,–

Into the valley of death
Rode the 600.

— William Shepard Walsh, Handy-Book of Literary Curiosities, 1909

Misc

  • Only humans are allergic to poison ivy.
  • GUNPOWDERY BLACKSMITH uses 20 different letters.
  • New York City has no Wal-Marts.
  • (5/8)2 + 3/8 = (3/8)2 + 5/8
  • “Ignorance of one’s misfortunes is clear gain.” — Euripides

For any four consecutive Fibonacci numbers a, b, c, and d, ad and 2bc form the legs of a Pythagorean triangle and cdab is the hypotenuse.

(Thanks, Katie.)

History Brief

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Meade brought his troops to this place where they were to win or lose the fight. At noon all was in trim, and at the sign from Lee’s guns a fierce rain of shot and shell fell on both sides. For three hours this was kept up, and in the midst of it Lee sent forth a large force of his men to break through Meade’s ranks. Down the hill they went and through the vale, and up to the low stone wall, back of which stood the foe. But Lee’s brave men did not stop here. On they went, up close to the guns whose fire cut deep in their ranks, while Lee kept watch from the height they had left. The smoke lifts, and Lee sees the flag of the South wave in the midst of the strife. The sight cheers his heart. His men are on the hill from which they think they will soon drive the foe. A dense cloud of smoke veils the scene. When it next lifts the boys in gray are in flight down the slope where the grass is strewn thick with the slain. … Oh, that there were no such thing as war!

— Josephine Pollard, The History of the United States Told in One-Syllable Words, 1884

In a Word

brabble
v. to quarrel about trifles

Things to Come

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DR. GALL: You see, so many Robots are being manufactured that people are becoming superfluous; man is really a survival. But that he should begin to die out, after a paltry thirty years of competition! That’s the awful part of it. You might think that nature was offended at the manufacture of the Robots. All the universities are sending in long petitions to restrict their production. Otherwise, they say, mankind will become extinct through lack of fertility. But the R.U.R. shareholders, of course, won’t hear of it. All the governments, on the other hand, are clamoring for an increase in production, to raise the standards of their armies. And all the manufacturers in the world are ordering Robots like mad.

HELENA: And has no one demanded that the manufacture should cease altogether?

DR. GALL: No one has the courage.

HELENA: Courage!

DR. GALL: People would stone him to death. You see, after all, it’s more convenient to get your work done by the Robots.

HELENA: Oh, Doctor, what’s going to become of people?

DR. GALL: God knows, Madame Helena, it looks to us scientists like the end!

— From Karel Čapek’s 1920 play R.U.R., which introduced the word robot

Some Palindromes

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Al_roverso_symfonie_47_Haydn.png

In the minuet in Haydn’s Symphony No. 47, the orchestra plays the same passage forward, then backward.

When Will Shortz challenged listeners to submit word-level palindromes to National Public Radio’s Weekend Edition Sunday in 1997, Roxanne Abrams offered the poignant Good little student does plan future, but future plan does student little good.

math palindromes

And Connecticut’s Oxoboxo River offers a four-way palindrome — it reads the same forward and backward both on the page and in a mirror placed horizontally above it.

In a Word

opuscule
n. a musical or literary work of small size

In 1965 poet Aram Saroyan wrote a poem consisting of a single word, lighght. George Plimpton included it in the American Literary Anthology, and Saroyan received a $500 cash award from the National Endowment for the Arts.

Perhaps to mock this, in 1972 Dave Morice published Matchbook, a literary magazine whose inch-square pages were stapled inside working matchbooks. Edited by the fictional Joyce Holland, each issue featured nine one-word poems submitted by contributors. Examples:

apocatastasis (Allen Ginsberg)
borken (Keith Abbott)
cerealism (Fletcher Copp)
cosmicpolitan (Morty Sklar)
embooshed (Cinda Wormley)
gulp (Pat Paulsen)
Joyce (Andrei Codrescu)
meeeeeeeeeeeeee (Duane Ackerson)
puppylust (P.J. Casteel)
sixamtoninepm (Kit Robinson)
underwhere (Carol DeLugach)
zoombie (Sheila Heldenbrand)

The longest submission, Trudi Katchmar’s whahavyagotthasgudtareedare, appeared as a fold-out.