Language

In a Word

vecke
n. an old woman

graocracy
n. government by old women

Put Upon

Letter to the Times, Oct. 14, 1939:

Sir,

If ordinary English usage counts for anything, an evacuee is a person who has been evacued, whatever that may be, as a trustee is one who has been trusted; for ‘evacuee’ cannot be thought of as a feminine French form, as ‘employee’ is by some.

Where are we going to stop if ‘evacuee’ is accepted as good English? Is a terrible time coming in which a woman, much dominated by her husband, will be called a dominee? Will she often be made a humiliee by his rough behavior and sometimes prostree with grief after an unsought quarrel?

Must sensitive people suffer the mutilation of their language until they die and are ready to become cremees?

I am, Sir, your obedient servant,

F.H.J. Newton

Over and Out

If it’s a sin to end a sentence with one preposition, then presumably it’s even worse to end it with two. How far can we take this? For the August 1968 issue of Word Ways: The Journal of Recreational Linguistics, Darryl Francis devised one sentence that ends with nine prepositions. If the Yardbirds’ 1966 single “Over, Under, Sideways, Down” were exported to Australia and then retrieved by a traveler, the question might be asked:

“What did he bring ‘Over, Under, Sideways, Down’ up from Down Under for?”

Inspired, Ralph Beaman pointed out that if this issue of the journal were now brought to a boy who slept on the upper floor of a lighthouse, he might ask:

“What did you bring me the magazine I didn’t want to be read to out of about ‘”Over Under, Sideways, Down” up from Down Under’ up around for?”

“This has a total of fifteen terminal prepositions,” writes Ross Eckler, “but the end is not in sight; for now the little boy can complain in similar vein about the reading material provided in this issue of Word Ways, adding a second ‘to out of about’ at the beginning and ‘up around for’ at the end of the preposition string. The mind boggles at the infinite regress which has now been established.”

In a Word

feriation
n. the act of observing a holiday

Ozymandias Without Es

I know a pilgrim from a distant land
Who said: Two vast and sawn-off limbs of quartz
Stand on an arid plain. Not far, in sand
Half sunk, I found a facial stump, drawn warts
And all; its curling lips of cold command
Show that its sculptor passions could portray
Which still outlast, stamp’d on unliving things,
A mocking hand that no constraint would sway:
And on its plinth this lordly boast is shown:
“Lo, I am Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, O Mighty, and bow down!”
‘Tis all that is intact. Around that crust
Of a colossal ruin, now windblown,
A sandstorm swirls and grinds it into dust.

(By Georges Perec, translated from the French by Gilbert Adair.)

In a Word

merry-go-sorry
n. a tale that evokes joy and sadness simultaneously

chantpleure
v. to sing and weep at the same time

Resemblance

Harry Mathews composed this limerick:

Young Dick, always eager to eat,
Denied stealing the fish eggs, whereat,
Caning him for a liar,
His pa ate the caviar
And left Dicky digesting the caveat.

Shouldn’t it rhyme?

Adam’s Wish

REVEL EVER, EVE! O EVE, REVEL EVER!

That sentence, composed by J.A. Lindon, can reproduce itself in two ways — it’s a conventional palindrome, and it produces a natural word square:

lindon word square

Green Party

Letter to the Times, Aug. 19, 1930:

Sir, In one of the loveliest gardens in the West of Scotland, opened freely on certain days to a vast public from Glasgow and that neighbourhood, courteous notices everywhere intimated that ‘Visitors are requested not to pick the flowers without leave.’ A waggish tourist went round with a paint brush, adding an ‘s’ to the word ‘leave,’ with the deplorable result that not only were flowers plucked, but whole plants — flowers, leaves, and roots — were excavated and carried off.

Yours, &c.

David Hunter-Blair

Topsy Turvy

http://books.google.com/books?id=iUoXAAAAYAAJ

This reversible magic square comes from Henry Dudeney’s Canterbury Puzzles.

Each row, column, and diagonal in the square totals 179.

Thanks to some clever calligraphy, this remains true when the square is turned upside down.

In a Word

lubberwort
n. food that makes one idle and stupid, food of no nutritive value, junk food

Misc

  • A pound of dimes has the same value as a pound of quarters.
  • The French word hétérogénéité has five accents.
  • 32768 = (3 – 2 + 7)6 / 8
  • Can you deceive yourself deliberately?
  • “My country is the world, and my religion is to do good.” — Thomas Paine

In 2000, Guatemalan police asked Christmas revelers not to fire pistols into the air. “Lots of people die when bullets fall on their heads,” National Civilian Police spokesman Faustino Sanchez told Reuters. He said that five to ten Guatemalans are killed or injured each Christmas by falling bullets.

Signs and Portents

Writing in a prison diary in 1943, Ho Chi Minh discovered a lesson in Chinese ideographs:

Take away the sign (man) from the sign for prison,
Add to it (probability), that makes the word (nation).
Take the head-particle from the sign for misfortune:
That gives the word (fidelity).
Add the sign for man (standing) to the sign for worry,
That gives the word (quality).
Take away the bamboo top from the sign for prison,
That gives you dragon.

People who come out of prison can build up the country,
Misfortune is a test of people’s fidelity.
Those who protest at injustice are people of true merit.
When the prison doors are opened, the real dragon will fly out.

On his release, he started the August Revolution.

In a Word

epigamic
adj. attracting the opposite sex

altrigenderism
n. the state of development in which one becomes attracted to members of the opposite sex

Allergic?

mayonnaise circle

Write the word MAYONNAISE in a circle and read it backward and you get I ANNOY AMES.

Make of that what you will.

(From Word Ways, February 1968.)

Symmetry

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Illu_adrenal_gland-es.png

Reversing the Dutch word for kidney, NIER, gives the French word for kidney, REIN.

Slenderizing

What’s unusual about this sentence by Harry Mathews?

Once brought into this country, partly imprudent gray barbers marry expatriate, parrying the frictions of tried friends such as Mary, the sorry crook with no work at hand, who is now without a murmur getting pastry.

It remains a sentence when you remove the Rs:

Once bought into this county, patly impudent gay babes may expatiate, paying the fictions of tied fiends such as May, the soy cook with no wok at hand, who is now without a mumu getting pasty.

Inside Out

Every great work inspires variants. Here are the opening lines of Ernest Hemingway’s To Have and Have Not:

You know how it is there early in the morning in Havana with the bums still asleep against the walls of the buildings; before even the ice wagons come by with ice for the bars? Well, we came across the square from the dock to the Pearl of San Francisco café to get coffee and there was only one beggar awake in the square and he was getting a drink out of the fountain. But when we got inside the café and sat down, there were the three of them waiting for us.

We sat down and one of them came over. ‘Well,’ he said.

‘I can’t do it,’ I told him. ‘I’d like to do it as a favor. But I told you last night I couldn’t.’

‘You can name your own price.’

‘It isn’t that. I can’t do it. That’s all.’

And here are the opening lines of Lynn Crawford’s To Have Not and Have:

Few understand it here late in the evening in Oslo with the divas wide awake still opening, closing doors after even fuel company planes fly in fuel for the fires. Well, I navigated to the walkway extending from shore to the Sow’s Ear café to drop off brandy and there were several divas awake spooning meals out of bowls. But when I got inside and leaned on the bar, there was one running from me.

I continued standing and several more ran from me.

‘Hey,’ they carolled.

‘I can do it,’ I told them. ‘I told you this morning it was impossible. But I can do it for a fee.’

‘We name your fee.’

‘Agreed. I can do it. And something else –‘

This is an example of antonymy, a technique invented by the French experimental writing group Oulipo in which each designated element in a text is replaced with its opposite.

A simpler example: “To not be and to be: this was an answer.”

In a Word

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Daniel_Lambert.jpg

aletude
n. corpulency

gundygut
n. a voracious eater

“Imprisoned in every fat man a thin one is wildly signalling to be let out.” — Cyril Connolly, The Unquiet Grave, 1944

“Outside every fat man there was an even fatter man trying to close in.” — Kingsley Amis, One Fat Englishman, 1963

Next Stop …

Until 2007, this unassuming railway station in North Wales went by the name Gorsafawddacha’idraigodanheddogleddollônpenrhynareurdraethceredigion.

This was an attempt to outdo Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch, a village on the island of Anglesey, for the distinction of the longest place name in Europe.

Perhaps because of the apostrophe, the bid was little recognized, and in 2007 the name was reduced, rather drastically, to Golf Halt.

See Succinct.

Inventory

Why would anyone ask a question with 76 spaces, 60 apostrophes, 33 commas, 1 question mark, 2 ‘0’s, 3 ‘1’s, 5 ‘2’s, 14 ‘3’s, 7 ‘4’s, 5 ‘5’s, 5 ‘6’s, 3 ‘7’s, 2 ‘8’s, 3 ‘9’s, 2 ‘W’s, 9 ‘a’s, 3 ‘c’s, 3 ‘d’s, 6 ‘e’s, 4 ‘h’s, 4 ‘i’s, 3 ‘k’s, 2 ‘l’s, 4 ‘m’s, 6 ‘n’s, 8 ‘o’s, 4 ‘p’s, 3 ‘q’s, 3 ‘r’s, 39 ‘s’s, 5 ‘t’s, 4 ‘u’s, 3 ‘w’s, and 3 ‘y’s?

(Thanks, Chris.)

Misc

  • Will Rogers died at the northernmost point in the United States.
  • 94122 + 23532 = 94122353
  • TO BE OR NOT TO BE contains two Bs.
  • If you stop me being mute, what sound do I make?
  • “Better to ask twice than to lose your way once.” — Danish proverb

In a Word

xenodochiophobia
n. fear of (or worry about) hotels

Art historian Bernard Berenson offered this word in his 1952 memoir Rumour and Reflection:

I invented it long ago to designate the sinking feeling that in my travels often overcame me: of fear lest the inn or hotel at which we were to lodge would be sordid, would not let me have the promised apartment; that my bedroom would have the wrong proportions, mulling or flattening me out of my normal shape and squeezing me out of my own way of breathing; that the lights would be glaring and no reading lamp by my bed; that there would be sharp or clattering sounds outside, or bad smells without or within. Motoring in the Vendee or Poitou, in Spain or Greece as evening darkened, tired or even exhausted, I would wish the destination farther and farther away, for fear of what I should find when I reached it.

When William Tazewell mentioned the word in a 1989 travel article in the New York Times, reader Louis Jay Herman wrote to add “a few more suggested contributions to the Hellenizing of the travel language”:

xenoiatrophobia
n. fear of having to cope with a foreign doctor

xenonosocomiophobia
n. fear of finding yourself in a foreign hospital

xenokleptophobia
n. fear of foreign pickpockets

hypselotimophobia
n. fear of high prices

And cacohydrophobia, loosely translatable as Can I drink what comes out of the tap in this joint?

In a Word

drogulus
n. an entity whose presence is unverifiable because it has no physical effects

A.J. Ayer coined this word spontaneously while describing his “principle of verification” during a 1949 broadcast:

Suppose I say, ‘There’s a drogulus over there’ and you say … ‘What’s a drogulus?’ ‘Well,’ I say, ‘I can’t describe what a drogulus is, because it is not the sort of thing you can see or touch. It has no physical effects of any kind, but it’s a disembodied being.’ And you say, ‘Well, how am I to tell if it’s there or not?’ and I say, ‘There’s no way of telling. Everything’s just the same if it’s there or it’s not there. But the fact is it’s there. There’s a drogulus there standing just behind you.’ Does that make sense?

“Talk about obscure words!” writes lexicographer Norman Schur. “Have we finally met the man who wasn’t there?”

As I was going up the stair
I met a man who wasn’t there.
He wasn’t there again today.
I wish, I wish he’d stay away.

— Hughes Mearns

Curiously, Ayer himself seems to have confirmed at least one sighting. In 1959, Lionel Penrose wrote in New Biology, “I had difficulty in finding a suitable name for the activated complexes produced in [certain] experiments. On showing one of them to Professor A. J. Ayer, I inquired whether it perhaps might be a ‘drogulus’ … He replied that it was undoubtedly a ‘drogulus’.”