Language

Coming and Going

The Danish word for TAX is SKAT.

In a Word

disbosom
v. to reveal or confess

Sweet and Bubbly

In 2005, archivist George Redmonds discovered something surprising among English birth records of the 14th century: a girl named Diot Coke.

She was born in the West Riding of Yorkshire in 1379. Researchers at Britain’s National Archives believe that her first name is a diminutive of Dionisia and her last name a variation of Cook.

She might have done worse. Popular girls’ names of the time included Godelena, Helwise, Idony, and Avice.

Misc

  • To frustrate eavesdroppers, Herbert Hoover and his wife used to converse in Chinese.
  • Asteroids 30439, 30440, 30441, and 30444 are named Moe, Larry, Curly, and Shemp.
  • COMMITTEES = COST ME TIME
  • 15618 = 1 + 56 – 1 × 8
  • How is it that time passes but space doesn’t?

Webster’s Third New International Dictionary gives no pronunciation for YHWH.

In a Word

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Russia_stamp_1992_No_15.jpg

treen
adj. made of wood

Constellation

German astronomer Karl Reinmuth discovered and named more than 400 asteroids. Among them are these eight:

1227 Geranium
1228 Scabiosa
1229 Tilia
1230 Riceia
1231 Auricula
1232 Cortusa
1233 Kobresia
1234 Elyna

Their initials spell G. STRACKE, for Gustav Stracke, a fellow astronomer who had asked that no planet be named after him. In this way Reinmuth could honor his colleague without contradicting his wish.

In a Word

oblectation
n. delight, pleasure, enjoyment

adlubescence
n. pleasure or delight

deliciate
v. to delight oneself

Good Enough

Ixonia, Wisconsin, was named at random.

Unable to agree on a name for the town, the residents printed the alphabet on slips of paper, and a girl named Mary Piper drew letters successively until a name was formed.

The town was christened Ixonia on Jan. 21, 1846, and it remains the only Ixonia in the United States.

Double Play

This Latin sentence consists entirely of repeated syllables:

Te tero, Roma, manu nuda, date tela, latete.

“It is you I destroy, Rome, with bare hands, give up weapons, hide yourself.”

See Repeat Performance.

Misc

  • Colombia is the only South American country that borders both the Atlantic and the Pacific.
  • GRAVITATIONAL LENS = STELLAR NAVIGATION
  • 28671 = (2 / 8)-6 × 7 – 1
  • Can a man released from prison be called a freeee?
  • “Nature uses as little as possible of anything.” — Johannes Kepler

Sergei Prokofiev died on the same day that Joseph Stalin’s death was announced. Moscow was so thronged with mourners that three days passed before the composer’s body could be removed for a funeral service.

(Thanks, Alina.)

In a Word

mancipate
v. to enslave

Babel Fishing

“But, for my own part, it was Greek to me.”

So says Casca to Cassius in Julius Caesar, and the expression has been current in our language for 400 years. In 1978, Arnold Rosenberg of the IBM Research Center began to wonder: If we can take that as a general consensus that Greek is harder than English, then perhaps we could seek similar expressions in other languages and so discover the hardest natural language. For example, if Germans say “That seems like Spanish to me” (Das kommt mir spanisch vor), and Finns say “It is totally Hebrew to me” (Se on minulle tāyttā hepreaa), then arguably Spanish is harder than German and Hebrew is harder than Finnish. Rosenberg set about collecting such idioms, and the final picture was surprisingly clear:

http://people.cs.umass.edu/~rsnbrg/hardest.pdf

“Although we have found numerous hardest languages in our quest, we must acknowledge the special position of Chinese among the hardest languages,” he concluded. “If we were backed into a corner and forced to select a single language that deserved the designation ‘hardest,’ then, in terms of popular consensus, of geographical consensus, and of cultural consensus … Chinese would be the hands-down winner.”

(Arnold L. Rosenberg, “The Hardest Natural Languages,” Lingvisticæ Investigationes, June 1979.)

Stone Cold

“A cactolith is a quasihorizontal chonolith composed of anastomosing ductoliths whose distal ends curl like a harpolith, thin like a sphenolith, or bulge discordantly like an akmolith or ethmolith.”

That’s from USGS researcher Charles B. Hunt’s 1953 paper “Geology and Geography of the Henry Mountains Region, Utah.” He was describing an actual geological feature — but also commenting on the absurd profusion of -lith words in geology.

Word Ways chose it as its word of the year for 2010.

Theme and Variations

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:La_nascita_di_Venere_(Botticelli).jpg

After reading David Shulman’s anagrammed tribute to Washington crossing the Delaware, Janet Hodge composed this sonnet:

Sandro Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus

Love is born. A thin cloud bestirs theft —
such a festive birth not to be droll sin.
No strict habits should live on bereft
of love. Blind, it throbs; truth ceases in
antic trust. Oh, love is blest, for behind
its first bother, viols enchant. Double
fret (blush) scares the volition to bind.
It finds both chaste lovers in trouble.
Loves throes ache, but sit blind in frost.
The love born of bliss dictates in hurt
a nibbled truth, sloven heir of its cost.
Noble itch is hovel burn, tastes of dirt.
The bit done, not favors rise, but chills;
Best avoid, not note, such brief thrills.

Each line is a perfect anagram of the title.

Misc

  • Mississippi didn’t ratify the 13th Amendment, abolishing slavery, until 2013.
  • To protect its ecosystem, the location of Hyperion, the world’s tallest living tree, is kept secret.
  • 34425 = 34 × 425
  • CIRCUMSTANTIAL EVIDENCE = ACTUAL CRIME ISN’T EVINCED
  • “Well, if I called the wrong number, why did you answer the phone?” — James Thurber

In a Word

cicisbeo
n. the escort or lover of a married woman

bedswerver
n. one who breaks one’s marriage vows

deuterogamist
n. one who marries a second time

Payback

In October 2009, California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger attended a local Democratic Party fundraiser at the invitation of former San Francisco mayor Willie Brown. His speech was heckled by San Francisco assemblyman Tom Ammiano, who took the stage afterward to criticize the governor.

Three weeks later, Schwarzenegger vetoed a measure sponsored by Ammiano. He attached this message:

To the Members of the California State Assembly:

I am returning Assembly Bill 1176 without my signature.

For some time now I have lamented the fact that major issues are overlooked while many
unnecessary bills come to me for consideration. Water reform, prison reform, and health
care are major issues my Administration has brought to the table, but the Legislature just
kicks the can down the alley.

Yet another legislative year has come and gone without the major reforms Californians
overwhelmingly deserve. In light of this, and after careful consideration, I believe it is
unnecessary to sign this measure at this time.

Sincerely,

Arnold Schwarzenegger

Read the first letter of each printed line. “My goodness, what a coincidence,” said Schwarzenegger spokesman Aaron McLear when confronted with the acrostic. “I suppose when you do so many vetoes, something like this is bound to happen.”

See Between the Lines, Poetic License, and In Memoriam.

In a Word

philologaster
n. an incompetent philologist

nitigram
n. a second-rate epigram

cacography
n. poor spelling

“Adverbities of Eros”

Yesterday too little nevertheless
Thereupon notwithstanding everywhere
At that point next together the way that
Such as at length thus at the time as much as
Formerly less thither of yore
Here always in enough already near
Quite so sometimes almost a lot all right
Evermore such still within hard never
When hither wrongly once again
Forthwith gladly late in the day henceforth
Maybe drop by drop indeed all the way
Why face to face fast to be sure quasi
Immediately unhesitatingly
Thoughtlessly frontwards backwards squattingly
Non-stop post-haste suddenly from now on
In succession torrentially finally
Incessantly tomorrow emulously
Whereas along in turn now over there
Elsewhere today of course so there pell-mell
Outside there all of a sudden round about
No way in brief no better than so-so
Worse rather than better out worse and worse.

— Noël Arnaud

In a Word

macroscian
adj. casting a long shadow

umbratile
adj. pertaining to the shade

obtenebrate
v. to cast a shadow over

lucifugous
adj. shunning light

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