Language

Gender in Swearing

In An Encyclopedia of Swearing (2006), University of the Witwatersrand linguist Geoffrey Hughes notes that terms of vehement personal abuse seem to attach disproportionately to the male sex:

gender in swearing table

In his analysis, even terms derived from female anatomy are applied to men rather than women (at least in British usage). Terms such as bugger, motherfucker, and sod[omite] understandably derive from sexual role, but why are devil, fucker, moron, and cretin applied generally to men and not women?

“All the indeterminate terms, such as bastard, idiot, and shit, which should logically be ‘bisexual’ in application, are invariably applied only to males,” Hughes writes. (Also, strangely, there seems to be no vehement term of abuse that’s used freely of both sexes.) “However, the historical perspective shows one significant trend, namely that several of the terms, like bitch and sow, were first used of males (or of both sexes) and only later applied exclusively to women.”

Naming Change

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Canadian_Dollar_-_obverse.png

When Canada introduced its 1-dollar coin in 1987, it became known as the “loonie” for the loon on its back.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Toonie_-_front.png

When the Royal Canadian Mint introduced the 2-dollar coin in 1996, Canadians tried hard to find a comparable nickname. Though “toonie” or “twoonie” eventually won out, the list of failed suggestions included “doubloonie,” “doozie,” and the charming “moonie.”

Why moonie? Because the coin depicts the queen “with a bear behind.”

(Thanks, Ethan.)

In a Word

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Camel_artillery_iran.JPG

zumbooruk
n. a small cannon fired from the back of a camel

Bird Talk

Birder William Young notes that hobbyists who look for wild birds tend to identify species as much by their songs and calls as by their plumage. One way to memorize the calls is to translate them into familiar words and phrases. “Just as many people cannot remember lyrics to popular songs without singing the melody,” he writes, “many birders cannot remember bird songs and calls without thinking of mnemonic phrases.” Examples:

White-throated sparrow: Old Sam Peabody Peabody Peabody
Black-throated green warbler: trees, trees, murmuring trees
Black-throated blue warbler: I’m so la-zy
Olive-sided flycatcher: Quick, free beer!
White-eyed vireo: Pick up the beer check quick
Song sparrow: Maids maids maids pick up the tea kettle kettle kettle
American goldfinch: potato chip
Barred owl: Madame, who cooks for you?
Brown pigeon: Didja walk? Didja walk?
American robin: cheerily, cheer-up, cheerily
White-crowned sparrow: Poor JoJo missed his bus
Ovenbird: teacher, TEACHER, TEACHER
Red-eyed vireo: Here I am. Where are you?
Common yellowthroat: Which is it? Which is it? Which is it?
MacLeay’s honeyeater: a free TV
Common potoo: POO-or me, O, O, O, O
Inca dove: no hope
Brown quail: not faair, not faair
Little wattlebird: fetch the gun, fetch the gun

The California quail says Chicago, the long-tailed manakin says Toledo, and the rufous-browed peppershrike says I’M-A-RU-FOUS-PEP-PER-SHRIKE. “Once when I was staying at [birding author Graham Pizzey’s] home, a Willie-wagtail sang outside my bedroom window around 3 A.M. and seemed to say I’m trying to an-NOY you.” Young’s full article appears in the Winter 2003 issue of Verbatim.

In a Word

guttatim
adv. drop by drop

supernaculum
adv. to the last drop

stillatitious
adj. falling in drops

quantulum
n. a small amount or portion

“The Mostly German Philosophers Love Song”

By Colorado classics teacher Jeremy Boor:

MP3, lyrics, and chords are on his website.

Palinmorses

Morse code palindromes, contributed by reader Dave Lawrence:

ANNEXING ·- -· -· · -··- ·· -· --·
BEEFIEST -··· · · ··-· ·· · ··· -
DEFOREST -·· · ··-· --- ·-· · ··· -
ESTHETES · ··· - ···· · - · ···
FINAGLED ··-· ·· -· ·- --· ·-·· · -··
HEARTIES ···· · ·- ·-· - ·· · ···
HECTARES ···· · -·-· - ·- ·-· · ···
INDEBTED ·· -· -·· · -··· - · -··
INTERNAL ·· -· - · ·-· -· ·- ·-··
INTUITED ·· -· - ··- ·· - · -··
RECENTER ·-· · -·-· · -· - · ·-·
SATIATES ··· ·- - ·· ·- - · ···
SEVENTHS ··· · ···- · -· - ···· ···
SHEEPISH ··· ···· · · ·--· ·· ··· ····
SOPRANOS ··· --- ·--· ·-· ·- -· --- ···
SUBHEADS ··· ··- -··· ···· · ·- -·· ···
WAVERING ·-- ·- ···- · ·-· ·· -· --·
WRECKING ·-- ·-· · -.-· -.- ·· -· --·
ANTICKING ·- -· - ·· -·-· -·- ·· -· --·
FOOTSTOOL ··-· --- --- - ··· - --- --- ·-··
FRESHENED ··-· ·-· · ··· ···· · -· · -··
INCIDENCE ·· -· -·-· ·· -·· · -· -·-· ·
SATURATES ··· ·- - ··- ·-· ·- - · ···
SIDELINES ··· ·· -·· · ·-·· ·· -· · ···
INITIALLED ·· -· ·· - ·· ·- ·-·· ·-·· · -··
INTERSTICE ·· -· - · ·-· ··· - ·· -·-· ·
RESEARCHER ·-· · ··· · ·- ·-· -·-· ···· · ·-·
WINTERTIME ·-- ·· -· - · ·-· - ·· -- ·
ANTIQUATING ·- -· - ·· --·- ··- ·- - ·· -· --·
INTERPRETED ·· -· - · ·-· ·--· ·-· · - · -··
PROTECTORATE ·--· ·-· --- - · -·-· - --- ·-· ·- - ·
INTRANSIGENCE ·· -· - ·-· ·- -· ··· ·· --· · -· -·-· ·

He notes that, perhaps fittingly, the word with the longest run of dots is OBSESSIVE, with 18: --- -··· ··· · ··· ··· ·· ···- ·

In a Word

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

bedrabble
v. to make wet and dirty with rain and mud

Our change climatic
We think acrobatic
And sigh for a land that is better —
But the German will say,
In a very dry way,
That the weather with him is still Wetter.

— J.R. Joy, Yale Record, 1899

Misc

  • Seattle is closer to Finland than to England.
  • Is a candle flame alive?
  • ABANDON is an anagram of A AND NO B.
  • tan-1(1) + tan-1(2) + tan-1(3) = π
  • “A thing is a hole in a thing it is not.” — Carl Andre

Detractors of Massachusetts governor Endicott Peabody said that three of the state’s towns had been named for him: Peabody, Marblehead, and Athol.

In a Word

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:%C5%9Alewi%C5%84ski_W%C5%82adys%C5%82aw,_Czesz%C4%85ca_si%C4%99,_1897.jpg

auricomous
adj. golden-haired

flavicomous
adj. having yellow hair

melanocomous
adj. black-haired

lissotrichous
adj. having smooth hair

cymotrichous
adj. having wavy hair

crinicultural
adj. caring for the condition or appearance of the hair

floricomous
adj. having the head adorned with flowers

Punctual

Ernest Hemingway published this “blank verse” in his high school literary magazine in 1916:

hemingway blank verse

Get it? David Morice followed up with this “punctuation poem” in Word Ways in February 2012:

% , & —
+ . ? /
” :
% ;
+ $ [ \

It’s a limerick:

Percent comma ampersand dash
Plus period question mark slash
Quotation mark colon
Percent semicolon
Plus dollar sign bracket backslash

(Thanks, Volodymyr.)

Isomorses

LEG and RUN share the same “bit” pattern in Morse code:

·-·· · --·

·-· ··- -·

So do EARN and URN (which are also homophones):

· ·- ·-· -·

··- ·-· -·

(Discovered by Philip Cohen.)

UPDATE: Reader Dave Lawrence wrote a script to find more of these. He found 2,900, including these highlights:

TEMPT YAK
ATTIC JINN
SUAVE SINNER

KILL TRUSTEE
NIACIN BANNER
CONVEX COBALT

DRAIN NINETEEN
WOMEN JOKE
OMELETS TODDLE

ENZYME APRON
GOAT MEOW
EMINENT PAINT

ABSINTHE PHIALS
NIPPLE BANANAS
LEFTIE LEFTS

CONTENT COCK
DOTTY TUMMY
PAPER WINGER

EERIEST VISIT
GENUINE GAVEL
WETTEST ANGST

SPEED SATIRE
REUNITE LEPER
COW COAT

CINDER CURVE
FUNK ELEMENT
THOSE BAGS

DELIVER BLISTER
CAUSES CRASH
DEFENSIVE THRASHER

SKIN STAIN
CHIMNEY CHUTNEY
SOME VOTE

PESKIER WHALER
RANDY REMEDY
ESTEEMED SAUCE

MANGO TYPO
TEXTUAL CANARD
INANE FEZ

REEXAMINE ASTEROID
DEFILE BIBLE
MILKMEN MIRROR

BEAT THAT
NEAREST DENTIST
GRANDER GREMLIN

TIGER TUNER
SUCH HANDS
INDEXED URINAL

TICKLED NECTARINE
JACK ATTACK
GREENISH GLASSES

BEBOP DUSTMAN
PATIENCE WIZARD
DRAMA NINJA

BAROQUE BAROMETER
NEURON BARON
NEUTRON BACON

DISK THEFT
PAMPAS PEOPLE
TROIKA COURT

COLLIE TROLLS
MINISCULE MINISKIRTS
MATTED GORE

INSULIN INHALER
MEETING GETUP
SELF SERVE

KITTEN CAKE
TRUTH CUBE
CHAP TENSING

PELICAN ABDICATE
KALE TARTS
TROUSER COUSIN

VAST STREET
DISTORTED DIVORCE
BRUNETTE DELEGATE

F*CKED ELEMENTAL
MAIZE GNATS
SPOUSE SWATTERS

FIRMS INVADE
CHIEF KISSER
SWITCH SPACES

THREE NESTS
INVERTING FIRETRAP
MOUSE OTTERS

ANALYZE PARROTS
AIMLESS RETCHES
RAWHIDE RAPISTS

MINIMAL GLANCE
PRIESTS PRESIDE
INBRED INTESTINE

GUFFAW MILDLY
MIDDAY GRAVY
WONDER AMOEBAE

PALE AXLE
WHISKEY EMISSARY
CAGED CAMEL

MINTIER GENDER
QUEER MAIDEN
ASTERISK AIRLIFT

SACRED SEQUEL
ESPIED SEABED
MAIM GNAT

TURNIP TURBAN
NIGHTIE NIGHTS

DO IT NOW

ArnoldC, a language devised by Finnish computer programmer Lauri Hartikka, assigns programming functions to catch phrases from Arnold Schwarzenegger movies. Some keywords:

False: I LIED

True: NO PROBLEMO

If: BECAUSE I’M GOING TO SAY PLEASE

Else: BULLSHIT

EndIf: YOU HAVE NO RESPECT FOR LOGIC

While: STICK AROUND

EndWhile: CHILL

MultiplicationOperator: YOU’RE FIRED

DivisionOperator: HE HAD TO SPLIT

EqualTo: YOU ARE NOT YOU YOU ARE ME

GreaterThan: LET OFF SOME STEAM BENNET

Or: CONSIDER THAT A DIVORCE

And: KNOCK KNOCK

DeclareMethod: LISTEN TO ME VERY CAREFULLY

MethodArguments: I NEED YOUR CLOTHES YOUR BOOTS AND YOUR MOTORCYCLE

Return: I’LL BE BACK

EndMethodDeclaration: HASTA LA VISTA, BABY

AssignVariableFromMethodCall: GET YOUR ASS TO MARS

ReadInteger: I WANT TO ASK YOU A BUNCH OF QUESTIONS AND I WANT TO HAVE THEM ANSWERED IMMEDIATELY

AssignVariable: GET TO THE CHOPPER

SetValue: HERE IS MY INVITATION

EndAssignVariable: ENOUGH TALK

ParseError: WHAT THE FUCK DID I DO WRONG

This program prints the string “hello world”:

IT'S SHOWTIME
TALK TO THE HAND "hello world"
YOU HAVE BEEN TERMINATED

More on GitHub.

In a Word

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Marooned_(close_up).jpg

naufrague
n. a shipwrecked person

In a Word

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Lucas_Cranach_d.%C3%84._-_Alter_Mann_und_junge_Dirnen.jpg

meretriculate
v. to deceive in the manner of a prostitute

BOW-STREET — Eliza Merchant, a black-eyed girl, of that class of women known as ‘unfortunates,’ was charged by Garnet Comerford, a sailor, with robbing him of four sovereigns, several dollars and half-crowns, and his shoes. The tar stated that on Wednesday evening, about eight o’clock he left the house of his Captain, the honourable Mr. Duncan, at the west end of town, intending to pay a visit to a sister, whom he had not seen since he left England in the Seringapatem. On the way, he met as tight a looking frigate as ever he clapt his eyes on. She hoisted friendly colours; he hove to; and they agreed together to steer into port. They sailed up the Strand, when she said she would tow him to a snug berth, and he should share her hammock for the night. He consented; and when he awoke in the morning he found that she had cut and run. His rigging had been thrown all about the room, his four sovereigns and silver, and shoes were carried off.

The Morning Chronicle, Dec. 8, 1828

Lettershifts

ETCH-PENS lettershift

When the letters in ETCH are advanced uniformly through the alphabet, they produce PENS. Likewise FUSION produces LAYOUT, INKIER produces PURPLY, SLEEP produces BUNNY, and HOTEL produces OVALS. The same technique produces the phrases SAD BEING EMPTY and MY DREAM MAN:

SAD-BEING-EMPTY lettershift

MY-DREAM-MAN lettershift

This must mean something.

The Hidden Psalm

The final movement on John Coltrane’s 1965 album A Love Supreme is a “musical narration” of a devotional poem that Coltrane included in the album’s liner notes — he put the handwritten poem on a music stand and “played” it as if it were music.

“Coltrane’s hushed delivery sounds deliberately speechlike,” write Ashley Kahn in his 2003 history of the album. “He hangs on to the ends of phrases, repeats them as if for emphasis. He is in fact ‘reading’ through his horn.”

The hidden psalm was marked by New York musicians for decades before Rutgers University musicologist Lewis Porter presented a formal analysis to the American Musicological Society in 1980. “You will find that he plays right to the final ‘Amen’ and then finishes,” he writes in his 1997 biography of the saxophonist. “There are no extra notes up to that point. You will have to make a few adjustments in the poem, however: Near the beginning where it reads, ‘Help us resolve our fears and weaknesses,’ he skips the next line, goes on to ‘In you all things are possible,’ then plays ‘Thank you God’ … towards the end he leaves out ‘I have seen God.'”

“I think music can make the world better and, if I’m qualified, I want to do it,” Coltrane had said. “I’d like to point out to people the divine in a musical language that transcends words. I want to speak to their souls.”

(Thanks, Jeff.)

Ersatz English

The lyrics in Italian singer Adriano Celentano’s 1972 single “Prisencolinensinainciusol” sound like American English, but they’re gibberish.

“Ever since I started singing, I was very influenced by American music and everything Americans did,” he told NPR in 2014. “So at a certain point, because I like American slang — which, for a singer, is much easier to sing than Italian — I thought that I would write a song which would only have as its theme the inability to communicate. And to do this, I had to write a song where the lyrics didn’t mean anything.”

It reached number 4 on the Belgian charts in 1973.

In a Word

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Jacob_J_Lew_Signature.svg

chirography
n. one’s own handwriting or autograph; a style or character of writing

What is this? It’s the signature of Treasury Secretary Jack Lew. When Lew was nominated for the post in January 2013, it threatened to appear on all U.S. paper currency for the duration of his tenure.

Barack Obama said, “Jack assures me that he is going to work to make at least one letter legible in order not to debase our currency, should he be confirmed as secretary of the Treasury.” He did so — the current signature is below.

Lew’s predecessor, Timothy Geithner, had a similarly incomprehensible signature and produced a more legible version for the currency. “I took handwriting in the third grade in New Delhi, India,” he said, “so I probably did not get the best instruction on handwriting.”

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

In a Word

paralian
n. one who lives near the sea

ultramontane
adj. one who lives beyond mountains

pedionomite
n. an inhabitant of a plain, a dweller in a plain

interamnian
adj. lying between rivers

Snowball Numbers

What’s unusual about the number 313,340,350,000,000,000,499? Its English name, THREE HUNDRED THIRTEEN QUINTILLION THREE HUNDRED FORTY QUADRILLION THREE HUNDRED FIFTY TRILLION FOUR HUNDRED NINETY-NINE, contains these letter counts:

snowball numbers 1

This makes the name a perfect “snowball,” in the language of wordplay enthusiasts. In exploring this phenomenon for the November 2012 issue of Word Ways, Eric Harshbarger and Mike Keith found hundreds of thousands of solutions among very large numbers, but the example above is “shockingly small compared to all other known SH [snowball histogram] numbers,” they write. “It seems very likely that this is the smallest SH number of any order, but a proof of this fact, even with computer assistance, seems difficult.”

Two other pretty findings from their article:

224,000,000,000,525,535, or TWO HUNDRED TWENTY-FOUR QUADRILLION FIVE HUNDRED TWENTY-FIVE THOUSAND FIVE HUNDRED THIRTY-FIVE, produces a “growing/melting” snowball:

snowball numbers 2

And 520,636,000,000,757,000, or FIVE HUNDRED TWENTY QUADRILLION SIX HUNDRED THIRTY-SIX TRILLION SEVEN HUNDRED FIFTY-SEVEN THOUSAND, produces the first 18 digits of π:

snowball numbers 3

“This idea can also be applied to arbitrary text, not just number names,” they write. “Can you find a sentence in Moby Dick or Pride and Prejudice whose letter distribution is a snowball or is interesting in some other way? Such possibilities are left for future consideration.”

(Eric Harshbarger and Mike Keith, “Number Names With a Snowball Letter Distribution,” Word Ways, November 2012.)

In a Word

sesquialteral
adj. half again as large

improcerous
adj. not tall

Born in 1915, giant Henry M. Mullins partnered with Tommy Lowe and little Stanley Rosinski to form the vaudeville act Lowe, Hite and Stanley. Of Mullins, who stood 7’6-3/4″ and weighed 280 pounds, doctor Charles D. Humberd said, “It is indeed amazing to watch so vast a personage doing a whirlwind acrobatic act. … He dances, fast and furiously, and engages in a comedy knock-about ‘business’ that would be found strenuous by any trained ‘Physical culturist.’ … He is alert, intelligent, well read, affable and friendly.” The act continued until Rosinski’s death in 1962.

In a Word

advolution
n. a rolling toward

“The ball was my idea,” said Steven Spielberg of the boulder that threatens Indiana Jones at the start of Raiders of the Lost Ark. “I don’t even know where I came up with it — it might have been deeply in my subconscious from something I saw when I was a kid — but I just said, ‘You know, at some point some huge boulder should start chasing Indy, and it almost squashes him three or four times until he gets out of the cave.'”

The scene was shot 10 times, with the crew replacing fallen stalactites each time. “I didn’t know it was gonna look as good as it did until the day [production designer] Norman Reynolds showed me that he had actually made a boulder that was something like 22 feet in circumference,” Spielberg said. “So I didn’t have Harrison step in the shot until I was completely convinced it was safe. Once we’d rehearsed it several times with a stuntman, Harrison did every shot himself.”

When Spielberg, George Lucas, and screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan had met in January 1978 to brainstorm ideas, it was quickly clear that Lucas already had an articulate vision of the story. At one point Kasdan asked Lucas why he didn’t direct the film himself. He said, “Because then I’d never get to see it.”

(From J.W. Rinzler, The Complete Making of Indiana Jones, 2008.)

English by Degrees

In his landmark paper “A Mathematical Theory of Communication,” Claude Shannon experimented with a series of stochastic approximations to English. He started with a sample message in which each of the 26 letters and the space appear with equal probability:

XFOML RXKHRJFFJUJ ZLPWCFWKCYJ FFJEYVKCQSGHYD QPAAMKBZAACIBZLHJQD.

In the next message, the symbols’ frequencies are weighted according to how commonly they appear in English text (for example, E is more likely than W):

OCRO HLI RGWR NMIELWIS EU LL NBNESEBYA TH EEI ALHENHTTPA OOBTTVA NAH BRL.

In the third he linked each letter to its predecessor: After one letter is recorded, the next is chosen in a manner weighted according to how frequently such a pair appears in natural English (a “digram”):

ON IE ANTSOUTINYS ARE T INCTORE ST BE S DEAMY ACHIN D ILONASIVE TUCOOWE AT TEASONARE FUSO TIZIN ANDY TOBE SEACE CTISBE.

In the fourth he applied the same idea to sets of three letters (“trigrams”):

IN NO IST LAT WHEY CRATICT FROURE BIRS GROCID PONDENOME OF DEMONSTURES OF THE REPTAGIN IS REGOACTIONA OF CRE.

In the fifth he shifts from letters to words. Words appear in a manner weighted by their frequency in English (without regard to the prior word):

REPRESENTING AND SPEEDILY IS AN GOOD APT OR COME CAN DIFFERENT NATURAL HERE HE THE A IN CAME THE TO OF TO EXPERT GRAY COME TO FURNISHES THE LINE MESSAGE HAD BE THESE.

Finally, he applies the digram technique to words — each word is chosen based on the frequency with which pairs of words appear in English:

THE HEAD AND IN FRONTAL ATTACK ON AN ENGLISH WRITER THAT THE CHARACTER OF THIS POINT IS THEREFORE ANOTHER METHOD FOR THE LETTERS THAT THE TIME OF WHO EVER TOLD THE PROBLEM FOR AN UNEXPECTED.

Already this is starting to look like English — Shannon notes that the 10-word phrase ATTACK ON AN ENGLISH WRITER THAT THE CHARACTER OF THIS could find a home in a natural sentence without much strain.

He had to stop there, as this was 1948 and he was using paper books. “But the modern availability of computing power has made carrying out such calculations automatically a near-trivial task for reasonably-sized bodies of sample text,” writes UC-Santa Cruz computer scientist Noah Wardrip-Fruin. “As Shannon also pointed out, the stochastic processes he described are comonly considered in terms of Markov models. And, interestingly, the first application of Markov models was also linguistic and literary — modeling letter sequences in Pushkin’s poem ‘Eugene Onegin.’ But Shannon was the first to bring this mathematics to bear meaningfully on communication, and also the first to use it to perform text-generation play.”

(Noah Wardrip-Fruin, “Playable Media and Textual Instruments,” in Peter Gendolla and Jörgen Schäfer, eds., The Aesthetics of Net Literature, 2007.)