In a Word

n. one who fights over words

Scales of Silver

The president of New York’s Tradesman’s Bank in 1829 was named Preserved Fish. The Fishes were a well-established New England family, and Preserved was a Quaker name that meant “preserved in a state of grace” or “preserved from sin.”

“The story that Preserved Fish was picked up on the shore of the ocean when a child, and named Preserved in consequence, is pure fiction,” reads a rather humorless 1890 history of the New York Chamber of Commerce. “His father’s name was Preserved, and it is highly probable that the same name was given to the son, in order to perpetuate it in the family.”

On Target

Write out the names of the natural numbers in English: ONE, TWO, THREE, FOUR, etc.

1 contains the first O, the first N, and the first E.
2 contains the second O.
3 contains the third E.


11 contains the 11th E (onE two thrEE four fivE six sEvEn Eight ninE tEn ElEvEn).
24 contains the 24th T.
29 contains the 29th N.
31 contains the 31st N.
109 contains the 109th N.
199 contains the 199th D.
251 contains the 251st O.
454 contains the 454th U.
559 contains the 559th I.
1174 contains the 1174th O.
1716 contains the 1716th S.
5557 contains the 5557th F.
6957 contains the 6957th F.
15756 contains the 15756th F.
17155 contains the 17155th F.
24999 contains the 24999th Y.
43569 contains the 43569th F.
735759 contains the 735759th V.
1105807 contains the 1105807th V.
1107785 contains the 1107785th V.
1584504 contains the 1584504th V.
1707941 contains the 1707941st V.
1921567 contains the 1921567th L.

(Thanks, Claudio.)

Officer Material

Three privates in the Army Air Forces caused some confusion when they showed up at the advanced flying school at Mather Field in California in 1942.

Their names were Admiral C. Allen, General Rudolph Merriweather, and Lieutenant Garnes. (Berkeley Daily Gazette, Oct. 8, 1942)

General L. Phillips and Lieutenant Tisdale were inducted into the Army (as privates) in Knoxville, Tenn., in 1952. (Lubbock Evening Journal, March 20, 1952)

“Private Colonel Underwood found it convenient to drop the title when requesting hotel reservations while on leave,” wrote Elsdon Coles Smith in The Story of Our Names (1970). “He would say, ‘This is Colonel Underwood speaking.’ It usually worked.”

Words and Numbers

There are only six integers between 1 and 1,000,000 whose English names contain six letters: ELEVEN, TWELVE, TWENTY, THIRTY, EIGHTY, and NINETY.

As it happens, the same is true in Spanish: CUATRO (4), QUINCE (15), VEINTE (20), MIL UNO (1,001), MIL DOS (1,002), and DOS MIL (2,000).

(Thanks, Claudio.)


When you think of the hosts without no.
Who are slain by the deadly cuco.,
It’s quite a mistake
Of such food to partake,
It results in a permanent slo.

A young lady sings in our choir
Whose hair is the color of phoir,
But her charm is unique,
She has such a fair chique,
It is really a joy to be nhoir.

There once was a choleric colonel
Whose oaths were obscene and infolonel,
And the chaplain, aghast,
Gave up protest at last,
But wrote them all down in his jolonel.

— Anonymous

In a Word

n. an unexpected repercussion


  • Connecticut didn’t ratify the Bill of Rights until 1939.
  • Can one pity a fictional character?
  • 64550 = (64 – 5) × 50
  • BILLOWY is in alphabetical order, WRONGED in reverse.
  • “The essence of chess is thinking about the essence of chess.” — David Bronstein

Sentences as Names

According to the American Mercury, a candidate for the postmastership at Oceana, W.Va., in 1954 was named Please Wright.

Elsdon C. Smith, in The Story of Our Names (1970), reports that a Chinese laundryman in Thomasville, Ga., was named I Will Sing; that Chicago was home to one Christmas Hurts; and that Mr. and Mrs. James A. Buck of Clear Lake, Iowa, named their daughter Helen May.

Victor Fell Yellin taught music composition at New York University in 1961.

Smith notes that a Mr. and Mrs. Ira W. Ready of Nebraska named their son Ira Maynard; he used his initials only, as did his uncles, B. Ready and R.U. Ready.

In a Word

n. a person of wide learning

Fine Pleading

From a letter from Thomas Sheridan to Jonathan Swift, July 15, 1735:

I cum here formo ni. Itis apparent I canta ve mi mærent, mi tenentis tardi. I cursim e veri de nota pen cani res. I ambit. Mi stomachis a cor morante ver re ad ito digesta me ale in a minute. I eat nolam, noram, no dux. I generali eat a quale carbone dedat super an da qualis as fine abit as arabit. I es ter de I eat atro ut at a bit. De vilis in mi a petite. A crustis mi de lite. (I neu Eumenides ago eat tuenti times more.) As unde I eat offa buccas fatas mi arsis. On nam unde I eat sum pes. A tu es de I eat a pud in migra num edit. A venis de I eat sum pasti. Post de notabit. Afri de abit ab re ad. A satur de sum tripes.

That ain’t Latin. What is it?

I come here for money. It is apparent I can’t have my May rent, my tenant is tardy. I curse him every day, not a penny can I raise. I am bit. My stomach is a cormorant, ever ready to digest a meal every minute. I eat no lamb, no ram, no ducks. I generally eat a quail carbonaded at supper, and a quail is as fine a bit as a rabbit. Yesterday I ate a trout at a bit. Devil is in my appetite. A crust is my delight. (I knew you, many days ago, eat twenty times more.) A Sunday I eat of a buck as fat as my arse is. On a Monday I eat some peas. A Tuesday I eat a pudding; my grannum made it. A Wednesday I eat some pasty. Post day not a bit. A Friday a bit of bread. A Saturday some tripes.

“Not a day passed that he did not make a rebus, an anagram, or a madrigal,” wrote William Fraser Rae of Sheridan in the Dictionary of National Biography. “Idle, poor, and gay, he managed his own affairs badly, and he justly wrote of himself, ‘I am famous for giving the best advice and following the worst.'”

In a Word

v. to put under obligation

Speaking Terms

Indiana University anthropologist Daniel Suslak is compiling a dictionary of Ayapaneco, an indigenous language of Mexico that has only two remaining fluent speakers.

Unfortunately, the two aren’t speaking to each other.

Manuel Segovia, 75, and Isidro Velazquez, 69, live 500 meters apart in the southern state of Tabasco, but “they don’t have a lot in common,” Suslak told the Guardian in April. Segovia can be “a little prickly,” and Velazquez is “more stoic” and rarely leaves his home.

Without their cooperation, Ayapaneco may die out altogether. “When I was a boy everybody spoke it,” Segovia said. “It’s disappeared little by little, and now I suppose it might die with me.”

(Thanks, Sharon.)

Sound Choices

Bertrand Russell’s 20 favorite words, given in response to a reader’s inquiry in 1958:

  • wind
  • heath
  • golden
  • begrime
  • pilgrim
  • quagmire
  • diapason
  • alabaster
  • chrysoprase
  • astrolabe
  • apocalyptic
  • ineluctable
  • terraqueous
  • inspissated
  • incarnadine
  • sublunary
  • chorasmean
  • alembic
  • fulminate
  • ecstacy

These are notable, I think, because it appears he wasn’t influenced by meaning.

Borrowed Blessing

“Webster’s” means nothing. The word entered the public domain when the copyright lapsed on Noah Webster’s original dictionary in the 19th century. The name still conveys authority, though, so it’s become a marketing ploy among dictionary publishers, who display it even on books that have no connection to Webster’s original work. You can, too, if you like.


  • No bishop appears in Through the Looking-Glass.
  • Can a law compel us to obey the law?
  • 98415 = 98-4 × 15
  • Why does the ghost haunt Hamlet rather than Claudius?
  • “Put me down as an anti-climb Max.” — Max Beerbohm, declining to hike to the top of a Swiss Alp

In a Word

n. the endurance of suffering

adj. capable of being endured

n. patient endurance of hardship

In Memoriam

Speaking of unfortunate names …

From Cedar Grove Cemetery, Patchogue, N.Y.

“People always grow up like their names,” wrote George Orwell. “It took me nearly thirty years to work off the effects of being called Eric.”

(Thanks, Neil.)

Signature Style

In the 1940s, newspaper columnist E.V. Durling founded the My-Name-Is-A-Poem Club. Members included:

  • Hugh Blue, president
  • Jesse Lesse, Boston
  • Merry Berry, Chicago
  • Max Wax, Chicago
  • Hollie Jolley, San Bernardino, Calif.
  • Della Stella Serritella, Chicago
  • Jane Cane, Wheaton, Ill.
  • Newton Hooton, Cambridge, Mass.
  • Kenny Tenny and his daughter Penny, San Francisco
  • Dick Vick and his son Dick Jr., San Diego
  • Trudy Moody, Newburgh, N.Y.

Durling said his favorites were Nancy Clancy and Truly Dooley.

Here are a few more odd personal names, these from Elsdon Coles Smith’s Treasury of Name Lore (1967), “all names of real persons”:

  • Original Bug
  • Ephraim Very Ott
  • Gladys Whysoglad
  • Park A. Carr
  • Fairy Duck
  • Vito d’Incognito
  • North Western
  • Napoleon N. Waterloo
  • Tressanela Noosepickle
  • Osbel Irizarry
  • Athelstan Spilhaus
  • Weikko Tinklepaugh
  • Twilladeen Hubkapiller

According to Smith, Canadian broadcaster Clyde Gilmour founded the Society for the Verification and Enjoyment of Fascinating Names of Actual Persons (SVEFNAP) while working for the Toronto Telegraph. Gilmour died in 1997, though, I think, and I can’t find any record that the society survived. If you know otherwise, please let me know.

Point of Information

Sexauer is an ordinary German name referring to one who came from Sexau, in Germany. Looking for a Mr. Sexauer, a man in Washington called at the Senate Interstate and Foreign Commerce Committee. Helping him, a girl employee called the Banking and Currency Committee by telephone to check, and inquired politely, ‘Do you have a Sexauer over there?’

‘Listen,’ the girl switchboard operator snapped, ‘We don’t even have a ten-minute coffee break anymore.’

— Elsdon C. Smith, Treasury of Name Lore, 1967

Classical Works

In 1989, the Finnish news service Nuntii Latini began broadcasting the news in Latin.

Not to be outdone, in 1995 Finnish literature professor Jukka Ammondt recorded an album of Elvis songs sung in Latin. It includes Nunc Hic Aut Numquam (“It’s Now or Never”), Non Adamare Non Possum (“Can’t Help Falling in Love”), Cor Ligneum (“Wooden Heart”), and Tenere Me Ama (“Love Me Tender”).

“Two years later,” writes linguist Mikael Parkvall, “he followed up the success with the album Rocking in Latin, featuring classics such as Quate, Crepa, Rota (better known as ‘Shake, Rattle and Roll’).”

Lewis Carroll’s uncle Hassard Dodgson rendered one of his nephew’s poems into Latin elegiacs. Do you recognize it?

Hora aderat briligi. Nunc et Slythæia Tova
Plurima gyrabant gymbolitare vabo;
Et Borogovorum mimzebant undique formae,
Momiferique omnes exgrabuêre Rathi.

“Cave, Gaberbocchum moneo tibi, nate cavendum
(Unguibus ille rapit. Dentibus ille necat.)
Et fuge Jubbubbum, quo non infestior ales,
Et Bandersnatcham, quae fremit usque, cave.”

Ille autem gladium vorpalem cepit, et hostem
Manxonium longâ sedulitate petit;
Tum sub tumtummi requiescens arboris umbrâ
Stabat tranquillus, multa animo meditans.

Dum requiescebat meditans uffishia, monstrum
Praesens ecce! oculis cui fera flamma micat,
Ipse Gaberbocchus dumeta per horrida sifflans
Ibat, et horrendum burbuliabat iens!

Ter, quater, atque iterum cito vorpalissimus ensis
Snicsnaccans penitus viscera dissecuit.
Exanimum corpus linquens caput abstulit heros
Quocum galumphat multa, domumque redit.

“Tune Gaberbocchum potuisti, nate, necare?
Bemiscens, puer! ad brachia nostra veni.
Oh! frabiusce dies! iterumque caloque calâque
Laetus eo!” ut chortlet chortla superba senex.

Hora aderat briligi. Nunc et Slythæia Tova
Plurima gyrabant gymbolitare vabo;
Et Borogovorum mimzebant undique formae,
Momiferique omnes exgrabuêre Rathi.

In a Word

v. to make a lady of someone

In a Word

v. to leave abruptly

A New Man

In 1944, a San Francisco judge refused to let Tharnmidsbe L. Praghustspondgifcem change his name.

He’d asked to change it to Miswaldpornghuestficset Balstemdrigneshofwintpluasjof Wrandvaistplondqeskycrufemgeish.

The man, whose given name was Edward L. Hayes, had requested the first change in order “to do better in my business and economic affairs.” Evidently he felt he hadn’t gone far enough.