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.

Three Cheers

In 1900 Edward Elgar invited three ladies, teachers of English, French, and German, to a rehearsal of The Dream of Gerontius at a Birmingham school. They sent him this letter of thanks:

My cher Herr!

We sommes so full de Dankbarkeit and débordante Entzücken and sentons so weak et demütig that la Kraft of une Sprache seems insuffisante auszüdrücken our sentiments. Deshalb we unissons unsere powers et versuchen to express en Englisch, French, and Allemand das for que wir feel n’importe quelle Sprache to be insuffisante. Wie can nous beschreiben our accablante Freude and surprise! Wir do pas wissen which nous schützen most: notre Vergnügen to-morrow, ou die fact, que von all gens Sie thought à uns.

We sommes alle three fières und happy, et danken you de ganz our cœur.

Elgar passed it on to the Musical Times, which published it, calling its form of expression “somewhat Tower of Babelish.”

Word and Numbers

Think of a number, write down its name, and add up the values of the letters (A=1, B=2, etc.). For example:

4 -> FOUR -> F(6) + O(15) + U(21) + R(18) -> 60

80 is the smallest number that is diminished by this procedure:

80 -> EIGHTY -> E(5) + I(9) + G(7) + H(8) + T(20) + Y(25) -> 74

Curiously, it’s also the smallest such number in Spanish:

80 -> OCHENTA -> O(16) + C(3) + H(8) + E(5) + N(14) + T(21) + A(1) = 68

(Remember that Spanish uses 27 letters, with ñ in the 15th position.)

(Thanks, Claudio.)

Nothing Doing

In 1873, Lewis Carroll borrowed the travel diary of his child-friend Ella Monier-Williams, with the understanding that he would show it to no one. He returned it with this letter:

My dear Ella,

I return your book with many thanks; you will be wondering why I kept it so long. I understand, from what you said about it, that you have no idea of publishing any of it yourself, and hope you will not be annoyed at my sending three short chapters of extracts from it, to be published in The Monthly Packet. I have not given any names in full, nor put any more definite title to it than simply ‘Ella’s Diary, or The Experiences of an Oxford Professor’s Daughter, during a Month of Foreign Travel.’

I will faithfully hand over to you any money I may receive on account of it, from Miss Yonge, the editor of The Monthly Packet.

Your affect. friend,

C.L. Dodgson

Ella thought he was joking, and wrote to tell him so, but he replied:

I grieve to tell you that every word of my letter was strictly true. I will now tell you more — that Miss Yonge has not declined the MS., but she will not give more than a guinea a chapter. Will that be enough?

“This second letter succeeded in taking me in, and with childish pleasure I wrote and said I did not quite understand how it was my journal could be worth printing, but expressed my pleasure. I then received this letter:–”

My dear Ella,

I’m afraid I have hoaxed you too much. But it really was true. I ‘hoped you wouldn’t be annoyed at my etc.’ for the very good reason that I hadn’t done it. And I gave no other title than ‘Ella’s Diary,’ nor did I give that title. Miss Yonge hasn’t declined it — because she hasn’t seen it. And I need hardly explain that she hasn’t given more than three guineas!

Not for three hundred guineas would I have shown it to any one — after I had promised you I wouldn’t.

In haste,

Yours affectionately,


“Inscription at Persepolis”

From Robert Conger Pell’s Milledulcia (1857) — “It is said that the following puzzling inscription was found by Captain Barth, graven on marble, among the ruins of Persepolis, and by him translated from the Arabic into Latin and English”:

Read the words of the top row alternately with those of any of the lower rows. Thus the first sentence is “Never tell all you may know, for he who tells everything he knows often tells more than he knows.” (In the last line, sees means sees into or comprehends.)