In a Word,_Impression,_soleil_levant,_1872.jpg

adj. before dawn

“The Werewolf”,antiguo.jpg

One night an errant Werewolf fled
His wife and child and visited
A village teacher’s sepulchre
And begged him: “Conjugate me, sir!”

The village teacher then awoke
And standing on his scutcheon spoke
Thus to the beast, who made his seat
With crossed paws at the dead man’s feet:

“The Werewolf,” said that honest wight,
“The Willwolf — future, am I right?
The Wouldwolf — wolf conditional,
The Beowulf — father of them all!”

These tenses had a pleasing sound,
The Werewolf rolled his eyeballs round,
And begged him, as he’d gone so far,
Add plural to the singular.

The village teacher scratched his head;
He’d never heard of that, he said.
Though there were “wolves” in packs and swarms,
Of “were” could be no plural forms!

There werewolf rose up blind with tears
– He’s had a wife and child for years!
But being ignorant of letters
He went home thankful to his betters.

– Christian Morgenstern

In a Word

n. an inventor of words and phrases

I once had the honour of meeting a philosopher called McIndoe
Who had once had the honour of being flung out of an upstairs window.
During his flight, he said, he commenced an interesting train of speculation
On why there happened to be such a word as defenestration.

There is not, he said, a special word for being rolled down a roof into a gutter;
There is no verb to describe the action of beating a man to death with a putter;
No adjective exists to qualify a man bound to the buffer of the 12.10 to Ealing,
No abstract noun to mollify a man hung upside down by his ankles from the ceiling.

Why, then, of all the possible offences so distressing to humanitarians,
Should this one alone have caught the attention of the verbarians?
I concluded (said McIndoe) that the incidence of logodaedaly was purely adventitious.
About a thirtieth of a second later, I landed in a bush that my great-aunt brought back from Mauritius.

I am aware (he said) that defenestration is not limited to the flinging of men through the window.
On this occasion, however, it was so limited, the object defenestrated being I, the philosopher, McIndoe.

– R.P. Lister

American Notes

It must be confessed at the outset that Oshkosh is not a beautiful word. Its pronunciation is suggestive of a man struggling with a mouthful of hot mush, and to the irreverent it is a perfect rhyme to ‘gosh.’ But, on the other hand, the word has its advantages. It is an ideal word for advertising purposes. Once heard the word cannot be forgotten. Furthermore, to say that one comes from Oshkosh is in itself a mark of distinction. To be sure, few persons do come from Oshkosh. They are afraid of being made fun of, but when they do wander from the Oshkosh fireside, they attract as much attention as the pachyderm contingent of a circus parade. In a drawing-room the citizen from Oshkosh is the cynosure of all eyes, and he need fear but three rivals–the man from Kalamazoo, the man from Kokomo, and the man from Keokuk.

– Rochester Post Express, March 26, 1911

Travel Talk

Useless phrases drawn from actual phrasebooks by Swedish linguist Mikael Parkvall, from Limits of Language, 2006:

  • At what time were these branches eaten by the rhinoceros?
  • I don’t play the violin, but I love cheese.
  • I have my own syringe.
  • I had a suckling-brother, who died at the most tender age.
  • The beast had a human body, the feet of a buck, and a horn on its head.
  • Because I was out buying a pair of wooden shoes.
  • I had yams and fish for two days, and then I ate fern roots.
  • I want a specimen of your urine.
  • The corpse will be taken to Tonga.

A Chechen manual includes the phrase “Don’t shoot!”

See Enjoy Your Stay and Can You Do Without Soap?

In a Word

n. the condition of being left-handed

In a Word

adj. produced in a kitchen garden


There was a composer named Liszt,
Who from writing could never desiszt.
He made polonaises
Quite worthy of praises,
And now that he’s gone he is miszt.

There was a composer named Haydn,
The field of sonata would waydn;
He wrote the Creation,
Which made a sensation,
And this was the work which he daydn.

A modern composer named Brahms,
Caused in music the greatest of quahms.
His themes so complex
Every critic would vex,
From symphonies clear up to psahms.

An ancient musician named Gluck
The manner Italian forsuck;
He fought with Puccini,
Gave way to Rossini,
You can find all his views in his buck.

– Anonymous

Kitty Comp

I send you a small sketch, ‘A Musical Cat.’ It will be perceived that each stroke is a sign used in music, and for the benefit of the uninitiated I give this explanation: Eyes, pauses; ears and nose, accents; whiskers, crescendos; mouth, mordente, outline of head, ties; collar, staff; bells, notes; body, two phrase lines; feet, two crescendos; toes, flats and sharps; tail, two ties.

– Mr. W. Gough, in Strand, October 1906

There was a young curate of Kew
Who kept a tom cat in a pew;
He taught it to speak
Alphabetical Greek
But it never got farther than μ.

– Anonymous

In a Word

n. the art of making a difficult task appear effortless

In a Word

n. acknowledgment that one has been mistaken

In a Word

adj. rainy

v. to make wet

Abbreviated Verse

A man hired by John Smith and Co.
Loudly declared that he’d tho.
Men that he saw
Dumping dirt near his store;
The drivers, therefore, didn’t do.

There is an old cook in N.Y.
Who insists you should always st.p.
Full vainly he’s tried
To eat some that was fried,
But he says he would rather ch.c.

The sermon our pastor Rt. Rev.
Began may have had a rt. clev.,
But his talk, though consistent,
Kept the end so far distant
That we left, since we felt he mt. nev.

– Anonymous

In a Word

n. the pleasure of anticipating victory or success

Numerius Negidius

Only 43 numbers have names that lack the letter N.

One of them, fittingly, is forty-three.

Equal Opportunity,_La_bocca_mi_baci%C3%B2_tutta_tremante_(Paolo_e_Francesca),_1802,.jpg

She frowned and called him Mr.
Because in sport he Kr.
And so in spite
That very night
This Mr. Kr. Sr.

– Anonymous


  • The telephone number 266-8687 spells both AMOUNTS and CONTOUR.
  • 38856 = (38 – 85) × 6
  • CARTHORSE is an anagram of ORCHESTRA.
  • The French for paper clip is trombone.
  • “The oldest books are only just out to those who have not read them.” — Samuel Butler

In a Word

n. wisdom in talk without practice

“It is easier to be wise for others than for ourselves.” — La Rochefoucauld

In Memoriam

But no more horrible specimen of this sort of blunder was ever committed than one which is credited to a Massachusetts paper. At the close of an extended and highly eulogistic obituary notice of a deceased lawyer, the reporter desired to say that ‘the body was taken to Hull for interment, where repose the remains of other members of the family.’ By mistake the letter e was substituted for the u in Hull, changing the sense of the sentence to such a degree that no extra copies of that issue of the paper were ordered by the family of the dead lawyer.

– William Shepard Walsh, Handy-Book of Literary Curiosities, 1892

In a Word

v. to put off until the day after tomorrow



  • Tarzan’s yell is an aural palindrome.
  • CONTAMINATED is an anagram of NO ADMITTANCE.
  • The Swiss Family Robinson have no surname (“Robinson” refers to Robinson Crusoe).
  • x2 – 2999x + 2248541 produces 80 primes from x = 1460 to 1539.
  • “A great fortune is a great slavery.” — Seneca

In a Word

n. the shock felt on first plunging into cold water

Looking Out

Write out the numbers ONE through NINE and alphabetize them.

ONE appears in the center.

Do the same for ONE through NINETEEN and ONE through NINETY-NINE.

In each case, ONE remains in the center.

(Discovered by Edward Wolpow.)

In a Word

n. one who observes Lent