Alphabet Soup

Willard Fiske in the Chess Monthly, 1857:

Cherished chess! The charms of thy checkered chambers chain me changelessly. Chaplains have chanted thy charming choiceness; chieftains have changed the chariot and the chase for the chaster chivalry of the chess-board, and the cheerier charge of the chess-knights. Chaste-eyed Caissa! For thee are the chaplets of chainless charity and the chalice of childlike cheerfulness. No chilling churl, no cheating chafferer, no chattering changeling, no chanting charlatan, can be thy champion; the chivalrous, the charitable, and the cheerful, are the chosen ones thou cherishest. Chance cannot change thee: from the cradle of childhood to the charnel-house, from our first childish chirpings to the chills of the church-yard, thou art our cheery, changeless chieftainess. Chastener of the churlish, chider of the changeable, cherisher of the chagrined, the chapter of thy chiliad of charms should be chanted by cherubic chimes, and chiseled on chalcedon in cherubic chirography.

In 1974, Judge H. Sol Clark of the Georgia Court of Appeals rendered judgment thus in Banks vs. State:

“Literary license allows an avid alliterationist authority to postulate parenthetically that the predominating principles presented here may be summarized thusly: Preventing public pollution permits promiscuous perusal of personality but persistent perspicacious patron persuasively provided pertinent perdurable preponderating presumption precedent preventing prison.”

An English broadside from C. Hindley’s Curiosities of Street Literature (1871):

hindley alliterative broadside

In a Word

n. lustfulness when one is away from home

“Belagcholly Days”

Chilly Dovebber with his boadigg blast
Dow cubs add strips the beddow add the lawd,
Eved October’s suddy days are past–
Add Subber’s gawd!

I kdow dot what it is to which I cligg
That stirs to sogg add sorrow, yet I trust
That still I sigg, but as the liddets sigg–
Because I bust.

Add dow, farewell to roses add to birds,
To larded fields and tigkligg streablets eke;
Farewell to all articulated words
I faid would speak.

Farewell, by cherished strolliggs od the sward,
Greed glades add forest shades, farewell to you;
With sorrowing heart I, wretched add forlord,
Bid you–achew!!!

— Unknown, collected in Frederic Lawrence Knowles, A Treasury of Humorous Poetry, 1902

In a Word

n. “A bright appearance in the horizon, under the sun or moon, arising from the reflected light of these bodies from the small rippling waves on the surface of the water”

(Nathaniel Bowditch, The New American Practical Navigator, 1837)

Overstuffed Monograms

In 1960, Cambridge graduate Ron Hall announced a discovery he called Hall’s Law: “For any sufficiently large group of people the average number of initials possessed by members of that group is a direct measure of the predominant social class of the group.”

Hall’s computer analysis of the English aristocracy found that dukes averaged four names apiece, marquesses 3.96, earls 3.92, barons 3.53, baronets 3.49, viscounts 3.41, and knights 3.06. As modern examples he named John Selwyn Brooke Lloyd and Hugh Todd Naylor Gaitskell; those from the past included Admiral the Honorable Reginald Aylmer Ranfurly Plunket-Ernle-Erle-Drax, a commodore of convoys during World War II, and Major Tollemache-Tollemache de Orellana Plantagenet Tollemache-Tollemache, who was killed in World War I.

From across the sea, an American newspaper observed, “It would be interesting to know what the worthy major’s parents called him in his boyhood years.”


A girl who weighed many an oz.
Used language I dare not pronoz.
For a fellow unkind
Pulled her chair out behind
Just to see (so he said) if she’d boz.

There once was a young cow named Zephyr.
She seemed quite an amiable hephyr.
But the farmer came near
And she kicked off his ear,
Which made him considerably dephyr.

(Thanks, Jon.)

A guy asked two jays at St. Louis
What kind of an Indian the Souis.
They said “We’re no en-
Cyclopaedia, by hen!”
Said the guy: “If you fellows St. Whouis?”

A bright little maid in St. Thomas
Discovered a suit of pajhomas.
Said the maiden: “Well, well!
What they are I can’t tell,
But I’m sure that these garments St. Mhomas.”

— Ferdinand G. Christgau


  • Dorothy Parker named Alexander Woollcott’s apartment “Wit’s End.”
  • Can you look at something and imagine it at the same time?
  • 36850 = (36 + 8) × 50
  • AGNOSTIC is an anagram of COASTING.
  • “The errors of a man are what make him really lovable.” — Goethe

Roll Call

Yet more unusual names of real people. Most of these are from the collection of Leland Hilligoss of the St. Louis Public Library, via Paul Dickson, A Collector’s Compendium of Rare and Unusual, Bold and Beautiful, Odd and Whimsical Names (1986). “As far as can be determined, all of the names are real and almost all were collected in North America and the British Isles”:

  • Magdalena Babblejack
  • Phoebe B. Peabody Beebe
  • Sibyl Bibble
  • Christian Bible
  • Hiawatha Cathcart
  • Tensil Cheesebrew
  • Adeline Dingledine
  • W. French Dingler
  • Ed Ek
  • JoAnn Floozbonger
  • E. Vercel Fuglestad
  • Cashmere Funkhouser
  • L.E. Vontilzer Gleaves
  • Felty Goosehead
  • Icy Macy Hoober
  • Zola G. Hooberry
  • Square Horn Jr.
  • Birdie T. Hospital
  • Elizabeth Hogg Ironmonger
  • Mingtoy Johnson
  • Epluribus Kitchen
  • Varnard P. Longhibler
  • Channing Manning
  • Duel Maroon
  • Luch V. Moga
  • Otis Muckenfuss
  • Lester Ouchmoody
  • Loveless Pelt
  • Grace Pinkapank
  • Evangelist Polite
  • Curt Puke
  • Burger Rocket
  • Melon Roof
  • Goolsby Scroggins
  • Norval Sleed
  • Craven Tart
  • Eloise Tittlekitty
  • Kong Vang
  • Gwendolyne Winklepleck
  • Clifteen Wooters


When Marshall Bean left the Army in 1965 after eight years’ service, he inverted his name to avoid his creditors. His new driver’s license and Social Security card read Naeb Llahsram.

Unfortunately, this fooled the Army, too, which drafted him back again in 1966. It took him more than a year to convince them he’d already served.

“All this is his own fault,” an Army spokesman told the Associated Press. “It would not have happened in the first place if he hadn’t spelled his name backwards.”

In a Word

adj. agreeably persuasive

Jurist Diction

Onomasticist Elsdon Coles Smith keeps a file on unfortunately named law firms. His list includes Ketcham & Cheatham in New York, Wind & Wind in Chicago, Ruff & Ready in Miami, and Dilly, Dally, Doolittle & Stahl in Akron.

Novelist Paul Auster insists he encountered an Irish firm called Argue & Phibbs. (“This is a true story. If there are those who doubt me, I challenge them to visit Sligo and see for themselves if I have made it up or not.”)

And Lyle Bland’s lawyers, in Thomas Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow, are Salitieri, Poore, Nash, DeBrutus & Short.

“The Wonderful Letters O U G H”

If your first line ends with cow,
Rhyme o w with plough;
Should your second nicely go,
Seek o long, as found in though;
Thirdly, would you try this too,
Double o is found in through;
Fourth, a variance we are taught,
Like an a u is heard in thought;
Speak you, fifthly, of a sorrow,
Give the o obscure in borough;
In the sixth place, you may pick up
Sound of u p in a hiccough;
Turn your seventh couplet off,
Assuming o f as in cough;
Eighthly, sing you of a rock,
Echo c k with a lough;
Ninth and last, and quantum suff,
Sound u f, and cry,–enough!

— I.J. Reeve, in The Wild Garland; or, Curiosities of Poetry, 1865

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