Language

In a Word

monomachy
n. a duel

In 1842, Abraham Lincoln, then an Illinois lawyer, published a letter in a Springfield newspaper criticizing the performance of the state’s auditor, James Shields. Shields, quick to anger, challenged Lincoln to a duel, and the two met on an island in the Mississippi River. As the challenged party, Lincoln was permitted to choose the weapon, and he requested long cavalry broadswords. As he stood 7 inches taller than Shields, this gave him an enormous advantage, which he demonstrated by cutting a branch above Shields’ head. Accounts differ as to how the auditor responded — he either laughed or quailed — but the two agreed not to fight. Lincoln appears to have been embarrassed by the whole affair, and declined to discuss it in later years.

(Thanks, Aric.)

In a Word

philonoist
n. a lover of knowledge

inscient
n. ignorant; lacking knowledge

philalethist
n. a lover of the truth

“Have the courage to be ignorant of a great number of things, in order to avoid the calamity of being ignorant of everything.” — Sydney Smith

From a letter from Ben Franklin to John Lining of South Carolina, March 18, 1755:

I find a frank acknowledgment of one’s ignorance is not only the easiest way to get rid of a difficulty, but the likeliest way to obtain information, and therefore I practice it: I think it an honest policy. Those who affect to be thought to know every thing, and so undertake to explain every thing, often remain long ignorant of many things that others could and would instruct them in, if they appeared less conceited.

You Rang?

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

Write out the phrase “expect the devil.”

Extract the Roman numerals: eXpeCt the DeVIL

Add these: D (500) + C (100) + L (50) + X (10) + V (5) + I (1)

The total is 666.

In a Word

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Kreul_Krankenbesuch_1832.jpg

lectual
adj. confining to the bed (“a lectual disease”)

bechic
n. a cough medicine

lambitive
n. a medicine to be licked, such as a cough drop

In a Word

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Wuchzenhofen_Pfarrkirche_Chor_Fenster_rechts_3.jpg

nullipara
n. a childless woman

vagitus
n. a newborn child’s cry

deiparous
adj. giving birth to a god

Leave-Taking

http://www.sxc.hu/photo/1430845

In 1964 Canadian writer Graeme Gibson bought a parrot in Mexico. The bird, which Gibson named Harold Wilson, was bright and affectionate at first, but he seemed to grow lonely in the dark Canadian winter, so in the spring Gibson made arrangements to donate him to the Toronto Zoo. At the aviary Gibson carried Harold into the cage that had been prepared for him, placed him on a perch, said his goodbyes, and turned to go.

“Then Harold did something that astonished me. For the very first time, and in exactly the voice my kids might have used, he called out ‘Daddy!’ When I turned to look at him he was leaning towards me expectantly. ‘Daddy’, he repeated.

“I don’t remember what I said to him. Something about him being happier there, that he’d soon make friends. The kind of things you say to kids when you abandon them at camp. But outside the aviary I could still hear him calling ‘Daddy! Daddy!’ as we walked away. I was shattered to discover that Harold knew my name, and that he did so because he’d identified himself with my children.

“I now believe he’d known it all along, but was using it — for the first time — out of desperation. Both Konrad Lorenz and Bernd Heinrich mention instances of birds calling out the private names of intimates when threatened by serious danger. I am no longer surprised by such information. We think of our captive birds as our pets, but perhaps we are theirs as well.”

(From Gibson’s Perpetual Motion, 1982.)

In a Word

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Filloeul_the023251.jpg

theic
n. one addicted to immoderate tea-drinking

Nicknames

Incontrovertibly the greatest nickname in history is The Snodgering Blee, Charles Dickens’ name for his eldest son, Charley. Some further inventive handles:

  • Thorpedo – Australian swimmer Ian Thorpe
  • Bathing Towel – Robert Baden-Powell
  • “Chariots” – English former rugby league and rugby union footballer Martin Offiah
  • “Singing” – Spanish cyclist Miguel Indurain
  • Attila the Hen – Margaret Thatcher
  • The Prince of Whales – George, Prince of Wales, later George IV (Leigh Hunt was sent to prison for calling him “a corpulent man of fifty”)
  • The Lizard of Oz – former Australian prime minister Paul Keating, after putting his arm around the queen in 1992
  • The Ambling Alp – Italian boxer Primo Carnera (6’5″, 260 lbs.)
  • Starvation Dundas – British Tory politician Henry Dundas, who said in a 1775 debate that he was “afraid” that a bruited famine in the American colonies “would not be produced” by a trade-restricting bill

The Doubleday publishing company was founded in 1897 by Frank Nelson Doubleday, whose initials inevitably led Rudyard Kipling to dub him “effendi.” In Ogden Nash, Douglas M. Parker says this was “a nickname he would carry for his entire career.”

In a Word

desticate
v. to squeak like a rat

latrate
v. to bark like a dog

curkle
v. to cry like a quail

barr
v. to utter an elephant’s cry

frantling
n. the noise made by peacocks

“When did the world begin and how?”
I asked a lamb, a goat, a cow:
“What’s it all about and why?”
I asked a hog as he went by:
“Where will the whole thing end and when?”
I asked a duck, a goose, a hen:
And I copied all the answers too,
A quack, a honk, an oink, a moo.

— Robert Clairmont

Misc

  • What time is it at the North Pole?
  • The shortest three-syllable word in English is W.
  • After the revolution, the French frigate Carmagnole used a guillotine as its figurehead.
  • 823502 + 381252 = 8235038125
  • PRICES: CRIPES!
  • “Conceal a flaw, and the world will imagine the worst.” — Martial

When Montenegro declared independence from Yugoslavia, its top-level domain changed from .yu to .me.