Language

QWERTYUIOP

PEPPERROOT, PEPPERWORT, PERPETUITY, PROPRIETOR, REPERTOIRE, and, pleasingly, TYPEWRITER are all typed on the top row of a standard keyboard.

ALFALFAS and FLAGFALLS are typed on the middle row.

Ill Fame

A lady who was flattered to have a rose named after her changed her mind when she saw the description of the rose in a gardener’s catalogue. Against her name it said: ‘shy in a bed but very vigorous against a wall.’

— Leslie Dunkling, The Guinness Book of Names, 1993

The Lip-Reader’s Bane

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Silkworm-moth-bombyx-cynthia.jpg

I can’t vouch for this — from I.J. Reeve, The Wild Garland (1865), “a Welsh englyn which in its four lines does not contain a single consonant”:

“On the Silkworm”

O’i wiw wy i weu ê â a’i weau
O’i wyau e weua;
E’ weua ei we aia’.
Ai weau yw ieuau iâ.

Translation:

“I perish by my art; dig my own grave;
I spin my thread of life; my death I weave.”

Table Talk

At a tavern one night,
Messrs. Moore, Strange, and Wright
Met to drink and their good thoughts exchange;
Says Moore, “Of us three,
Everyone will agree,
There’s only one knave, and that’s Strange.”

Says Strange, rather sore,
“I’m sure there’s one Moore,
A most terrible knave, and a fright,
Who cheated his mother,
His sister and brother–”
“Oh, yes,” replied Moore, “that is Wright.”

— Anonymous

In a Word

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

scacchic
adj. pertaining to chess

The Right Words

After earning a Ph.D. in linguistics, Suzette Haden Elgin invented the language Láadan for a science fiction novel. What makes the language unique is that it’s designed particularly to express the perceptions of women:

  • widazhad: to be pregnant late in term and eager for the end
  • radiídin: a non-holiday, a holiday more work that it’s worth, a time allegedly a holiday but actually so much a burden because of work and preparations that it is a dreaded occasion; especially when there are too many guests and none of them help
  • rathom: a “non-pillow,” one who lures another to trust and rely on them but has no intention of following through, a “lean on me so I can step aside and let you fall” person
  • rathóo: a non-guest, someone who comes to visit knowing perfectly well that they are intruding and causing difficulty
  • ramimelh: to refrain from asking, with evil intent; especially when it is clear that someone badly wants the other to ask
  • bala: anger with reason, with someone to blame, which is not futile
  • bina: anger with no reason, with no one to blame, which is not futile
  • ab: love for one liked but not respected
  • doóledosh: pain or loss which comes as a relief by virtue of ending the anticipation of its coming

One word that has no English equivalent is doroledim, which means “sublimation with food accompanied by guilt about that sublimation”: “Say you have an average woman. She has no control over her life. She has little or nothing in the way of a resource for being good to herself, even when it is necessary. She has family and animals and friends and associates that depend on her for sustenance of all kinds. She rarely has adequate sleep or rest; she has no time for herself, no space of her own, little or no money to buy things for herself, no opportunity to consider her own emotional needs. She is at the beck and call of others, because she has these responsibilities and obligations and does not choose to (or cannot) abandon them. For such a woman, the one and only thing she is likely to have a little control over for indulging her own self is FOOD. When such a woman overeats, the verb for that is ‘doroledim.’ (And then she feels guilty, because there are women whose children are starving and who do not have even THAT option for self-indulgence …)”

A full dictionary is here.

“Eve’s Legend”

Henry Vassall-Fox, Lord Holland, contrived this jeu d’esprit in 1824 “on reading five Spanish Novels, each omitting throughout one vowel in the alphabet, and a sixth containing one vowel only”:

Men were never perfect; yet the three brethren Veres were ever esteemed, respected, revered, even when the rest, whether the select few, whether the mere herd, were left neglected.

The eldest’s vessels seek the deep, stem the element, get pence; the keen Peter, when free, wedded Hester Green,–the slender, stern, severe, erect Hester Green. The next, clever Ned, less dependent, wedded sweet Ellen Heber. Stephen, ere he met the gentle Eve, never felt tenderness; he kept kennels, bred steeds, rested where the deer fed, went where green trees, where fresh breezes greeted sleep. There he met the meek, the gentle Eve; she tended her sheep, she ever neglected self; she never heeded pelf, yet she heeded the shepherds even less. Nevertheless, her cheek reddened when she met Stephen; yet decent reserve, meek respect, tempered her speech, even when she shewed tenderness. Stephen felt the sweet effect: he felt he erred when he fled the sex, yet felt he defenceless when Eve seemed tender. She, he reflects, never deserved neglect; she never vented spleen; he esteems her gentleness, her endless deserts; he reverences her steps; he greets her:

‘Tell me whence these meek, these gentle sheep,–whence the yet meeker, the gentler shepherdess?’

‘Well bred, we were eke better fed, ere we went where reckless men seek fleeces. There we were fleeced. Need then rendered me shepherdess, need renders me sempstress. See me tend the sheep, see me sew the wretched shreds. Eve’s need preserves the steers, preserves the sheep; Eve’s needle mends her dresses, hems her sheets; Eve feeds the geese; Eve preserves the cheese.’

Her speech melted Stephen, yet he nevertheless esteems, reveres her. He bent the knee where her feet pressed the green; he blessed, he begged, he pressed her.

‘Sweet, sweet Eve, let me wed thee; be led where Hester Green, where Ellen Heber, where the brethren Vere dwell. Free cheer greets thee there; Ellen’s glees sweeten the refreshment; there severer Hester’s decent reserve checks heedless jests. Be led there, sweet Eve!”

“Never! we well remember the Seer. We went where he dwells — we entered the cell — we begged the decree,–

Where, whenever, when, ’twere well
Eve be wedded? Eld Seer, tell.

He rendered the decree; see here the sentence decreed!” Then she presented Stephen the Seer’s decree. The verses were these:

Ere the green reed be red,
Sweet Eve, be never wed;
Ere be green the red cheek,
Never wed thee, Eve meek.

The terms perplexed Stephen, yet he jeered the terms; he resented the senseless credence, ‘Seers never err.’ Then he repented, knelt, wheedled, wept. Eve sees Stephen kneel; she relents, yet frets when she remembers the Seer’s decree. Her dress redeems her. These were the events:

Her well-kempt tresses fell; sedges, reeds, bedecked them. The reeds fell, the edges met her cheeks; her cheeks bled. She presses the green sedge where her cheek bleeds. Red then bedewed the green reed, the green reed then speckled her red cheek. The red cheek seems green, the green reed seems red. These were e’en the terms the Eld Seer decreed Stephen Vere.

Here endeth the Legend.

He added an epigraph:

Much trouble it costs to pen stories like these —
Quoth a punster, “How so? they are written with Es.”

A Man of Few Words

In 1930 linguistic psychologist Charles K. Ogden offered the world Basic English, an international language that stripped conventional English down to 850 words:

Seven and eighty years have gone by from the day when our fathers gave to this land a new nation — a nation which came to birth in the thought that all men are free, a nation given up to the idea that all men are equal.

The movement reached its greatest popularity shortly after World War II, when Ogden promoted it in support of world peace; Winston Churchill thought it might promote an empire of the pen rather than the sword. But FDR pointed out that his friend’s “blood, toil, tears, and sweat” would be reduced to “blood, work, eye water, and face water” in the language’s ruthlessly simplified vocabulary, and in 1945 the BBC suggested that Basic English be left “on a high shelf in a dark corner.” Ogden passed away 12 years later.

Fertile Country

Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, contains a group of towns whose names seem to tell a story:

Blue Ball, Bird-in-Hand, Bareville, Mount Joy, Intercourse, Paradise

In 1962, Eros magazine approached the postmasters of Blue Ball and Intercourse, saying “we have decided that it may be advantageous for our direct mail to bear the postmark of your city.” They were turned down — so they used Middlesex, N.J., instead.

Roll Call

More unusual personal names:

From John Train’s Remarkable Names of Real People (1988):

  • Ave Maria Klinkenberg
  • Gaston J. Feeblebunny
  • Humperdink Fangboner
  • Larry Derryberry
  • Mary Louise Pantzaroff
  • Norman Icenoggle
  • Primrose Goo
  • Rapid Integration
  • Verbal Funderburk

From Barbara Fletcher’s Don’t Blame the Stork (1981):

  • Bobo Yawn
  • Louise Ghostkeeper
  • Constance Stench
  • Naughtybird Curtsey
  • Rat Soup
  • Sir Dingle Foot
  • Consider Arms
  • Craspius Pounders
  • Gizella Werberzerk-Piffel
  • Barbara Savage Machinest

The most impressive specimens come from H.L. Mencken’s magisterial American Language. In 1901 Loyal Lodge No. 296 Knights of Pythias Ponca City Oklahoma Territory Smith was baptized in Ponca City, and in 1949 John Hodge Opera House Centennial Gargling Oil Samuel J. Tilden Ten Brink was interviewed for the Linguistic Atlas in upstate New York. I don’t know what he said.

All Relative

Eddie Cantor and George Jessel played on the same bill on the vaudeville circuit.

In one town Jessel noticed that the billing read EDDIE CANTOR WITH GEORGIE JESSEL.

“What kind of conjunction is that?” he asked manager Irving Mansfield. “Eddie Cantor with Georgie Jessel?” Mansfield promised to fix it.

The next day the marquee read EDDIE CANTOR BUT GEORGIE JESSEL.

In a Word

overslaugh
n. to pass over in favor of another

Singular

Why are old bachelors bad grammarians?

Because when asked to conjugate, they invariably decline.

— James Baird McClure, ed., Entertaining Anecdotes From Every Available Source, 1879

In a Word

menticulture
n. cultivation and improvement of the mind

A Better Invention

farrell mousetrap magic cube

This magic word cube was devised by Jeremiah Farrell. Each cell contains a unique three-letter English word, and when the three layers are stacked, the words in each row and column can be anagrammed to spell MOUSETRAP.

Setting O=0, A=1, U=2, M=0, R=3, S=6, P=0, E=9, and T=18 produces a numerical magic cube (for example, MAE = 0 + 1 + 9 = 10).

Unquote

“The mind is at its best when at play.” — J.L. Synge

In this spirit, Synge invented Vish (for “vicious circle”), a game designed to illustrate the hopeless circularity of dictionary definitions.

Each player is given a copy of the same dictionary. When the referee announces a word, each player writes it down and looks up its meaning. Then she chooses one word from the definition, writes that down and looks up its meaning. A player wins when the same word appears twice on her list.

The point is that any such list must eventually yield circularity — if it’s continued long enough, the number of words in the list will eventually exceed the total number of words in the dictionary, and a repetition must occur.

“Vish is no game for children,” Synge writes. “It destroys that basic confidence in the reasonableness of everything which gives to society whatever stability it possesses. To anyone who has played Vish, the dictionary is never the same again.”

In a Word

calamistrate
v. to curl the hair

Transmutation

Discovered by Zoran Radisavljevic — this set of 36 chemical elements:

HYDROGEN XENON BARIUM TANTALUM BORON PRASEODYMIUM IRIDIUM HASSIUM PLUTONIUM THALLIUM GERMANIUM SCANDIUM THULIUM EINSTEINIUM ERBIUM CADMIUM BERYLLIUM TIN ACTINIUM SEABORGIUM CARBON FLUORINE INDIUM OSMIUM NITROGEN POTASSIUM LEAD PROTACTINIUM SILICON LUTETIUM RHENIUM MERCURY ARGON NEODYMIUM PLATINUM THORIUM

… can be anagrammed into another set of 36 elements:

LANTHANUM OXYGEN TERBIUM RADON SAMARIUM DYSPROSIUM IODINE BOHRIUM ALUMINIUM CHROMIUM PALLADIUM TUNGSTEN LITHIUM CAESIUM DUBNIUM MEITNERIUM NIOBIUM YTTERBIUM GALLIUM ARSENIC IRON SODIUM NOBELIUM FRANCIUM ASTATINE STRONTIUM COPPER GADOLINIUM YTTRIUM SELENIUM CURIUM CHLORINE PROMETHIUM GOLD URANIUM ANTIMONY

UPDATE: Mike Keith discovered a “doubly true” transmutation in 1999:

HYDROGEN ZIRCONIUM TIN OXYGEN RHENIUM PLATINUM TELLURIUM TERBIUM NOBELIUM CHROMIUM IRON COBALT CARBON ALUMINUM RUTHENIUM SILICON YTTERBIUM HAFNIUM SODIUM SELENIUM CERIUM MANGANESE OSMIUM URANIUM NICKEL PRASEODYMIUM ERBIUM VANADIUM THALLIUM PLUTONIUM

… can be rearranged to spell:

NITROGEN ZINC RHODIUM HELIUM ARGON NEPTUNIUM BERYLLIUM BROMINE LUTETIUM BORON CALCIUM THORIUM NIOBIUM LANTHANUM MERCURY FLUORINE BISMUTH ACTINIUM SILVER CESIUM NEODYMIUM MAGNESIUM XENON SAMARIUM SCANDIUM EUROPIUM BERKELIUM PALLADIUM ANTIMONY THULIUM

And in this case, the equality still holds if you replace each element with its atomic number.

(Thanks, Tony.)

Noted

Christopher Morley named his cats Shall and Will, “because nobody can tell them apart.”

The End of the Road

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

The following anagram on the original name of Napoleon I, the most renowned conqueror of the age in which he lived, may claim a place among the first productions of this class, and fully shows in the transposition, the character of that extraordinary man, and points out that unfortunate occurrence of his life which ultimately proved his ruin. Thus: ‘Napoleon Bonaparte’ contains ‘No, appear not on Elba.’

— Kazlitt Arvine, Cyclopaedia of Anecdotes of Literature and the Fine Arts, 1856

Home Again

Unprepossessing English town names:

  • Bishop’s Itchington
  • Brokenborough
  • Great Snoring
  • Mockbeggar
  • Turners Puddle
  • Pett Bottom
  • Twelveheads
  • Ugley
  • Nether Wallop
  • Nasty
  • Wetwang
  • Blubberhouses
  • Yelling

Charles Dickens called the chipper-sounding Chelmsford “the dullest and most stupid spot on the face of the earth.”

In a Word

fubsy
adj. somewhat fat and squat

pyknic
adj. short and fat

Words and Numbers

The name of any integer can be transformed into a number by setting A=1, B=2, C=3, etc.: ONE = 15145, TWO = 202315, THREE = 2081855, and so on.

Because every English number name ends in D (4), E (5), L (12), N (14), O (15), R (18), T (20), X (24), or Y (25), no such transformation will produce a prime number.

But in Spanish, which uses 27 letters, both SESENTA (60) = 20520514211 and MIL SETENTA (1070) = 1391220521514211 yield primes.

(Thanks, Claudio.)

In a Word

rusticate
v. to spend time in the country