v. to make a lady of someone
v. to leave abruptly
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.
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.”
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.)
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,
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.
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.)
v. to make naked
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.
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
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.
“I perish by my art; dig my own grave;
I spin my thread of life; my death I weave.”
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.”
adj. pertaining to chess
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
n. to pass over in favor of another
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
n. cultivation and improvement of the mind
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).
“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.”