In a Word

quisquilian
adj. worthless, trivial

noncurantist
adj. marked by indifference

diversivolent
adj. desiring strife

On April 18, 1930, in place of its 6:30 p.m. radio news bulletin, the BBC announced, “Good evening. Today is Good Friday. There is no news.” It filled the time with two minutes of piano music.

In 2010 computer programmer William Tunstall-Pedoe sifted 300 million facts about “people, places, business and events” and determined that April 11, 1954, was the single most boring day in the 20th century.

He told the Telegraph, “Nobody significant died that day, no major events apparently occurred and, although a typical day in the 20th century has many notable people being born, for some reason that day had only one who might make that claim — Abdullah Atalar, a Turkish academic.

“The irony is, though, that — having done the calculation — the day is interesting for being exceptionally boring. Unless, that is, you are Abdullah Atalar.”

(Thanks, Duncan.)

Misc

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Marienkirche_in_Bergen_auf_R%C3%BCgen.jpg
Image: Wikimedia Commons
  • The clock face on the Marienkirche in Bergen auf Rügen, Germany, has 61 minutes. Does this mean time moves more slowly there — or more quickly?
  • To ensure quiet, poet Amy Lowell hired five rooms at every hotel — her own and those on either side, above, and below.
  • A perplexing sentence from a letter by Dorothy Osborne, describing shepherdesses in Bedfordshire, May 1653: “They want nothing to make them the happiest people in the world but the knowledge that they are so.”
  • OVEREFFUSIVE is a palindrome in Scrabble — its letter values are 141114411141. (Discovered by Susan Thorpe.)
  • The sum of the digits of every multiple of 2739726 up to the 72nd is 36. (E.M. Langley, Mathematical Gazette, 1896)
  • I’ll bet I have more money in my pocket than you do. (Of course I do — you have no money in my pocket!)
  • In 1996 a model airplane enthusiast was operating a remote-controlled plane in Phoenix Park in Dublin when the receiver died and the plane flew off on its own. It flew five miles to the northeast, ran out of fuel, and glided to a landing … on the taxi-way to Runway 28 at Dublin Airport.

(Thanks, Brian and Breffni.)

In a Word

toffs and toughs

fastuous
adj. haughty, arrogant, pretentious, or showy

alabandical
adj. barbarous, uncivilized

floccipend
v. to regard as insignificant or of no account

In 1937 photographer Jimmy Sime caught sight of five boys outside Lord’s Cricket Ground during the annual Eton vs. Harrow match. Peter Wagner and Tim Dyson were Harrow students awaiting a ride to the Wagners’ country home in Surrey, and George Salmon, Jack Catlin, and George Young were working-class boys who had spent the morning at the dentist and hoped to earn some money running errands at Lord’s.

Sime’s photo filled three columns of the News Chronicle‘s front page on July 10 under the headline “Every Picture Tells a Story.” It has been reprinted widely since as an illustration of the British class system, sometimes with the title Toffs and Toughs.

In 1998, journalist Geoffrey Levy tracked down Young and Salmon, then in their 70s, and asked whether they’d resented the Harrow boys. “Nah,” Young said. “We had our lives, they had theirs.” Salmon said, “In those days you accepted what you were and what they were, and got on with it.”

Me, a Name I Call Myself

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:US_Navy_030513-N-2069B-001_Students_and_faculty_from_both_Akers_and_R.J._Neutra_Elementary_Schools_aboard_the_Naval_Air_Station_Lemoore,_Calif.,_show_their_appreciation_for_the_members_of_the_U.S._military.jpg

It seems a bit arrogant that those of us in the United States refer to ourselves as “Americans” when more than half a billion other people live in the Americas. But what should we call ourselves instead?

“You have properly observed that we can no longer be called Anglo-Americans,” noted Thomas Jefferson in a letter after the Revolution. “That appellation describes now only the inhabitants of Nova Scotia, Canada, &c. I had applied that of Federo Americans to our citizens, as it would not be so decent for us to assume to ourselves the flattering appellation of free Americans.”

What’s a better term? In 1992 Columbia University etymologist Allen Walker Read compiled a list of suggestions that have been made over the years:

  • United Statesards
  • United Statesese
  • Unisians
  • United Statesians
  • Columbards
  • United Statesmen
  • United Statesers
  • Statesmen
  • Staters
  • Unistaters
  • Usarians
  • U.S. men
  • Usonians
  • Usonans
  • Ustatians
  • Uessians
  • Unessians
  • Statesiders
  • Statunitensi
  • United Stateans
  • Unistatians
  • Unitedstatians

Perhaps we’re all counterfeit: In early usage “Americans” applied not to European colonists but to the native Indians whose territory they were invading. John Locke wrote in 1671: “So if you should ask an American how old his son is, i.e., what the length of duration was between his birth and this moment, he would … tell you his son was 30 or 40 moons old as it happened.”

(Allen Walker Read, “Derivative Forms From the Name United States,” paper read at the 31st annual Names Institute sponsored by The American Name Society, Baruch College of The City University of New York, May 2, 1992.)

Head Trauma

Unfortunate newspaper headlines, collected by Robert Goralski for Press Follies, 1983:

TOWN OKS ANIMAL RULE (Asheville Citizen)
TRAVIS MAN DIES AFTER ALTERATION (Sacramento Bee)
INDIAN OCEAN TALKS (The Plain Dealer)
JUVENILE COURT TO TRY SHOOTING DEFENDANT (Deseret News)
TRAIN ROLLS 0 MILES WITH NO ONE ABOARD (New York Times)
LAWMEN FROM MEXICO BARBECUE GUESTS (San Benito [Texas] News)
FLIES TO RECEIVE NOBEL PRIZE (New York Times)
CARTER TICKS OFF BLACK HELP (San Francisco Examiner)
MAULING BY BEAR LEAVES WOMAN GRATEFUL FOR LIFE (Herald-Dispatch, Huntington, W.Va.)
SILENT TEAMSTER GETS CRUEL PUNISHMENT: LAWYER (The Home News, Brunswick, N.J.)
MANCHESTER MAN BURSTS, HALTS TRAFFIC (Hartford Times)
SKELETON TIED TO MISSING DIPLOMAT (Philadelphia Evening Bulletin)
POET DOESN’T WANT AUDIENCE OF ILLERATES (Raleigh Times)
GLASS EYE IS NO HELP IN IDENTIFYING CORPSE (Deseret News)
FORMER MAN DIES IN CALIFORNIA (Freemont County [Calif.] Chronicle News)
MATH IMPROVEMENT INDICATES LEARNING IS TIED TO TEACHING (New York Times)
PAIR CHARGED WITH BATTERY (Denver Post)
TUNA RECALLED AFTER DEATH (Chicago Daily News)
TWO CONVICTS EVADE NOOSE; JURY HUNG (Oakland Tribune)
JERK INJURES NECK, WINS AWARD (Buffalo News)
TEACHERS’ HEAD GOES OFF TO JAIL (Sarasota Herald-Tribune)
SIX SENTENCED TO LIFE IN CLARKSVILLE (Nashville Banner)
POPE LAUNCHES TALKS TO END LONG DIVISION (Pomono Progress Bulletin)
A GRATEFUL NATION BURIES SAM RAYBURN (New York Herald Tribune)
SHOUTING MATCH ENDS TEACHER’S HEARING (Newsday)
DOCTOR TESTIFIES IN HORSE SUIT (Waterbury Republican)

Some are inspired: When the New York Times reported that a mansion-hunting Aristotle Onassis had visited Buster Keaton’s former estate, it chose the headline ARISTOTLE CONTEMPLATING THE HOME OF BUSTER.

In a Word

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Death_star1.png

interfector
n. a death-bringing planet

mundicidious
adj. likely or able to destroy the world

In 2012 an online petition urged the Obama administration to build a Death Star like the one in Star Wars. The campaign amassed 25,000 signatures, enough to require an official response, and it fell to Paul Shawcross, chief of the Science and Space Branch at the Office of Management and Budget, to reject the project. He gave three reasons:

  • The construction of the Death Star has been estimated to cost more than $850,000,000,000,000,000. We’re working hard to reduce the deficit, not expand it.
  • The Administration does not support blowing up planets.
  • Why would we spend countless taxpayer dollars on a Death Star with a fundamental flaw that can be exploited by a one-man starship?

Orthography

One afternoon, in mood très gai
Because of paying the gourmet
(I’d taken wine with déjeuner —
A light and lilting Beaujolais —
Plus biscuits, cheese, and pousse-café),
I dared a blazing sun, à pied,
To pay a little visit chez
Miss Janet, who said “You OK?
You may have had a coup de soleil.”

Said I, “I’ve writ a poem, J.,
With no last letter twice in play
And yet the whole thing rhymes with a.”

— Willard R. Espy

(“The trick would, of course, be impossible without using Anglicized French terms.”)