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.”
v. to curl the hair
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.
Christopher Morley named his cats Shall and Will, “because nobody can tell them apart.”
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
Unprepossessing English town names:
- Bishop’s Itchington
- Great Snoring
- Turners Puddle
- Pett Bottom
- Nether Wallop
Charles Dickens called the chipper-sounding Chelmsford “the dullest and most stupid spot on the face of the earth.”
adj. somewhat fat and squat
adj. short and fat
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.
v. to spend time in the country
Unusual names collected by CUNY onomasticist Leonard R.N. Ashley for What’s in a Name? (1989) — these are “guaranteed to be real names of real people”:
- Memory D. Orange
- Fice Mork
- Lovely Worlds
- Aage Glue
- April Zipes
- Pink Brown
- E. Pluribus Ewbanks
- Tempus Fugit
- Original Bug
- Zita Ann Apathy
- Olney Nicewonger
- Oscar Asparagus
- Aphrodite Chuckass
- Otto Flotto
- Jack Bienstock
- Dallas Geese
- Peculiar Smith
- Ima June Bugg
- Tony Fiasco
- F. Peavey Heffelfinger
- A. Toxin Worm
- Wanton Bump
- Pearl Ruby Diamond
- Another Smith
- Tufton V. Beamish
- Buncha Love
- Katz Meow
A. Morron served as commissioner of education for the Virgin Islands, Donald Duck was Maryland’s commissioner of motor vehicles, DeCoursy Fales taught history at Emerson College, and Paula St. John Lawrence Lawler Byrne Strong Yeats Stevenson Callaghan Hunt Milne Smith Thompson Shankley Bennett Paisley O’Sullivan was named for the entire Liverpool soccer team of 1962.
Observed by Dave Morice in the May 2011 Word Ways:
LUCK requires 7 penstrokes, BLACKJACK 21, FREEZING POINT 32, HOURS IN A DAY 24.
See Truthful Numbers.
adj. becoming youthful
Jean-François Sudre had a unique thought in 1817: If people of different cultures can appreciate the same music, why not develop music itself into an international language?
The result, which he called Solresol, enlists the seven familiar notes of the solfeggio scale (do, re, mi …) as phonemes in a vocabulary of 2,600 roots. Related words share initial syllables; for example, doremi means “day,” dorefa “week,” doreso “month,” and doredo the concept of time itself. Pleasingly, opposites are indicated simply by reversing a word — fala is “good,” and lafa is “bad.”
Sudre developed this in various media: In addition to a syllable, each note was also assigned a number and a color, so that words could be expressed by knocks, blinking lights, signal flags, or bell strikes as well as music.
“Imagine for a moment a universal language, translatable to colour, melody, writing, touch, hand signals, and endless strings of numbers,” writes author Paul Collins. “Imagine now that this language was taught from birth to be second nature to every speaker, no matter what their primary language. The world would become saturated with hidden meanings. Music would be transformed, with every instrument in the orchestra engaged in simultaneous dialogue. … [T]he beginning of Beethoven’s Fifth seems to talk about ‘Wednesday’ … Needless to say, obsessive fans who already hear secret messages in music would not do their mental stability any favors by learning Solresol.”
Sudre was hailed as a genius in his lifetime, and he collected awards at world exhibitions in Paris and London, but he died before his first grammar was published. An international society promoted the language until about World War I, but in the end it lost adherents to Esperanto, which was considered easier to learn.
Though not having a single written word upon it, this envelope reached me from London without delay. The address reads: Miss Polly Colyer (Collier)-Fergusson (Fir-goose-sun), Ightham Mote, Ivy Hatch, Sevenoaks, Kent. Ightham Mote is indicated by a small sketch of the house itself, which is well known in the county. — Miss Colyer-Fergusson
— Strand, September 1908
A correspondent, name unknown, has sent us the curiously-addressed envelope which we reproduce here. The strange words, we are informed by the Post Office authorities, represent the sounds as made by the key of the modern Morse instrument. ‘Idely iddy’ stand for ‘dots’ and ‘umpty’ for a dash. The envelope reached us as easily as if it had been addressed in the orthodox way.
— Strand, January 1907
n. a cry for help
adj. wandering at night
Advance each letter in the word ABJURER 13 places through the alphabet and you get NOWHERE: