An Elizabethan Word Square

lok square

Princeton scholar Thomas P. Roche Jr. calls this “an astounding piece of ingenuity,” one of “the most elaborately numerological poems I have found in the Renaissance.” Poet Henry Lok created it in 1597, in honor of Elizabeth I. It can be read as a conventional 10-line poem, but there are fully eight other ways to read it:

“1. A Saint George’s crosse [+] of two collumbs, in discription of her Maiestie, beginning at A, and B, in the middle to be read downward, and crossing at C and D to be read either singly or double.”

Rare Queen, fair, mild, wise
Shows you proof
For heavens have upheld
Just world’s praise sure.

Here Grace in that Prince
Of earth’s race, who
There shields thus God
Whom choice (rich Isle, stay!) builds.

“2. A S[aint] Andrew’s crosse [X], beginning at E and read thwartwaies, and ending with F, containing the description of our happie age, by her highnesse.”

God crowned this time, wise choice of all the Rest,
And so truth, joy of just kings’ known, God blest.

“3. Two Pillars in the right and left side of the square, in verse reaching from E and F perpenddicularly, containing the sum of the whole, the latter columbe hauing the words placed counterchangeably to rime to the whole square.”

God makes kings rule for heauens; your state hold blest
And still stand will their shields; fear yields best rest.

“4. The first and last two verses or the third and fourth, with seuenth and eighth, are sense in them selues, containing also sense of the whole.”

“5. The whole square of 100, containing in it self fiue squares, the angles of each of them are sense particularly, and vnited depend each on other, beginning at the center.”

1 Just, wise of choice
2 Joy of kings’ time
3 This truth all known
4 So crowned the God
5 Blessed God and rest.

“6. The out-angles are to be read 8 seuerall waies in sense and verse.”

“7. The eight words placed also in the ends of the St. George’s crosse, are sense and verse, alluding to the whole crosse.”

Rare grace here builds
There shields for heaven.

Rare Grace there shields
For heaven here builds.

“8. The two third words in the bend dexeter of the St. Andrew’s crosse, being the middle from the angles to the center, haue in their first letters T. and A. for the Author, and H.L. in their second, for his name, which to be true, the words of the angles in that square confirme.”

THis ALl
T[he]H[enry]is A[uthor]L[ok]l

“9. The direction to her Maiestie in prose aboue, containeth onely of numerall letters, the yeare and day of the composition, as thus, DD. C. LL. LL. LL. LL. VV. VV. VV. IIIIIIIIIIIII. For, 1593. June V.”

The whole square is intended to demonstrate the powers of language to accommodate the queen’s praises in God’s providential order. Further, the arrangement of the words forms a comment on the political situation at the time: St. George is the patron saint of England, St. Andrew is the patron saint of Scotland, and the pillars may represent Elizabeth’s chosen emblem, the Pillars of Hercules. “The fact that the words of the square can be forced to yield meaning within the imposed specifications is amazing in itself.”

(Thomas P. Roche Jr., Petrarch and the English Sonnet Sequences, 1989.)

In a Word

n. a traveling companion

adj. removed from one’s usual surroundings

n. things to be believed; matters of faith

David Livingstone reaches the Atlantic, May 31, 1854:

The plains adjacent to Loanda are somewhat elevated and comparatively sterile. On coming across these we first beheld the sea: my companions looked upon the boundless ocean with awe. On describing their feelings afterwards, they remarked that ‘we marched along with our father, believing that what the ancients had always told us was true, that the world has no end; but all at once the world said to us, “I am finished; there is no more of me!”‘ They had always imagined that the world was one extended plain without limit.

(From his Missionary Travels and Researches in South Africa, 1857.)

This Land Is Your Land

The Domestic Names Committee of the U.S. Board on Geographic Names has granted only five possessive apostrophes in 113 years:

  • Martha’s Vineyard, Mass., 1933. This had been designated Marthas Vineyard for 40 years until the committee restored the apostrophe after a local protest campaign.
  • Ike’s Point, N.J., 1944. Here the apostrophe was allowed because the board agreed that “Ikes Point” would be “unrecognizable.”
  • John E’s Pond, R.I., 1963. Spoken aloud, this might otherwise have been misunderstood as “John S Pond.”
  • Carlos Elmer’s Joshua View, Ariz., 1995. “Joshua” is the name of a tree and “Carlos Elmer” is the name of a photographer. The Arizona state names board argued that three given names in a row would “dilute the meaning.”
  • Clark’s Mountain, Ore., 2002. The Oregon names board asked for this exception “to correspond with the personal preferences of Lewis and Clark.”

Other place names, including Harpers Ferry and Pikes Peak, are generally stripped of their apostrophes in official federal usage (there are some administrative exceptions, such as Prince George’s County, Md.).

The committee argues that an apostrophe implies private ownership of a public place. The United States is the only country with such a policy, but the rule has been reaffirmed five times. In 2013 Jennifer Runyon of the names committee told the Wall Street Journal, “We don’t debate the apostrophe.”

(Thanks, Dave.)

Image: Wikimedia Commons
  • ZZ Top’s first album is called ZZ Top’s First Album.
  • Supreme Court justice Byron White was the NFL’s top rusher in 1940.
  • LOVE ME TENDER is an anagram of DENVER OMELET.
  • Every palindromic number with an even number of digits is divisible by 11.
  • “In great attempts it is glorious even to fail.” — Cassius

From English antiquary John Aubrey’s 1696 Miscellanies: “Anno 1670, not far from Cyrencester, was an Apparition; Being demanded, whether a good Spirit or a bad? Returned no answer, but departed with a curious Perfume and a most melodious Twang.”

In a Word

n. bearing, deportment

n. snarling

A peculiar detail from the Battle of Waterloo:

As the day wore on, the French cavalry became more and more desperate, and charged repeatedly with fierce gesticulations, which became more pronounced as they were so continuously repelled. These peculiar looks and gestures of the French became so marked that when the colonel, Fielding Browne, gave the familiar order, ‘Prepare for cavalry,’ the officers would thunder out the order, and add, ‘Now, men, make faces!’

(“The Prince of Wales’s Volunteers,” Navy & Army Illustrated, Feb. 4, 1899.)


To show that Gothic script could be fatiguing to read, medieval scribes invented this joke sentence:

mimi numinum niuium minimi munium nimium uini muniminum imminui uiui minimum uolunt

The snow gods’ smallest mimes do not wish in any way in their lives for the great duty of the defenses of wine to be diminished.

In Ancient Writing and Its Influence (1969), Berthold Louis Ullman and Julian Brown write, “When this is written in Gothic characters without dots for the i‘s and with v written as u, it makes a first-class riddle”:

mimi numinum script

In a Word

v. to attack or oppose with words

adj. expressing disapprobation

n. verbal contention

Joseph Pulitzer, of the New York World, who is referred to by Mr. Mencken as a great master of profanity in three languages, is credited with the intensified term ‘Don’t be so indegoddampendent.’ Certainly the phrase was common parlance on Park Row in my own repertorial days. Mr. Mencken adds the retort of managing editor Coates to that charge, ‘I’m under no obligoddamgation to do that and I won’t!’

— Burges Johnson, The Lost Art of Profanity, 1948

Overdone Bacon

Exponents of the theory that Francis Bacon wrote the plays attributed to Shakespeare have gone to sometimes elaborate lengths to find messages hidden in the plays. American physician Orville Ward Owen even invented a “cipher wheel” that could pass the texts under his eyes at various speeds as he looked for hidden meanings.

He didn’t find many supporters. Even Owen’s friend Frederick Mann wrote, “We are asked to believe that such peerless creations as Hamlet, The Tempest, and Romeo and Juliet were not prime productions of the transcendent genius who wrote them, but were subsidiary devices which Bacon designed for the purpose of concealing the cipher therein.”

In his 1910 book Bacon Is Shake-speare, Sir Edwin Durning-Lawrence argues that the long word honorificabilitudinitatibus in Love’s Labour’s Lost is really an anagram:

These plays, F. Bacon’s offspring, are preserved for the world.

“It surpasses the wit of man,” he wrote, to produce another sensible anagram from the long word, and he offered a hundred guineas to anyone who could do it. A Mr. Beevor of St. Albans rather promptly sent him this:

Be off, F. Bacon, the actor has entered and is playing.

Durning-Lawrence was taken aback, but he was a good sport: He paid Beevor his money.

(From John Michell, Who Wrote Shakespeare?, 1996.)

In a Word

n. violent shaking

n. a severe shaking

A lion attacks David Livingstone, 1843:

Starting, and looking half round, I saw the lion just in the act of springing upon me. I was upon a little height; he caught my shoulder as he sprang, and we both came to the ground below together. Growling horribly close to my ear, he shook me as a terrier dog does a rat. The shock produces a stupor similar to that which seems to be felt by a mouse after the first shake of the cat. It caused a sort of dreaminess, in which there was no sense of pain nor feeling of terror, though quite conscious of all that was happening. It was like what patients partially under the influence of chloroform describe, who see all the operation, but feel not the knife. This singular condition was not the result of any mental process. The shake annihilated fear, and allowed no sense of horror in looking round at the beast. This peculiar state is probably produced in all animals killed by carnivora; and if so, is a merciful provision by our benevolent Creator for lessening the pain of death.

The lion left him to attack his companions, who eventually dispatched it. Livingstone could never afterward raise his left arm above his shoulder; when asked by a group of sympathetic friends what he had been thinking during the attack, he said, “I was thinking, with a feeling of disinterested curiosity, which part of me the lion would eat first.”