Double Play

This Latin sentence consists entirely of repeated syllables:

Te tero, Roma, manu nuda, date tela, latete.

“It is you I destroy, Rome, with bare hands, give up weapons, hide yourself.”

See Repeat Performance.


  • Colombia is the only South American country that borders both the Atlantic and the Pacific.
  • 28671 = (2 / 8)-6 × 7 – 1
  • Can a man released from prison be called a freeee?
  • “Nature uses as little as possible of anything.” — Johannes Kepler

Sergei Prokofiev died on the same day that Joseph Stalin’s death was announced. Moscow was so thronged with mourners that three days passed before the composer’s body could be removed for a funeral service.

(Thanks, Alina.)

In a Word

v. to enslave

Babel Fishing

“But, for my own part, it was Greek to me.”

So says Casca to Cassius in Julius Caesar, and the expression has been current in our language for 400 years. In 1978, Arnold Rosenberg of the IBM Research Center began to wonder: If we can take that as a general consensus that Greek is harder than English, then perhaps we could seek similar expressions in other languages and so discover the hardest natural language. For example, if Germans say “That seems like Spanish to me” (Das kommt mir spanisch vor), and Finns say “It is totally Hebrew to me” (Se on minulle tāyttā hepreaa), then arguably Spanish is harder than German and Hebrew is harder than Finnish. Rosenberg set about collecting such idioms, and the final picture was surprisingly clear:

“Although we have found numerous hardest languages in our quest, we must acknowledge the special position of Chinese among the hardest languages,” he concluded. “If we were backed into a corner and forced to select a single language that deserved the designation ‘hardest,’ then, in terms of popular consensus, of geographical consensus, and of cultural consensus … Chinese would be the hands-down winner.”

(Arnold L. Rosenberg, “The Hardest Natural Languages,” Lingvisticæ Investigationes, June 1979.)

Stone Cold

“A cactolith is a quasihorizontal chonolith composed of anastomosing ductoliths whose distal ends curl like a harpolith, thin like a sphenolith, or bulge discordantly like an akmolith or ethmolith.”

That’s from USGS researcher Charles B. Hunt’s 1953 paper “Geology and Geography of the Henry Mountains Region, Utah.” He was describing an actual geological feature — but also commenting on the absurd profusion of –lith words in geology.

Word Ways chose it as its word of the year for 2010.

Theme and Variations

After reading David Shulman’s anagrammed tribute to Washington crossing the Delaware, Janet Hodge composed this sonnet:

Sandro Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus

Love is born. A thin cloud bestirs theft —
such a festive birth not to be droll sin.
No strict habits should live on bereft
of love. Blind, it throbs; truth ceases in
antic trust. Oh, love is blest, for behind
its first bother, viols enchant. Double
fret (blush) scares the volition to bind.
It finds both chaste lovers in trouble.
Loves throes ache, but sit blind in frost.
The love born of bliss dictates in hurt
a nibbled truth, sloven heir of its cost.
Noble itch is hovel burn, tastes of dirt.
The bit done, not favors rise, but chills;
Best avoid, not note, such brief thrills.

Each line is a perfect anagram of the title.


  • Mississippi didn’t ratify the 13th Amendment, abolishing slavery, until 2013.
  • To protect its ecosystem, the location of Hyperion, the world’s tallest living tree, is kept secret.
  • 34425 = 34 × 425
  • “Well, if I called the wrong number, why did you answer the phone?” — James Thurber

In a Word

n. the escort or lover of a married woman

n. one who breaks one’s marriage vows

n. one who marries a second time


In October 2009, California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger attended a local Democratic Party fundraiser at the invitation of former San Francisco mayor Willie Brown. His speech was heckled by San Francisco assemblyman Tom Ammiano, who took the stage afterward to criticize the governor.

Three weeks later, Schwarzenegger vetoed a measure sponsored by Ammiano. He attached this message:

To the Members of the California State Assembly:

I am returning Assembly Bill 1176 without my signature.

For some time now I have lamented the fact that major issues are overlooked while many
unnecessary bills come to me for consideration. Water reform, prison reform, and health
care are major issues my Administration has brought to the table, but the Legislature just
kicks the can down the alley.

Yet another legislative year has come and gone without the major reforms Californians
overwhelmingly deserve. In light of this, and after careful consideration, I believe it is
unnecessary to sign this measure at this time.


Arnold Schwarzenegger

Read the first letter of each printed line. “My goodness, what a coincidence,” said Schwarzenegger spokesman Aaron McLear when confronted with the acrostic. “I suppose when you do so many vetoes, something like this is bound to happen.”

See Between the Lines, Poetic License, and In Memoriam.

In a Word

n. an incompetent philologist

n. a second-rate epigram

n. poor spelling