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Heinrich Ollendorff meant well. The grammarian intended his phrasebooks to teach German, French, Danish, and Russian to a new generation of language students. But who would ever need to speak these sentences?

  • Stop, the postilion has been struck by lightning!
  • A man is drowning. Is there a life buoy, a rope, a grapnel at hand?
  • Unhand me, sir, for my husband, who is an Australian, awaits without.
  • After having lost all my money, I was beaten by bad-looking men; and, to my still greater ill luck, I hear that my good uncle, whom I love so much, has been struck with apoplexy.

Ironically, he’s remembered today in the adjective ollendorffian, which means “in the stilted language of foreign phrasebooks.”

In a Word

n. an emaciated monster said to feed on patient wives

(The bicorn, which feeds on kind husbands, is always fat.)

In a Word

v. to launch a frog or toad into the air

One-Note Sentences

Monotonous conversation from around the world:


Etsivät etsivät etsivät etsivät etsivät.
“The searching detectives are searching the searching detectives.”


¿Cómo como? ¿Cómo cómo como? Como como como.
“How do I eat? What do you mean, how do I eat? I eat how I eat.”


Ái á Á á á í á.
“A farmer named Ái, who lives on a farm by the name of Á, owns a female sheep that is in a river.”


Sayang, sayang sayang sayang, sayang sayang sayang?
“Darling, I love you, dear, do you love me?”


Stanca sta-n castan ca Stan.
“Stanca stood in a chestnut tree like Stan.”


A követ követ követ.
“The envoy follows a stone.”


Bababa ba? Bababa!
“Going down? It is!”

In a Word


adj. drowsy or inattentive

Sum Caws

The Russian for crow (a bird) in the genitive case plural is sorok. The same word also means forty. Hence, the ambiguous construction ’100 crows + 100 crows = 200 crows’ can also mean ’140 + 140 = 280.’

– V.M. Bradis, Lapses in Mathematical Reasoning, 1938

Jabberwocky Spell-Checked

`Twas billing, and the smithy toes
Did gyre and gamble in the wage:
All missy were the brogues,
And the mime rats outrage.

“Beware the Jabber Wick, my son!
The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!
Beware the Jujube bird, and shun
The furious Bender Snatch!”

He took his viral sword in hand:
Long time the Manxwomen foe he sought –
So rested he by the Tutu tree,
And stood awhile in thought.

And, as in offish thought he stood,
The Jabber Wick, with eyes of flame,
Came whiffing through the tulle wood,
And burbled as it came!

One, two! One, two! And through and through
The viral blade went snicker-snack!
He left it dead, and with its head
He went galumphing back.

“And, has thou slain the Jabber Wick?
Come to my arms, my beamish boy!
O crablouse day! Callow! Allay!’
He chortled in his joy.

`Twas billing, and the smithy toes
Did gyre and gamble in the wage;
All missy were the brogues
And the mime rats outrage.

Tarzan Down

Where do SWINGER and PYGMIES have the same meaning?

On a telephone keypad.

In a Word

adj. like a stepmother

adj. suggestive of an aunt

By the Way

Shouldn’t ENCOURAGE rhyme with ENTOURAGE?

Able Was I

One French Republican, by writing and analyzing, has produced the following:–


Which, being arranged in the form of a sentence, gives, ‘Napoleon on o leon leon eon apoleon poleon‘–which is the Greek for ‘Napoleon, being the lion of the people, was marching on, destroying the cities!‘

– Appleton Morgan, Macaronic Poetry, 1872

In a Word

adj. uttering few words

Sound Sense

A favorite kind of school-boy humor is that which takes the form of evolving sentences like the following: Forte dux fel flat in gutture, which is good Latin for ‘By chance the leader inhales poison in his throat,’ but which read off rapidly sounds like the English ‘Forty ducks fell flat in the gutter.’ A French example is Pas de lieu Rhône que nous, which it is hardly necessary to explain makes no sense in French at all, though every word be true Gallic, but by a similar process of reading reveals the proverbial advice, ‘Paddle your own canoe.’

– William Shepard Walsh, Handy-Book of Literary Curiosities, 1909

See also “It Means Just What I Choose It to Mean.”

In a Word

n. a combination of the good and the beautiful in a person

n. a remarkably beautiful and good woman

Literary Pangrams

This excerpt from Coriolanus contains every letter of the alphabet but Z:

O, a kiss
Long as my exile, sweet as my revenge!
Now, by the jealous queen of heaven, that kiss
I carried from thee, dear; and my true lip
Hath virgin’d it e’er since.

This one, from Milton’s Paradise Lost (from the Z in grazed to the b in Both), contains all of them:

Likening his Maker to the grazed ox,
Jehovah, who, in one night, when he passed
From Egypt marching, equalled with one stroke
Both her first-born and all her bleating gods.

See Quick Brown Fox, A Biblical Pangram, A Pangrammatic Highway, and Nevermore.

All Greek

To a dining companion, William Hogarth once sent a card inscribed with a knife, a fork, and these letters:


It was an invitation to “eta beta pi.”

Exasperated that Nicholas Rowe kept borrowing his snuffbox, Samuel Garth wrote these letters on the lid:


“Fie! Rowe!”

Their friend John Dennis observed, “A man who could make so vile a pun would not scruple to pick a pocket.”

Spoon River

“Lines by an Oxford Don,” from the Globe, June 1805:

My brain was filled with rests of thought,
No more by currying wares distraught,
As lazing dreamily I lay
In my Canoodian canay.

Ah me, methought, how leef were swite
If men could neither wreak nor spite;
No erring bloomers, no more slang,
No tungles then to trip the tang!

No more the undergraddering tits
Would exercise their woolish fits
With tidal ales (and false, I wis)
Of my fame-farred tamethesis!

A sentence that makes equal sense when spoonerized: “I must brush my hat, for it is pouring with rain.”

When George S. Kaufman’s daughter told him a friend had eloped from Vassar, he said, “Ah! She put her heart before the course.”


Obey this command!

In a Word

n. the act of lying on the ground

Letter Shift

cold-frog letter shift


DEAD-ENDEDNESSES contains one A, two Ns, three Ss, four Ds, and five Es.

TEMPERAMENTALLY can be separated into a single letter followed by words of 2, 3, 4, and 5 letters: T, EM, PER, AMEN, TALLY.

In a Word

v. to put in a good humor

A Three-Toed Tree Toad’s Ode


Image: Flickr

A he-toad loved a she-toad
That lived high in a tree.
She was a two-toed tree toad
But a three-toed toad was he.

The three-toed tree toad tried to win
The she-toad’s nuptial nod,
For the three-toed tree toad loved the road
The two-toed tree toad trod.

Hard as the three-toed tree toad tried,
He could not reach her limb.
From her tree-toad bower, with her V-toe power
The she-toad vetoed him.

– Anonymous

Calendar Trouble

In Macedonian, Listopad means October.
In Polish and Slovenian, Listopad means November.

In Czech, Srpen means August.
In Croatian, Srpanj means July.

In Croatian, Rujan means September.
In Czech, Říjen means October.

In Polish, Lipiec means July.
In Croatian, Lipanj means June.

In Polish, Kwiecień means April.
In Czech, Květen means May.