n. a pair of scissors
n. a pair of scissors
A Mrs. Harris published this verse in Golden Days on Oct. 10, 1885:
He squanders recklessly his cash
In cultivating a mustache;
A shameless fop is Mr. Dude,
Vain, shallow, fond of being viewed.
‘Tis true that he is quite a swell —
A smile he has for every belle;
What time he has to spare from dress
Is taken up with foolishness —
A witless youth, whose feeble brain
Incites him oft to chew his cane.
Leave dudes alone, nor ape their ways,
Male readers of these Golden Days.
It reads so naturally that it’s surprising to find that it contains a double acrostic: Taking the fourth letter of each line spells out QUANTITATIVE, and taking the last letter spells out HEEDLESSNESS.
Australia was named before it was discovered. Ancient geographers had supposed that land in the north must be balanced by land in the south — Aristotle had written, “there must be a region bearing the same relation to the southern pole as the place we live in bears to our pole” — and Romans told legends of a Terra Australis Incognita, an “unknown land of the South,” more than a millennium before Europeans first sighted the continent.
In 1814 the British explorer Matthew Flinders suggested applying the speculative name, Terra Australis, to the actual place — and in a footnote he wrote, “Had I permitted myself any innovation on the original term, it would have been to convert it to AUSTRALIA; as being more agreeable to the ear, and an assimilation to the names of the other great portions of the earth.”
n. height; elevation; altitude
n. one who does nothing; an idler
n. a pleasure that comes when the mind is at rest
Edmund Wilson’s 1948 poem “The Pickerel Pond” has a novel feature — backward rhymes:
The lake lies with never a ripple
A lymph to lave sores from a leper
The sand white as salt in an air
That has filtered and tamed every ray;
Below limpid water, those lissome
Scrolleries scribbled by mussels
The floating dropped feathers of gulls;
A leech like a lengthening slug
That shrinks at a touch, ink and orange;
A child’s wrecked Rio Janeiro,
One fortress of which flies a reed
The cleft and quick prints of a deer …
Each pair of line endings (ripple/leper, air/ray) reverse one another in pronunciation, reflecting the pond’s mirror-like surface. They’re called amphisbaenic rhymes, after the amphisbaena, a Greek monster whose two heads allow it to move in either direction. Wilson’s poem contains 70 twisting stanzas of such rhymes.
New York radio station WQXR used to inflict this pronunciation test on prospective announcers — try reading it aloud:
The old man with the flaccid face and dour expression grimaced when asked if he were conversant with zoology, mineralogy, or the culinary arts. ‘Not to be secretive,’ he said, ‘I may tell you that I’d given precedence to the study of genealogy. But since my father’s demise, it has been my vagary to remain incognito because of an inexplicable, lamentable, and irreparable family schism. It resulted from a heinous crime, committed at our domicile by an impious scoundrel. To err is human … but this affair was so grievous that only my inherent acumen and consummate tact saved me.’
It’s a minefield. In Another Almanac of Words at Play, Willard R. Espy lists the pronunciations that were considered correct:
flaccid FLACK-sid inexplicable in-EX-plic-able dour DOO-er lamentable LAM-entable grimaced gri-MACED irreparable ear-REP-arable conversant KON-ver-sant schism SIZ-m zoology zoh-OL-o-ji heinous HAY-nus mineralogy miner-AL-o-ji domicile DOMM-i-sil culinary KEW-li-ner-y impious IM-pee-yus secretive see-KEE-tiv err ur precedence pre-SEED-ens grievous GREEV-us genealogy jan-e-AL-o-ji inherent in-HERE-ent demise de-MIZE acumen a-KEW-men vagary va-GAIR-y consummate (adj.) kon-SUMM-it incognito in-KOG-ni-toe
Getting 20 of the 25 “stumpers” right was considered excellent. But that was 40 years ago, and even at the time Espy found 21 dictionary listings that accepted different pronunciations. “So not to worry when you don’t sound like WQXR,” he wrote. “One man’s AB-do-men is another man’s ab-DOUGH-men.”
In Pale Fire, Nabokov notes an “absolutely extraordinary, unbelievably elegant” verbal curiosity:
A newspaper account of a Russian tsar’s coronation had, instead of korona (crown), the misprint vorona (crow), and when next day this was apologetically ‘corrected,’ it got misprinted a second time as korova (cow).
“The artistic correlation between the crown-crow-cow series and the Russian korona–vorona–korova series is something that would have, I am sure, enraptured my poet,” he wrote. “I have seen nothing like it on lexical playfields and the odds against the double coincidence defy computation.”
In Sam Peckinpah’s 1977 World War II film Cross of Iron, a soldier hears a rumbling noise, peers out of his trench, and shouts “Tanks! Tanks!”
The French subtitles read, “Merci, merci!”
adj. leagued together in friendship
adj. suitable for carrying a burden
panier de crabes
n. a dangerously controversial topic (literally, “basket of crabs”)