Slenderizing

What’s unusual about this sentence by Harry Mathews?

Once brought into this country, partly imprudent gray barbers marry expatriate, parrying the frictions of tried friends such as Mary, the sorry crook with no work at hand, who is now without a murmur getting pastry.

It remains a sentence when you remove the Rs:

Once bought into this county, patly impudent gay babes may expatiate, paying the fictions of tied fiends such as May, the soy cook with no wok at hand, who is now without a mumu getting pasty.

Inside Out

Every great work inspires variants. Here are the opening lines of Ernest Hemingway’s To Have and Have Not:

You know how it is there early in the morning in Havana with the bums still asleep against the walls of the buildings; before even the ice wagons come by with ice for the bars? Well, we came across the square from the dock to the Pearl of San Francisco café to get coffee and there was only one beggar awake in the square and he was getting a drink out of the fountain. But when we got inside the café and sat down, there were the three of them waiting for us.

We sat down and one of them came over. ‘Well,’ he said.

‘I can’t do it,’ I told him. ‘I’d like to do it as a favor. But I told you last night I couldn’t.’

‘You can name your own price.’

‘It isn’t that. I can’t do it. That’s all.’

And here are the opening lines of Lynn Crawford’s To Have Not and Have:

Few understand it here late in the evening in Oslo with the divas wide awake still opening, closing doors after even fuel company planes fly in fuel for the fires. Well, I navigated to the walkway extending from shore to the Sow’s Ear café to drop off brandy and there were several divas awake spooning meals out of bowls. But when I got inside and leaned on the bar, there was one running from me.

I continued standing and several more ran from me.

‘Hey,’ they carolled.

‘I can do it,’ I told them. ‘I told you this morning it was impossible. But I can do it for a fee.’

‘We name your fee.’

‘Agreed. I can do it. And something else –‘

This is an example of antonymy, a technique invented by the French experimental writing group Oulipo in which each designated element in a text is replaced with its opposite.

A simpler example: “To not be and to be: this was an answer.”

Next Stop …

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Golf_Halt_Station.jpg
Image: Wikimedia Commons

Until 2007, this unassuming railway station in North Wales went by the name Gorsafawddacha’idraigodanheddogleddollônpenrhynareurdraethceredigion.

This was an attempt to outdo Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch, a village on the island of Anglesey, for the distinction of the longest place name in Europe.

Perhaps because of the apostrophe, the bid was little recognized, and in 2007 the name was reduced, rather drastically, to Golf Halt.

See Succinct.

Inventory

Why would anyone ask a question with 76 spaces, 60 apostrophes, 33 commas, 1 question mark, 2 ‘0’s, 3 ‘1’s, 5 ‘2’s, 14 ‘3’s, 7 ‘4’s, 5 ‘5’s, 5 ‘6’s, 3 ‘7’s, 2 ‘8’s, 3 ‘9’s, 2 ‘W’s, 9 ‘a’s, 3 ‘c’s, 3 ‘d’s, 6 ‘e’s, 4 ‘h’s, 4 ‘i’s, 3 ‘k’s, 2 ‘l’s, 4 ‘m’s, 6 ‘n’s, 8 ‘o’s, 4 ‘p’s, 3 ‘q’s, 3 ‘r’s, 39 ‘s’s, 5 ‘t’s, 4 ‘u’s, 3 ‘w’s, and 3 ‘y’s?

(Thanks, Chris.)

In a Word

xenodochiophobia
n. fear of (or worry about) hotels

Art historian Bernard Berenson offered this word in his 1952 memoir Rumour and Reflection:

I invented it long ago to designate the sinking feeling that in my travels often overcame me: of fear lest the inn or hotel at which we were to lodge would be sordid, would not let me have the promised apartment; that my bedroom would have the wrong proportions, mulling or flattening me out of my normal shape and squeezing me out of my own way of breathing; that the lights would be glaring and no reading lamp by my bed; that there would be sharp or clattering sounds outside, or bad smells without or within. Motoring in the Vendee or Poitou, in Spain or Greece as evening darkened, tired or even exhausted, I would wish the destination farther and farther away, for fear of what I should find when I reached it.

When William Tazewell mentioned the word in a 1989 travel article in the New York Times, reader Louis Jay Herman wrote to add “a few more suggested contributions to the Hellenizing of the travel language”:

xenoiatrophobia
n. fear of having to cope with a foreign doctor

xenonosocomiophobia
n. fear of finding yourself in a foreign hospital

xenokleptophobia
n. fear of foreign pickpockets

hypselotimophobia
n. fear of high prices

And cacohydrophobia, loosely translatable as Can I drink what comes out of the tap in this joint?

In a Word

drogulus
n. an entity whose presence is unverifiable because it has no physical effects

A.J. Ayer coined this word spontaneously while describing his “principle of verification” during a 1949 broadcast:

Suppose I say, ‘There’s a drogulus over there’ and you say … ‘What’s a drogulus?’ ‘Well,’ I say, ‘I can’t describe what a drogulus is, because it is not the sort of thing you can see or touch. It has no physical effects of any kind, but it’s a disembodied being.’ And you say, ‘Well, how am I to tell if it’s there or not?’ and I say, ‘There’s no way of telling. Everything’s just the same if it’s there or it’s not there. But the fact is it’s there. There’s a drogulus there standing just behind you.’ Does that make sense?

“Talk about obscure words!” writes lexicographer Norman Schur. “Have we finally met the man who wasn’t there?”

As I was going up the stair
I met a man who wasn’t there.
He wasn’t there again today.
I wish, I wish he’d stay away.

— Hughes Mearns

Curiously, Ayer himself seems to have confirmed at least one sighting. In 1959, Lionel Penrose wrote in New Biology, “I had difficulty in finding a suitable name for the activated complexes produced in [certain] experiments. On showing one of them to Professor A. J. Ayer, I inquired whether it perhaps might be a ‘drogulus’ … He replied that it was undoubtedly a ‘drogulus’.”