In a Word

n. a desire to hold another in one’s arms


n. a craving to kiss

“Riddles for the Post Office”

The following ludicrous direction to a letter was copied verbatim from the original and interesting document:

too dad Tomas
hat the ole oke
I O Bary pade
Sur plees to let ole feather have this sefe.

The letter found the gentleman at ‘The Old Oak Orchard, Tenbury.’ In another letter, the writer, after a severe struggle to express ‘Scotland,’ succeeded at length to his satisfaction, and wrote it thus: ‘stockling.’ A third letter was sent by a woman to a son who had settled in Tennessee, which the old lady had thus expressed with all phonetic simplicity, ’10 S C.’

— Robert Conger Pell, Milledulcia, 1857

Word-Unit Palindromes

These sentences read the same backward as forward:

  • King, are you glad you are king?
  • So patient a doctor to doctor a patient so.
  • Dollars make men covetous, then covetous men make dollars.
  • Husband by murdered wife lies cold, and cold lies wife, murdered by husband.

Our Mutual Friend

Anagrams on Dickens titles:


“We talk about the tyranny of words,” writes David Copperfield, “but we like to tyrannize over them too.”


What’s the difference between six dozen dozen and half a dozen dozen?

If you answered “nothing,” reconsider.

In a Word

adj. heightened sexual desire in the springtime


In 1610, thinking he had discovered two moons orbiting Saturn, Galileo composed a message:

ALTISSIMUM PLANETAM TERGEMINUM OBSERVAVI (“I have observed the most distant planet to have a triple form”)

… and sent it to Kepler as an anagram:


Remarkably, Kepler managed to “solve” this as a message about Mars, not Saturn:

SALVE UMBISTENEUM GEMINATUM MARTIA PROLES (“Hail, twin companionship, children of Mars”)

The German astronomer had predicted that the Red Planet had two moons, and imagined that Galileo was confirming his belief.

There’s a message in this, somewhere.

So There

The autobiography of the American eccentric “Lord” Timothy Dexter (1748-1806) contains 8,847 words and no punctuation:

IME the first Lord in the younited States of Americary Now of Newburyport it is the voise of the peopel and I cant Help it and so Let it goue Now as I must be Lord there will foller many more Lords pretty soune for it dont hurt A Cat Nor the mouse Nor the son Nor the water Nor the Eare then goue on all is Easey Now …

When readers complained, he added a page of punctuation marks to the second edition, inviting them to “peper and solt it as thay plese.”

Pride of Place

Of all the odd numbers, which would appear first in a dictionary?


(Thanks, Michael.)

Money Talks

When, at the General Peace of 1814, Prussia absorbed a portion of Saxony, the king issued a new coinage of rix dollars, with their German name, EIN REICHSTAHLER, impressed on them. The Saxons, by dividing the word, EIN REICH STAHL ER, made a sentence of which the meaning is, ‘He stole a kingdom!’

— William T. Dobson, Poetical Ingenuities and Eccentricities, 1882

In a Word

n. a number raised to the eighth power


A medal struck of the 17th-century Swedish king Gustavus Adolphus included this motto:

ChrIstVs DuX ergo trIVMphVs

Rearrange the capital letters and you get MDCXVVVII, or 1627, the year in which the medal was stamped.

That’s a chronogram, and a pretty tame one, as these things go. In 1634 the Society of Jesuits at Brussels composed a remarkable congratulation to Ferdinand on his arrival in the Netherlands as governor; it contains 100 hexameters, every one of which is a chronogram adding to 1634:

AngeLe CoeLIVagI MIChaeL, LVX VnICa CaetVs.
Pro nVtV sVCCInCta tVo CVI CVnCta MInIstrant.
SIDera qVIqVe poLo gaVDentIa sIDera VoLVVnt. …

“Genius,” wrote Thomas Carlyle, “is an infinite capacity for taking pains.”

In a Word

v. “to earn one’s bread indifferently well”

(Charles Mackay, Lost Beauties of the English Language, 1874)

The Bach Motif

Bach’s name forms a musical motif. The German note B is equivalent to the English B-flat, and H indicates B natural. So if you revolve this cross counterclockwise, the note at the center takes successively the German values B (treble clef), A (tenor clef), C (alto clef), and H (treble clef).

Bach himself used the four-note motif as a subject in The Art of Fugue, and it’s appeared since in works by Schumann, Liszt, Rimsky-Korsakov, Poulenc, and Webern.

“Chinese Tea Song”

Punch has favored the world with the following song, sung before her Britannic Majesty by a Chinese lady. It looks rather difficult at first; but if the reader studies it attentively, he will see how easy it is to read Chinese:–

Ohc ometo th ete asho pwit hme,
Andb uya po undo f thebe st,
‘Twillpr oveam ostex cellentt ea,
Itsq ua lit yal lwi lla tte st.

‘Tiso nlyf oursh illi ngs apo und,
Soc omet othet eama rtan dtry,
Nob etterc anel sewh erebefou nd,
Ort hata nyoth er needb uy.

— Charles Carroll Bombaugh, Gleanings for the Curious from the Harvest-Fields of Literature, 1890

A Growing Family

The Rev. Ralph William Lyonel Tollemache-Tollemache (1826–1895) got a bit carried away in naming his children:

  1. Sir Lyonel Felix Carteret Eugene Tollemache
  2. Florence Caroline Artemesia
  3. Evelyne Clementina Wentworth Cornelia Maude
  4. Granville Grey Marchmont Manners Plantagenet
  5. Marchmont Murray Grasett Reginald Tollemache
  6. Dora Viola
  7. Mabel Helmingham Ethel Huntingtower Beatrice Blazonberrie Evangeline Vise de Lou de Orellana Plantagenet Toedmag Saxon
  8. Lyonesse Matilda Dora Ida Agnes Ernestine Curson Paulet Wilbraham Joyce Eugénie Bentley Saxonia Dysart Plantagenet
  9. Lyulph Ydwallo Odin Nestor Egbert Lyonel Toedmag Hugh Erchenwyne Saxon Esa Cromwell Orma Nevill Dysart Plantagenet
  10. Lyona Decima Veroica Esyth Undine Cyssa Hylda Rowena Adela Thyra Ursuala Ysabel Blanche Lelias Dysart Plantagenet
  11. Leo Quintus Tollemache-Tollemache de Orellana Plantagenet
  12. Lyonella Fredegunda Cuthberga Ethelswytha Ideth Ysabel Grace Monica de Orellana Plantagenet
  13. Lyonetta Edith Regina Valentine Myra Polwarth Avelina Phillipa Violantha de Orellana Plantagenet
  14. Leone Sextus Denys Oswolf Fraudatifilius Tollemache-Tollemache de Orellana Plantagenet
  15. Lyunulph Cospatrick Bruce Berkeley Jermyn Tullibardine Petersham de Orellana Dysart Plantagenet

Lyulph’s name forms an acronym, LYONEL THE SECOND. In Finnegans Wake, Joyce parodied this with Helmingham Erchenwyne Rutter Egbert Crumwall Odin Maximus Esme Saxon Esa Vercingetorix Ethelwulf Rupprecht Ydwalla Bentley Osmund Dysart Yggdrasselmann — whose initials spell HERE COMES EVERYBODY.

In a Word

v. to lead a wicked life

“From the Curiosities of Advertising”

To an Oppidan, a Ruricolist, or a Cosmopolitan, and may be entered upon immediately:

The House in STONE Row, lately possessed by CAPT. SIREE. To avoid Verbosity, the Proprietor with Compendiosity will give a Perfunctory description of the Premises, in the Compagination of which he has Sedulously studied the convenience of the Occupant. It is free from Opacity, Tenebrosity, Fumidity, and Injucundity, and no building can have greater Pellucidity or Translucency — in short, its Diaphaneity even in the Crepuscle makes it like a Pharos, and without laud, for its Agglutination and Amenity, it is a most Delectable Commorance; and whoever lives in it will find that the Neighbors have none of the Truculence, the Immanity, the Torvity, the Spinosity, the Putidness, the Pugnacity, nor the Fugacity observable in other parts of the town, but their Propinquity and Consanguinity occasion Jocundity and Pudicity — from which, and the Redolence of the place (even in the dog-days), they are remarkable for Longevity. For terms and particulars apply to JAMES HUTCHINSON, opposite the MARKET-HOUSE.

— “Dub. News.,” quoted in Charles Carroll Bombaugh, Gleanings for the Curious from the Harvest-Fields of Literature, 1890

In a Word

n. a woman’s sublimation of sexual desire through cooking

Human Anagrams

In Literary Frivolities, Fancies, Follies and Frolics (1880), William Dobson tells of a curious spectacle presented to Stanislaus, the future king of Poland, on his return to Lissa:

There appeared on the stage thirteen dancers, dressed as youthful warriors; each held in his hand a shield, on which was engraved in characters of gold one of the thirteen letters which compose the two words DOMUS LESCINIA. They then commenced their dance, and so arranged it that at each turn their row of bucklers formed different anagrams. At the first pause they presented them in the natural order:

DOMUS LESCINIA [O (heir to the) House of Lescinius,]
At the second: ADES INCOLUMIS [Thou art present with us still unimpaired–]
At the third: OMNIS ES LUCIDA [Thou art all that is wonderful.]
At the fourth: MANE SIDUS LOCI [Stay with us, O sun of our land!]
At the fifth: SIS COLUMNA DEI [Thou art one of God’s supporters—]
At the last: I, SCANDE SOLIUM. [Come, ascend thy regal throne.]

“This last was the more beautiful,” writes Robert Moritz, “since it proved a true prophecy.”

Holiday for Vowels

What English word contains the letters GNT consecutively?

Click for Answer

In a Word

v. to drop dung on from above

In a Word

n. the mistress of a priest

Letter Shift

letter shift