During World War II, Evelyn Waugh served as a war correspondent in Ethiopia. One day his editor asked him to investigate a rumor that an American nurse had been killed in an explosion during an Italian air raid. The cable read:
REQUIRE EARLIEST NAME LIFE STORY PHOTOGRAPH AMERICAN NURSE UPBLOWN.
Waugh found that the rumor was false, so he wired back:
adj. having ugly buttocks
What’s unusual about this nursery rhyme?
Old Mother Hubbard
Went to the cupboard
To get her poor dog a bone,
But when she got there
The cupboard was bare
And so her poor dog had none.
It’s 30 words long but does not contain the letter I.
See also Nevermore.
Sam Loyd tells the story of a feud between two Cincinnati newspapers. One of them, the Star in the West, published the following poem by an anonymous contributor, praising its originality and beauty:
The genial spring once more with chaplets crowned
Has showered her choicest blessings all around.
Each silent valley and each verdant lawn
Enriched with flowers, looks smiling as the dawn
Demure and modest hued the violet grows;
In yonder garden blooms the blushing rose;
To these the lilac adds her fragrant dower
Of perfume cherished by the sun and shower.
Reviving Flora walks the world a queen
Of kingdoms peerless as a fairy scene.
Far o’er the hills, in many a graceful line,
The rainbow blossoms of the orchard shine.
How softly mingled all their tints unite,
Embalm the air and bless the grateful sight!
Sweet voices now are heard on every tree,
The breeze, the bird, the murmur of the bee.
And down the cliff, where rocks oppose in vain,
Runs the clear stream in music of the plain.
In noisy groups, far from their southern home,
Now round the lofty spire the swallows roam;
The fearless robin builds with glossy leaves
Her fragile nest beneath the farmer’s eaves;
Embowered in woods the partridge makes her bed
With silken moss o’er tender osiers spread;
Each happy bird expands his dappled wings,
Soars with his gentle mate and sweetly sings.
The sounds of early husbandry arise
In pleasing murmurs to the pale blue skies;
Shrill floats the ploughman’s whistle while he speeds
Along the yielding earth his patient steeds.
Joyous the life which tills the pregnant soil,
And sweet the profits of the farmer’s toil.
Content, as smiling as an angel face
Keeps peaceful vigil round his dwelling place,
And gentle Hope and Love, forever bright,
Smiling like seraphs in their bowers of light,
Salute his mornings and embalm each night.
His rival sweetly suggested he read the first letter of each line.
ANGERED = ENRAGED
PROBLEM IN CHINESE = INCOMPREHENSIBLE
DECIMAL POINT = I’M A DOT IN PLACE
DELICATESSEN = ENSLICED EATS
FRAGILE = E.G., FRAIL
ARMAGEDDON = MAD GOD NEAR
WAITRESS = A STEW, SIR?
STORMY WEATHER = SHOWERY MATTER
THE RELIEF PITCHER = FIERCE HITTER? HELP!
WILD OATS = SOW IT, LAD
FALSEHOOD = HAS FOOLED
SUNBATHE = HEAT BUNS
THE PIANO BENCH = BENEATH CHOPIN
In the 1890s, William Randoph Hearst’s New York Journal was in a circulation war with Joseph Pulitzer’s New York World. When the World published an obituary of “Reflipe W. Thanuz,” Hearst revealed a trap — there was no such person, so Pulitzer must have stolen the item from his paper. (“Reflipe W” is “we pilfer” spelled backward, and “Thanuz” is “the news”.)
Pulitzer got his revenge, though. He planted the name “Lister A. Raah” in a World story, and when the Journal ran a similar item, he revealed that the name was an anagram of “Hearst a liar.”
See also Nihilartikels.
adj. having deep cleavage
A “snowball sentence” contrived by Dmitri Borgmann — each word is one letter longer than the last:
I do not know where family doctors acquired illegibly perplexing handwriting; nevertheless, extraordinary pharmaceutical intellectuality, counterbalancing indecipherability, transcendentalizes intercommunications’ incomprehensibleness.
v. to cover with an inverted bowl
THE NUDIST COLONY = NO UNTIDY CLOTHES
A SENTENCE OF DEATH = FACES ONE AT THE END
AN AISLE = IS A LANE
IS PITY LOVE? = POSITIVELY
CIRCUMSTANTIAL EVIDENCE = CAN RUIN A SELECTED VICTIM
CABARET = A BAR, ETC.
THE ENCYCLOPAEDIA BRITANNICA = A DICTIONARY CAN BE ELEPHANTIC
GREYHOUND = HEY, DOG, RUN!
H.M.S. PINAFORE = NAME FOR SHIP
COMMITTEES = COST ME TIME
HEARTHSTONES = HEAT’S THRONES
THE DAWNING = NIGHT WANED
A STRIP-TEASER = ATTIRE SPARSE
A Queens College teacher left a note on his classroom door:
PROFESSOR TOBIN WILL NOT MEET HIS CLASSES TODAY.
He later noticed that a student had erased the first letter in CLASSES.
So he erased the second letter as well.
v. to feign sickness in order to avoid work
“I understand you undertake to overthrow my undertaking.”
— Charles Carroll Bombaugh, Gleanings for the Curious From the Harvest-Fields of Literature, 1890
DO, O GOD, NO EVIL DEED, LIVE ON, DO GOOD!
LIVE, O DEVIL, REVEL EVER, LIVE, DO EVIL!
n. a reckless driver
Does any English word contain all six vowels?
Is this a bad sum?
Not in a mirror:
Adapted by Martin Gardner from Henry Dudeney.
adj. pertaining to an unequal state of desire between two people
More nouns of assemblage:
- a business of ferrets
- a cartload of chimpanzees
- a coalition of cheetahs
- a congress of baboons
- a gang of elk
- a huddle of penguins
- a kaleidoscope of butterflies
- a labour of moles
- a prickle of porcupines
- a quarrel of sparrows
- a romp of otters
- a tiding of magpies
- a tower of giraffes
- a ubiquity of sparrows
- a whiteness of swans
- a zeal of zebras
My sources insist that a group of gnus is called an implausibility. Should I believe them?
In the seventeenth century, André Pujom, finding that his name spelled Pendu à Riom, fulfilled his destiny by cutting somebody’s throat in Auvergne, and was actually hung at Riom, the seat of justice in that province.
— William Dobson, Poetical Ingenuities and Eccentricities, 1882
v. to attend a party to which one has not been invited
American philologist Revilo P. Oliver had a palindromic name — it reads the same backward and forward. In his family, he said, the name “has been the burden of the eldest or only son for six generations.”
And it cost him — at least one journal rejected his articles as fraudulent.