In 1853, a writer to Notes & Queries observed that the third line of Gray’s Elegy can be transposed 11 different ways while retaining its sense:

The ploughman homeward plods his weary way.
The weary ploughman plods his homeward way.
The weary ploughman homeward plods his way.
The ploughman, weary, plods his homeward way.
The ploughman weary homeward plods his way.
Weary the ploughman plods his homeward way.
Weary the ploughman homeward plods his way.
Homeward the ploughman plods his weary way.
Homeward the ploughman weary plods his way.
Homeward the weary ploughman plods his way.
The homeward ploughman weary plods his way.
The homeward ploughman plods his weary way.

“It is doubtful whether another line can be found, the words of which admit so many transpositions, and still retain the original meaning,” he wrote. Forty-two years later, the editors of Miscellaneous Notes and Queries proved him right, filling four pages with 252 transpositions:

Plods the ploughman, weary, his homeward way.
His weary way the homeward ploughman plods.
Homeward plods his way the ploughman, weary.
His homeward way the weary ploughman plods.
The weary ploughman homeward plods his way.
The homeward ploughman, weary, his way plods.
The weary ploughman plods his way homeward.
Plods the weary ploughman his way homeward.
Weary, the ploughman plods his homeward way.
His way homeward plods the weary ploughman.
Plods, weary, the ploughman his way homeward.
Weary his way plods homeward the ploughman.
The ploughman, weary, homeward plods his way.
His way plods homeward the ploughman, weary.
Homeward, weary, the ploughman his way plods.

They even offered a year’s subscription to any reader who could add to the list. I can’t tell whether anyone took them up on it — perhaps they were too tired.


An ignorant Yorkshireman having occasion to go to France, was surprised on his arrival to hear the men speaking French, the women speaking French, and the children jabbering away in the same tongue. In the height of the perplexity which this occasioned, he retired to his hotel, and awakened in the morning by the cock crowing, whereupon he burst into a wild exclamation of astonishment and delight, crying, ‘Thank goodness! there’s English at last!’

Tit-Bits From All the Most Interesting Books, Periodicals and Newspapers in the World, Dec. 10, 1881

The Star Gauge

Chinese poet and palindromist Su Hui lost her husband to a concubine in the fourth century. To console her grief and to lure him back, she composed an ingenious array of 841 characters that can be read forward, backward, horizontally, vertically, and diagonally:

Image: Wikimedia Commons

Each seven-character segment corresponds to a poetic line, and can be read in either direction. At the end of each segment, “you encounter a junction of meridians and can choose which direction to go,” explains anthologist David Hinton. “You can begin anywhere, and the poem ends after four lines have been chosen. This structure generates 2,848 possible poems.”

It’s said that Su Hui’s husband was so moved that he sent away the concubine and rejoined her.

In a Word


n. an unmarried person

Schedule of a bachelor’s life, from the Yorkshire Observer, Nov. 30, 1822:

At 16 years, incipient palpitations are manifested towards the young ladies.
17. Blushing and confusion occurs in conversing with them.
18. Confidence in conversing with them is much increased.
19. Is angry if treated by them as a boy.
20. Betrays great consciousness of his own charms and manliness.
21. A looking-glass becomes indispensible in his room.
22. Insufferable puppyism exhibited.
23. Thinks no woman good enough for him.
24. Is caught unawares by the snares of Cupid.
25. The connection broken off from self-conceit on his part.
26. Conducts himself with airs of superiority towards her.
27. Pays his addresses to another lady, not without hope of mortifying the first.
28. Is mortified and frantic at being refused.
29. Rails against the fair sex in general.
30. Seems morose and out of humour in all conversations on matrimony.
31. Contemplates matrimony more under the influence of interest than formerly.
32. Begins to consider personal beauty in a wife not so indispensible as formerly.
33. Still retains a high opinion of his attractions as a husband.
34. Consequently has no idea but he may still marry a chicken.
35. Fails deeply and violently in love with one of seventeen.
36. Au dernier desespoir! another refusal.
37. Indulges now in every kind of dissipation.
38. Shuns the best part of the female sex.
39. Suffers much remorse and mortification in so doing.
40. A fresh budding of matrimonial ideas, but no spring shoots.
41. A nice young widow perplexes him.
42. Ventures to address her with mixed sensations of love and interest.
43. Interest prevails, which causes much cautious reflection.
44. The widow jilts him, being as cautious as himself.
45. Becomes every day more averse to the fair sex.
46. Gouty and nervous symptoms begin to appear.
47. Fears what may become of him when old and infirm.
48. Thinks living alone irksome.
49. Resolves to have a prudent young woman as housekeeper and companion.
50. A nervous affection about him, and frequent attacks of the gout.
51. Much pleased with his new house-keeper as nurse.
52. Begins to feel some attachment to her.
53. His pride revolts at the idea of marrying her.
54. Is in great distress now to act.
55. Is completely under her influence, and very miserable.
56. Many painful thoughts about parting with her.
57. She refuses to live any longer with him solo.
58. Gouty, nervous, and bilious to excess.
59. Feels very ill, sends for her to his bed-side, and intends espousing her.
60. Grows rapidly worse, has his will made in her favour, and makes his exit.