Spelling Peril

I take it you already know
Of tough and bough and cough and dough.
Others may stumble, but not you,
On hiccough, thorough, laugh, and through.
Well done! And now you wish, perhaps,
To learn of less familiar traps.
Beware of heard, a dreadful word,
That looks like beard and sounds like bird.
And dead—it’s said like bed, not bead,
For goodness’ sake, don’t call it deed!
Watch out for meat and great and threat,
(They rhyme with suite and straight and debt).
A moth is not a moth in mother,
Nor both in bother, broth in brother.
And here is not a match for there,
Nor dear and fear for bear and pear.
And then there’s dose and rose and lose
Just look them up—and goose and choose.
And cork and work and card and ward,
And font and front and word and sword.
And do and go and thwart and cart
Come, come, I’ve hardly made a start!
A dreadful language? Why, man alive!
I’d mastered it when I was five!

— Anonymous

In a Word

n. one who studies late in life

“Fatal Double Meaning”

Count Valavoir, a general in the French service under Turenne, while encamped before the enemy, attempted one night to pass a sentinel. The sentinel challenged him, and the count answered ‘Va-la-voir,’ which literally signifies ‘Go and see.’ The soldier, who took the words in this sense, indignantly repeated the challenge, and was answered in the same manner, when he fired; and the unfortunate Count fell dead upon the spot,–a victim to the whimsicality of his surname.

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


I’m in a 10der mood to-day
& feel poetic, 2;
4 fun I’ll just — off a line
& send it off 2 U.

I’m sorry you’ve been 6 O long;
Don’t B disconsol8;
But bear your ills with 42de,
& they won’t seem so gr8.

— Anonymous

To and Fro

I lately lost a preposition;
It hid, I thought, beneath my chair
And angrily I cried, “Perdition!
Up from out of under there.”

Correctness is my vade mecum,
And straggling phrases I abhor,
And yet I wondered, “What should he come
Up from out of under for?”

— Morris Bishop

Rhyming the Unrhymable

I have tried a hundred times, I guess,
To find a rhyme for month;
I have failed a hundred times, I know,
But succeeded the hundred and one-th.

There were two men a training went.
It was in December month;
One had his bayonet thrown away,
The other had his gun th-
rown away.

Miscellaneous Notes and Queries, August 1894

In a Word

n. fear of phobias

A Devil’s Distinction

Terror and horror, from Darwin’s The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals.

Ann Radcliffe wrote: “Terror and horror are so far opposite, that the first expands the soul, and awakens the faculties to a high degree of life; the other contracts, freezes, and nearly annihilates them.”

Or, in Devendra Varma’s words, “The difference between Terror and Horror is the difference … between the smell of death and stumbling against a corpse.”

“I Say”

A gentleman who was in the habit of interlarding his discourse with the expression ‘I say,’ having been informed by a friend that a certain individual had made some ill-natured remarks upon this peculiarity, took the opportunity of addressing him in the following amusing style of rebuke:–‘I say, sir, I hear say you say I say “I say” at every word I say. Now, sir, although I know I say “I say” at every word I say, still I say, sir, it is not for you to say I say “I say” at every word I say.’

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


Epitaph in the churchyard of Llangerrig, Montgomeryshire:

bombaugh epitaph

— Charles Bombaugh, Facts and Fancies for the Curious From the Harvest-Fields of Literature, 1860

“Rhyming Words Wanted”

A whimsical letter written by W. S. Gilbert notes ‘a great want’ among poets. ‘I should like to suggest,’ he says, ‘that any inventor who is in need of a name for his invention, would confer a boon on the rhymsters, and at the same time insure himself many gratuitous advertisements, if he would select a word that rhymes to one of the many words in common use, which have but few rhymes or none at all. A few more words rhyming with ‘love’ are greatly wanted; ‘revenge’ and ‘avenge’ have no rhyming word, except ‘Penge’ and ‘Stonehenge’; ‘coif’ has no rhyme at all; ‘starve’ has no rhyme except (oh, irony!) ‘carve’; ‘scarf’ has no rhyme, though I fully expect to be told that ‘laugh,’ ‘calf,’ and ‘half’ are admissible, which they certainly are not.’

Miscellaneous Notes and Queries, March 1894


“Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” “revised by a committee of eminent preceptors and scholars”:

Shine with irregular, intermitted light, sparkle at intervals, diminutive, luminous, heavenly body.
How I conjecture, with surprise, not unmixed with uncertainty, what you are,
Located, apparently, at such a remote distance from, and at a height so vastly superior to this earth, the planet we inhabit,
Similar in general appearance and refractory powers to the precious primitive octahedron crystal of pure carbon, set in the aerial region surrounding the earth.

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

In a Word

n. one who fakes a smile

Double Talk

Here is the longest correct sentence of ‘thats’ which we have yet seen:

‘I assert that that, that that “that,” that that that that person told me contained, implied, has been misunderstood.’

It is a string of nine ‘thats’ which may be easily ‘parsed’ by a bright pupil.

Boston Journal of Education, cited in Bizarre Notes & Queries, November 1887

A Contrived Palindrome

“When young Sten was bar-mitzvahed, Sten Sr. took him on safari, as a present, during the course of which Mrs. Sten received this jubilant telegram”:


— John McClellan

Good Question

George Selwyn once declared in company that a lady could not write a letter without adding a postscript. A lady present replied, ‘The next letter that you receive from me, Mr. Selwyn, will prove that you are wrong.’ Accordingly he received one from her the next day, in which, after her signature was the following:–

‘P.S. Who is right, now, you or I?’

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

In a Word

n. fine writing on a trivial subject

“Spelling Reform”

With tragic air the love-lorn heir
Once chased the chaste Louise;
She quickly guessed her guest was there
To please her with his pleas.

Now at her side he kneeling sighed,
His sighs of woeful size;
‘Oh, hear me here, for lo, most low
I rise before your eyes.

This soul is sole thine own, Louise —
‘Twill never wean, I ween,
The love that I for aye shall feel,
Though mean may be its mien!’

‘You know I cannot tell you no,’
The maid made answer true;
I love you aught, as sure I ought —
To you ’tis due I do!’

‘Since you are won, Oh fairest one,
The marriage rite is right —
The chapel aisle I’ll lead you up
This night,’ exclaimed the knight.

Yonkers Gazette, cited in William T. Dobson, Poetical Ingenuities and Eccentricities, 1882

In a Word

n. one who lacks curiosity

Shouldn’t This Rhyme?

“Husband,” says Joan, “’tis plain enough
That Roger loves our daughter;
And Betty loves him too, although
She treats his suit with laughter.”

For Roger always hems and coughs,
While on the field he’s ploughing;
Then strives to see between the boughs,
If Betty heeds his coughing.

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

In a Word

n. an urge to make extravagant wedding proposals

“Riddles for the Post Office”

The following is an exact copy of the direction of a letter mailed a few years ago by a German living in Lancaster County, Pa.:—

Tis is fur old Mr. Willy wot brinds de Baber in Lang Kaster ware ti gal is gist rede him assume as it cums to ti Pushtufous.


This is for old Mr. Willy, what prints the paper in Lancaster, where the jail is. Just read him as soon as it comes to the Post Office.

Inclosed was an essay against public schools.

— Robert Conger Pell, Milledulcia, 1857

Roll Call

A pangrammatic anagrammatic verse composed by Edwin Fitzpatrick — each line contains each of the 20 consonants once and each of the six vowels twice:

Why jog exquisite bulk, fond crazy vamp,
Daft buxom jonquil, zephyr’s gawky vice?
Guy fed by work, quiz Jove’s xanthic lamp —
Zow! Qualms by deja vu gyp fox-kin thrice.

And it rhymes!

In a Word

n. the act of stuffing one bird into another