Language

That Oughta Do It

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SWIMMING POOL SUGGESTIONS
Open 24 hours. Lifeguard on duty 8AM to 8PM.
Drowning absolutely prohibited.

— Sign, Plantation Bay Resort, Philippines

STOP

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Image:L-Telegraph1.png

From Charles Bombaugh, Facts and Fancies for the Curious From the Harvest-Fields of Literature, 1905:

The following sentence won a prize offered in England for the longest twelve-word telegram:

ADMINISTRATOR-GENERAL’S COUNTER-REVOLUTIONARY INTERCOMMUNICATIONS UNCIRCUMSTANTIATED. QUARTERMASTER-GENERAL’S DISPROPORTIONABLENESS CHARACTERISTICALLY CONTRA-DISTINGUISHED UNCONSTITUTIONALIST’S INCOMPREHENSIBILITIES.

It is said that the telegraph authorities accepted it as a dispatch of twelve words.

Triple Word Score

Rupert Hughes’ 1954 Music Lovers’ Encyclopedia contains what might be the most outlandish English word ever seen: ZZXJOANW. Hughes claimed it was of Maori origin, pronounced “shaw” and meaning “drum,” “fife,” or “conclusion.”

Logologists accepted this for 70 years before it was exposed as a hoax. Who can blame them? The English language contains about 500,000 legitimate words, including monstrosities like MLECHCHHA and QARAQALPAQ. Better luck next time.

In a Word

boanthropy
n. the delusion that one is an ox

The Void

In 1969, French author Georges Perec wrote a 300-page novel without the letter e:

Noon rings out. A wasp, making an ominous sound, a sound akin to a klaxon or a tocsin, flits about. Augustus, who has had a bad night, sits up blinking and purblind. Oh what was that word (is his thought) that ran through my brain all night, that idiotic word that, hard as I’d try to pin it down, was always just an inch or two out of my grasp — fowl or foul or Vow or Voyal? — a word which, by association, brought into play an incongruous mass and magma of nouns, idioms, slogans and sayings, a confusing, amorphous outpouring which I sought in vain to control or turn off but which wound around my mind a whirlwind of a cord, a whiplash of a cord, a cord that would split again and again, would knit again and again, of words without communication or any possibility of combination, words without pronunciation, signification or transcription but out of which, notwithstanding, was brought forth a flux, a continuous, compact and lucid flow: an intuition, a vacillating frisson of illumination as if caught in a flash of lightning or in a mist abruptly rising to unshroud an obvious sign — but a sign, alas, that would last an instant only to vanish for good.

Remarkably, La Disparition has been translated into six different languages, each imposing a similar constraint — the Spanish, for instance, contains no a, and the English, here, no e.

In a Word

vivisepulture
n. burial alive

Tower of Babble

In 1996 recreational linguist Ross Eckler composed the following “transdeletion pyramid”:

A N T I C E R E M O N I A L I S T
N O N M A T E R I A L I T I E S
O R N A M E N T A L I T I E S
I N T E R L A M I N A T E S
M A T E R N A L I T I E S
M A T R I L I N E A T E
T R I L A M I N A T E
T E R M I N A L I A
L A T I M E R I A
M A T E R I A L
T A L I E R A
R E T A I L
A L T E R
R A T E
T E A
A T
A

Each word is derived from the one above, dropping one letter and scrambling the rest.

Reformed Spelling

From Charles Bombaugh, Facts and Fancies for the Curious From the Harvest-Fields of Literature, 1905:

A smart girl in Vassar claims that Phtholognyrrh should be pronounced Turner, and gives this little table to explain her theory:

First — Phth (as in phthisis) is … T
Second — olo (as in colonel) is … UR
Third — gn (as in gnat) is … N
Fourth — yrrh (as in myrrh) is … R

Let’s hope Mr. Turner likes fish and potatoes.

Portmanteau Geography

Can’t decide what to name your border town? Why not split the difference? Near the line between Idaho and Nevada sits a town dubbed Idavada. Similarly, there’s a Tennga between Tennessee and Georgia, and a Virgilina between Virginia and North Carolina.

This can get confusing if both states have the same idea. There are two Texarkanas, one in Texas and one in Arkansas. And Delaware and Maryland both have a Delmar and a Marydel, for a total of four towns.

Finally, for the pathologically indecisive, there’s Cal-Nev-Ari, which is in southern Nevada near California and Arizona. It’s not far from Utah, either, but apparently amity has its limits.

In a Word

lethonomia
n. a propensity for forgetting names

In a Word

groak
v. to stare at a person longingly while he is eating

“Did you ever hear of a dog before who did not persecute one with beseeching eyes at mealtimes?” wrote Elizabeth Barrett to Robert Browning in 1846 of her celebrated dog Flush. “And remember, this is not the effect of discipline. Also if another than myself happens to take coffee or break bread in the room here, he teazes straightway with eyes & paws, … teazes like a common dog & is put out of the door before he can be quieted by scolding.”

In a Word

acapnotic
n. a nonsmoker

In a Word

immerd
v. to cover with excrement

In a Word

ombibulous
adj. drinking everything

Quick Brown Fox

I sang, and thought I sang very well; but he just looked up into my face with a very quizzical expression, and said, “How long have you been singing, Mademoiselle?”

That’s from Lillie de Hagermann-Lindencrone’s 1912 book In the Courts of Memory. What’s remarkable about it? This section:

I sang, and thought I sang very well; but he just looked up into my face with a very quizzical expression, and said, “How long have you been singing, Mademoiselle?”

… contains all 26 letters of the alphabet.

At 56 letters, it’s the shortest known example of a “pangrammatic window.”

In a Word

obsolagnium
n. waning sexual desire due to age

In a Word

epicaricacy
n. taking pleasure in others’ misfortune

Aptronyms

A aptronym is a name that is aptly suited to its owner’s occupation. Examples:

  • Sally Ride, astronaut
  • William Wordsworth, poet
  • Margaret Court and Anna Smashnova, tennis players
  • John Tory, leader of Ontario’s Progressive Conservative Party
  • Learned Hand, judge
  • Larry Speakes, Ronald Reagan’s press secretary
  • Chuck Long and Willie Thrower, NFL quarterbacks

And Joe Strummer, guitarist for The Clash.

In a Word

cacozelia
n. the use of rare or foreign words to appear learned

In a Word

tegestologist
n. a collector of beer mats

Shibboleth

Isaac Asimov proposed a simple way to distinguish chemists from non-chemists: Ask them to read aloud the word unionized.

Non-chemists will pronounce it “union-ized”, he said — and chemists will pronounce it “un-ionized.”

In a Word

discalced
adj. without shoes

Excuse Me?

The Czech sentence Strč prst skrz krk (“stick finger through throat”) has no vowels — which makes it a notoriously difficult tongue-twister.

It’s so difficult, in fact, that Czechs challenge each other to say it — as a test for sobriety.

In a Word

ucalegon
n. a neighbor whose house is on fire