In a Word

n. a collector of beer mats


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

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

n. a neighbor whose house is on fire


There was a young lady named Susie
Whose surname said she was a floozie.
Cathouse was the name;
It caused her such shame
She chose to pronounce it Cathouse.

In a Word

v. to search for smuggled goods


There are 3 letters in the Italian word for 6, sei.

There are 4 letters in the Italian word for 8, otto.

There are 5 letters in the Italian word for 10, dieci.

There are 6 letters in the Italian word for 12, dodici.

Finger Fumblers

If you don’t speak, you can’t misspeak, right? Not so: American Sign Language has the equivalent of tongue twisters, known as finger fumblers.

One example is “good blood, bad blood” — which is hard to say in speech or sign.

Black Friday

Famous people born on Friday the 13th:

  • Don Adams
  • Samuel Beckett
  • Steve Buscemi
  • Fidel Castro
  • Julia Louis-Dreyfus
  • Thomas Jefferson
  • Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen
  • Georges Simenon

The fear of this date is called paraskavedekatriaphobia.

tfeL to thgiR

Leonardo da Vinci recorded most of his personal notes in mirror writing. Maybe he wanted to hide his ideas from the Church … or maybe, being left-handed, he didn’t want to smudge the ink.

In a Word

n. love of hotels

Thanks for Nothing

Gordon Macdonald was the last British governor of Newfoundland. Despite the island’s fiercely independent nature, he openly campaigned for it to become part of Canada. In 1949 he succeeded, and two days before he returned to England, the Evening Telegram published a congratulatory poem:

The prayers of countless thousands sent
Heavenwards to speed thy safe return,
Ennobled as thou art with duty well performed,
Bringing peace, security and joy
Among the peoples of this New Found Land.
So saddened and depressed until your presence
Taught us discern and help decide what’s best for
All on whom fortune had not smiled.
Remember if you will the kindness and the love
Devotion and the respect that we the people have for Thee

— Farewell!

It was several weeks before the editors noticed it was an acrostic — read the first letter of each line.

Self-Contradicting Words

Words whose meanings contradict one another:

  • BILL (“monetary note” and “statement of debt”)
  • BUCKLE (“to secure” and “to collapse”)
  • CLEAVE (“to separate” and “to bring together”)
  • DOWNHILL (“progressively easier” and “progressively worse”)
  • DUST (“to add dust” and “to remove dust”)
  • FAST (“quick-moving” and “immobile”)
  • GARNISH (“to add to” and “to take from”)
  • MODEL (“archetype” and “copy”)
  • OVERSIGHT (“attention” and “inattention”)
  • PEER (“noble” and “person of equal rank”)
  • PUZZLE (“to pose a problem” and “to try to solve a problem”)
  • SANCTION (“to permit” and “to restrict”)

And TABLE means both “to present for consideration” and “to remove from consideration.”

Could You Repeat That?

This is a grammatically valid English sentence:

Buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo.

It was discovered/invented in 1972 by University of Buffalo linguist William J. Rapaport. It means “Buffalo from the city of Buffalo that are intimidated by other buffalo from the city of Buffalo themselves intimidate a third group of buffalo, also from Buffalo.”

Is that clear? Be glad you’re not in the Netherlands, where Als In Bergen, bergen bergen bergen bergen bergen bergen bergen bergen bergen bergen means “If in Bergen, heaps of mountains salvage heaps of mountains, then heaps of mountains salvage heaps of mountains.”

In a Word

a fight or quarrel between priests

August Reading

A capitonym is a word that changes meaning when it’s capitalized:

A herb store owner, name of Herb,
Moved to a rainier Mount Rainier.
It would have been so nice in Nice,
And even tangier in Tangier.


An isogram is a word in which no letter is repeated:


Theoretically the limit is 26 letters, but that’s an Everest that no one has scaled. Dmitri Borgmann has conquered some lesser peaks with THUMBSCREW-JAPINGLY (18 letters, “as if mocking a thumbscrew”) and PUBVEXINGFJORD-SCHMALTZY (23 letters, “as if in the manner of the extreme sentimentalism generated in some individuals by the sight of a majestic fjord, which sentimentalism is annoying to the clientele of an English inn”). Maybe what we lack is imagination.

Rechtub Klat

It’s not only 007 who communicates in code. Butchers in Australia speak a secret language called Rechtub Klat (“butcher talk”), in which words are pronounced backward.

Why should butchers need a secret language? So they can talk about the customers:

  • Kool, toh lrig = Look, hot girl
  • Doog tsub = Good bust
  • Doog esra = Good arse
  • On doog cuf ecaf = No-good fuckface

Keep your ears open.

Scrabble Heaven"

The most frequently used letters of the English alphabet, in order, are ETAOIN SHRDLU.

They can be rearranged to spell SOUTH IRELAND.

In a Word

sudden seizure with the claws

Robble Robble Robble

In Brazil, the Hamburglar is known as Papaburguer.

In a Word

n. beard-growing contest

Mindsight Fablelore

Here’s what English might look like if the Norman Conquest had failed:

To be, or not to be: that is the ask-thing:
is’t higher-thinking in the brain to bear
the slings and arrows of outrageous dooming
or to take weapons ‘gainst a sea of bothers
and by againstwork end them?

Author Paul Jennings composed this excerpt in 1966, 900 years after 1066. It uses words with Germanic roots in place of those with Greek, Latin, and Romance ones, which came to England with William the Conqueror. Jennings calls it “Anglish.”