In a Word

v. to crush, smash, defeat



“Literary Curiosity”

From the Salem Observer, 1840:

“The following letter was written by a young gentleman to his ‘lady love,’ under the direction and eye of a rigid old father. The understanding, however, between the lovers, was, that she should read only every other line, beginning with the first. Love is full of expedients.”

Madam, –

The great love I have hitherto expressed for you
is false, and I find that my indifference, toward you
increases daily; the more I see of you, the more
you appear in my eyes an object of contempt. –
I feel myself every way disposed and determined to
hate you. Believe me, I never had an intention to
offer you my hand. Our last conversation has
left a tedious insipidity, which has by no means
given me the most exalted idea of your character;
your temper would make me extremely unhappy,
and if we are united, I shall experience nothing but
the hatred of my parents, added to their everlasting dis-
pleasure in living with you. I have, indeed, a heart
to bestow, but I do not wish you to imagine it is
at your service; I could not give it to any one more
inconsistent and capricious than yourself, and less
capable to do honor to my choice and to my family. –
Yes, Madam, I trust you will be persuaded that
I speak sincerely; and you will do me a favor
to avoid me. I shall excuse your taking the trouble
to answer this. Your letters are always full of
impertinence, and you have not the least shadow of
wit or good sense. Adieu! Adieu! believe me, I am
so averse to you that it is impossible for me ever to be
your affectionate friend and ardent lover.

– Quoted in The Olden Time Series, Vol. 6: Literary Curiosities: Gleanings Chiefly from Old Newspapers of Boston and Salem, Massachusetts, 1886


The longest English word with only one vowel is strengths.

In a Word

adj. fussy, officious


The only common English word that has five vowels in a row is queueing.

In a Word

adj. shining; glowing ruddily

In a Word

adj. dewy

In a Word

n. the imp of mischief in a printing house

In a Word

n. fatness

“It’s a Great Advantage to Be Able to Hurdle With Both Legs”

Memorable sportscasting quotes:

  • “And here’s Moses Kiptanui, the 19-year-old Kenyan, who turned 20 a few weeks ago.” (David Coleman)
  • “Juantorena opens his legs and shows his class.” (Ron Pickering)
  • “With half of the race gone, there is half of the race still to go.” (Murray Walker)
  • “What I said to them at halftime would be unprintable on the radio.” (Gerry Francis)
  • “I was in Saint-Etienne two years ago. It’s much the same as it is now, although now it’s completely different.” (Kevin Keegan)
  • “I imagine that the conditions in those cars are totally unimaginable.” (Murray Walker)
  • “The Baggio brothers, of course, are not related.” (George Hamilton)
  • “For those of you watching in black and white, Spurs are in the all-yellow strip.” (John Motson)

“Real Madrid are like a rabbit in the glare of the headlights in the face of Manchester United’s attacks,” Hamilton once said. “But this rabbit comes with a suit of armor in the shape of two precious away goals …”

In a Word

n. an instrument of torture for crushing the fingers

In a Word

n. the state of being bread

When in Rome …

A Latin palindrome:


(“We enter the circle at night and are consumed by fire.”)

It was said to describe the behavior of moths.

In a Word

v. to overshadow


A palindrome is a word or phrase that is spelled the same backward and forward. A semordnilap (“palindromes” spelled backward) produces a different word when reversed:

flog — golf
edit — tide
knits — stink
leper — repel
lager — regal
pupils — slipup
drawer — reward
diaper — repaid

In a Word

n. straight-hairedness

Sator Square

Found in the ruins of Pompeii, the Latin inscription SATOR AREPO TENET OPERA ROTAS (“The sower Arepo holds the wheels with effort”) may be the most symmetrical sentence ever composed. If it’s written conventionally, it’s a palindrome, reading the same forward and backward. And if it’s written into a square:

… it reads the same left to right, top to bottom, right to left, or bottom to top.

A Verbal Palindrome

Most palindromes are spelled symmetrically, so their letters produce the same phrase whether read backward or forward:

Able was I ere I saw Elba.

But it’s also possible to do this at the level of words, as in this example:

You can cage a swallow, can’t you, but you can’t swallow a cage, can you?

When this is read backward, word by word, it produces the same sentence as when read forward. And it’s true!

Judging a Book by Its Cover

Because of its cover design, some readers briefly imagined that SF author Jack Dann’s 1984 novel The Man Who Melted was called The Man Who Melted Jack Dann. That inspired some readers to search for other such titles, with some success:

  • The Joy of Cooking Irma S. Rombauer
  • Captain Blood Returns Raphael Sabatini
  • Flush Virginia Woolf
  • Contact Carl Sagan

Any others? You’ll get extra credit for bending parts of speech (Two Sisters Gore Vidal).

Extra Points for Creativity

“The boy who explained the meaning of the words fort and fortress must have had rather vague ideas as to masculine and feminine nouns. He wrote: ‘A fort is a place to put men in, and a fortress a place to put women in.’”

– Henry B. Wheatley, Literary Blunders, 1893

In a Word

adj. delicious; voluptuous

Hare Today

On the Isle of Portland, in the English Channel, it’s considered bad luck to say the word rabbit.

So people use the term “underground mutton.”

In a Word

adj. relating to a birthday or to the casting of horoscopes