In a Word

n. incorrect pronunciation

In a Word

adj. having hairy buttocks

Return to Sender

In The Queer, the Quaint and the Quizzical (1882), Frank H. Stauffer describes a letter with the following puzzling address:


It was delivered to John Underwood, Andover, Massachusetts.

Stauffer also tells of a letter arriving in London addressed to “Sromfridevi, Angleterre.” After some thinking, the postmaster sent it on to Sir Humphrey Davy.


Nothing is better than eternal happiness.

Eating a hamburger is better than nothing.

Therefore, eating a hamburger is better than eternal happiness.

“Ingenious Subterfuge”

“A young lady, newly married, being obliged to show her Husband all the Letters she wrote, sent the following to an intimate friend.”

Reveal the Secret

I cannot be satisfied, my dearest Friend,
blest as I am in the matrimonial state,
unless I pour into your friendly bosom,
which has ever beat in unison with mine,
the various sensations which swell
with the liveliest emotion of pleasure,
my almost bursting heart. I tell you my dear
husband is the most amiable of men,
I have now been married seven weeks, and
never have found the least reason to
repent the day that joined us. My husband is
both in person and manners far from resembling
ugly, cross, old, disagreeable, and jealous
monsters, who think by confining to secure —
a wife, it is his maxim to treat as a
bosom friend and confidant, and not as a
plaything, or menial slave, the woman
chosen to be his companion. Neither party
he says, should always obey implicitly;
but each yield to the other by turns.
An ancient maiden aunt, near seventy,
a cheerful, venerable, and pleasant old lady,
lives in the house with us; she is the de-
light of both young and old; she is ci-
vil to all the neighborhood round,
generous and charitable to the poor.
I am convinced my husband loves nothing more
than he does me; he flatters me more
than a glass; and his intoxication
(for so I must call the excess of his love)
often makes me blush for the unworthiness
of its object, and wish I could be more deserving
of the man whose name I bear. To
say all in one word, my dear, and to
crown the whole — my former gallant lover
is now my indulgent husband; my husband
is returned, and I might have had
a prince without the felicity I find in
him. Adieu! may you be as blest as I am un-
able to wish that I could be more

“The key is to read the first and then every alternate line only.”

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

In a Word

adj. badly written or spelled

Poetic Justice

Adolph Blaine Charles David Earl Frederick Gerald Hubert Irvin John Kenneth Lloyd Martin Nero Oliver Paul Quincy Randolph Sherman Thomas Uncas Victor William Xerxes Yancy Zeus Wolfeschlegelsteinhausen-bergerdorffvoralternwarengewissenhaftschaferswessenschafewarenwohlgepflegeundsorgfaltigkeitbeschutzen- vonangreifendurchihrraubgierigfeindewelchevoralternzwolftausendjahresvorandieerscheinenwanderersteer- demenschderraumschiffgebrauchlichtalsseinursprungvonkraftgestartseinlangefahrthinzwischensternartigraum- aufdersuchenachdiesternwelchegehabtbewohnbarplanetenkreisedrehensichundwohinderneurassevonver- standigmenschlichkeitkonntefortplanzenundsicherfreuenanlebenslanglichfreudeundruhemitnichteinfurcht- vorangreifenvonandererintelligentgeschopfsvonhinzwischensternartigraum, Senior, was born in Hamburg in 1904.

It’s not known whether he worked at the Donaudampfschiffahrtselektrizittenhauptbetriebswerkbauunterbeam- tengesellschaft — an office that governed steamboat passage on the Danube — but he certainly should have.

What’s in a Name?

Condoleezza Rice’s name is derived from the Italian musical expression con dolcezza.

It means “with sweetness.”


nth has no vowel.

Neither does psst or tsk.

Juvenile Chemistry

This compound, C4H5As, is known as arsole.

When it’s fused to a benzene ring, it’s called benzarsole.

No, I’m not above pointing that out.

In a Word

n. the art of counting on one’s fingers

Holiday for Vowels

“In an old church in Westchester county, N.Y., the following consonants are written beside the altar, under the Ten Commandments. What vowel is to be placed between them, to make sense and rhyme of the couplet?”


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

Click for Answer

A Dead Language Revived

Jonathan Swift liked to compose “Latin puns” — stanzas of nonsense Latin that would render English when spoken:

Mollis abuti,
Has an acuti,
No lasso finis,
Molli divinis.
Omi de armis tres,
Cantu disco ver
Meas alo ver?

Read that aloud and you’ll hear:

Moll is a beauty,
Has an acute eye,
No lass so fine is,
Molly divine is.
O my dear mistress,
I’m in a distress,
Can’t you discover
Me as a lover?

In a later letter, Swift wrote:

I ritu a verse o na molli o mi ne,
Asta lassa me pole, a l(ae)dis o fine;
I ne ver neu a niso ne at in mi ni is;
A manat a glans ora sito fer diis.
De armo lis abuti hos face an hos nos is
As fer a sal illi, as reddas aro sis;
Ae is o mi molli is almi de lite;
Illo verbi de, an illo verbi nite.

I writ you a verse on a Molly o’ mine,
As tall as a May-pole, a lady so fine;
I never knew any so neat in mine eyes;
A man, at a glance or a sight of her, dies
Dear Molly’s a beauty, whose face and whose nose is
As fair as a lily, as red as a rose is;
A kiss o’ my Molly is all my delight;
I love her by day, and I love her by night.

See also this verse.

“Two Young Women Want Washing”

Unfortunately worded advertisements of the 19th century, collected in English as She Is Wrote (1884):

  • “Teeth extracted with great pains.”
  • “Babies taken and finished in ten minutes by a country photographer.”
  • “For sale, a handsome piano, the property of a young lady who is leaving Scotland in a walnut case with turned legs.”
  • “Wanted, a young man to take charge of horses of a religious turn of mind.”
  • “Wanted, a young man to look after a horse of the Methodist persuasion.”
  • “A steamboat-captain, in advertising for an excursion, closes thus: ‘Tickets, 25 cents; children half price, to be had at the captain’s office.'”
  • “Among carriages to be disposed of, mention is made of ‘a mail phaeton, the property of a gentleman with a moveable head as good as new.'”
  • “A landlady, innocent of grammatical knowledge, advertises that she has ‘a fine, airy, well-furnished bedroom for a gentleman twelve feet square’; another has ‘a cheap and desirable suit of rooms for a respectable family in good repair’; still another has ‘a hall bedroom for a single woman 8 x 12.'”

In a Word

n. a person whose hair has never been cut

In a Word

n. a proclivity for nibbling on women’s earlobes

In a Word

adj. amenable to flattery

Can Do


— Sign, Paris park

In a Word

adj. clockwise

In a Word

n. one hiding from the police

In a Word

v. to consider worthless


Richelieu recommendation

If you’re the trusting sort, you might be pleased to carry this recommendation from Cardinal Richelieu to the French ambassador at Rome.

You wouldn’t last long, though. Rather than scan each line straight across, the ambassador would fold the page in half and read the truth about you in the left column.

(From Charles Bombaugh, Gleanings From the Harvest-Fields of Literature, 1860)

In a Word

adj. too horrible to mention

In a Word

adj. fourth from last