Language

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

Limerick

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

jerque
v. to search for smuggled goods

Coincidenza

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

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Image:Studies_of_the_Arm_showing_the_Movements_made_by_the_Biceps.jpg

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.