In a Word

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

n. a nonsmoker

In a Word

v. to cover with excrement

In a Word

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

n. waning sexual desire due to age

In a Word

n. taking pleasure in others’ misfortune


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

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

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.”