Signs and Portents

Writing in a prison diary in 1943, Ho Chi Minh discovered a lesson in Chinese ideographs:

Take away the sign (man) from the sign for prison,
Add to it (probability), that makes the word (nation).
Take the head-particle from the sign for misfortune:
That gives the word (fidelity).
Add the sign for man (standing) to the sign for worry,
That gives the word (quality).
Take away the bamboo top from the sign for prison,
That gives you dragon.

People who come out of prison can build up the country,
Misfortune is a test of people’s fidelity.
Those who protest at injustice are people of true merit.
When the prison doors are opened, the real dragon will fly out.

On his release, he started the August Revolution.

Slenderizing

What’s unusual about this sentence by Harry Mathews?

Once brought into this country, partly imprudent gray barbers marry expatriate, parrying the frictions of tried friends such as Mary, the sorry crook with no work at hand, who is now without a murmur getting pastry.

It remains a sentence when you remove the Rs:

Once bought into this county, patly impudent gay babes may expatiate, paying the fictions of tied fiends such as May, the soy cook with no wok at hand, who is now without a mumu getting pasty.

Inside Out

Every great work inspires variants. Here are the opening lines of Ernest Hemingway’s To Have and Have Not:

You know how it is there early in the morning in Havana with the bums still asleep against the walls of the buildings; before even the ice wagons come by with ice for the bars? Well, we came across the square from the dock to the Pearl of San Francisco café to get coffee and there was only one beggar awake in the square and he was getting a drink out of the fountain. But when we got inside the café and sat down, there were the three of them waiting for us.

We sat down and one of them came over. ‘Well,’ he said.

‘I can’t do it,’ I told him. ‘I’d like to do it as a favor. But I told you last night I couldn’t.’

‘You can name your own price.’

‘It isn’t that. I can’t do it. That’s all.’

And here are the opening lines of Lynn Crawford’s To Have Not and Have:

Few understand it here late in the evening in Oslo with the divas wide awake still opening, closing doors after even fuel company planes fly in fuel for the fires. Well, I navigated to the walkway extending from shore to the Sow’s Ear café to drop off brandy and there were several divas awake spooning meals out of bowls. But when I got inside and leaned on the bar, there was one running from me.

I continued standing and several more ran from me.

‘Hey,’ they carolled.

‘I can do it,’ I told them. ‘I told you this morning it was impossible. But I can do it for a fee.’

‘We name your fee.’

‘Agreed. I can do it. And something else –‘

This is an example of antonymy, a technique invented by the French experimental writing group Oulipo in which each designated element in a text is replaced with its opposite.

A simpler example: “To not be and to be: this was an answer.”

In a Word

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Daniel_Lambert.jpg

aletude
n. corpulency

gundygut
n. a voracious eater

“Imprisoned in every fat man a thin one is wildly signalling to be let out.” — Cyril Connolly, The Unquiet Grave, 1944

“Outside every fat man there was an even fatter man trying to close in.” — Kingsley Amis, One Fat Englishman, 1963

Next Stop …

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Golf_Halt_Station.jpg
Image: Wikimedia Commons

Until 2007, this unassuming railway station in North Wales went by the name Gorsafawddacha’idraigodanheddogleddollônpenrhynareurdraethceredigion.

This was an attempt to outdo Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch, a village on the island of Anglesey, for the distinction of the longest place name in Europe.

Perhaps because of the apostrophe, the bid was little recognized, and in 2007 the name was reduced, rather drastically, to Golf Halt.

See Succinct.

Inventory

Why would anyone ask a question with 76 spaces, 60 apostrophes, 33 commas, 1 question mark, 2 ‘0’s, 3 ‘1’s, 5 ‘2’s, 14 ‘3’s, 7 ‘4’s, 5 ‘5’s, 5 ‘6’s, 3 ‘7’s, 2 ‘8’s, 3 ‘9’s, 2 ‘W’s, 9 ‘a’s, 3 ‘c’s, 3 ‘d’s, 6 ‘e’s, 4 ‘h’s, 4 ‘i’s, 3 ‘k’s, 2 ‘l’s, 4 ‘m’s, 6 ‘n’s, 8 ‘o’s, 4 ‘p’s, 3 ‘q’s, 3 ‘r’s, 39 ‘s’s, 5 ‘t’s, 4 ‘u’s, 3 ‘w’s, and 3 ‘y’s?

(Thanks, Chris.)

Misc

  • Will Rogers died at the northernmost point in the United States.
  • 94122 + 23532 = 94122353
  • TO BE OR NOT TO BE contains two Bs.
  • If you stop me being mute, what sound do I make?
  • “Better to ask twice than to lose your way once.” — Danish proverb