“Elegy”

“To the memory of Miss Emily Kay, cousin to Miss Ellen Gee, of Kew, who died lately at Ewell, and was buried in Essex.”

Sad nymphs of U L, U have much to cry for,
Sweet M L E K U never more shall C!
O S X maids! come hither and D 0,
With tearful I, this M T L E G.

Without X S she did X L alway,
Ah me! it truly vexes 1 2 C
How soon so D R a creature may D K,
And only leave behind X U V E!

Whate’er 1 0 to do she did discharge,
So that an N M E it might N D R:
Then why an S A write? — then why N
Or with my briny tears B D U her B R?

When her Piano-40 she did press,
Such heavenly sounds did M N 8, that she
Knowing her Q, soon 1 U 2 confess
Her X L N C in an X T C.

Her hair was soft as silk, not Y R E,
It gave no Q, nor yet 2 P to view:
She was not handsome; shall I tell U Y?
U R 2 know her I was all S Q.

L 8 she was, and prattling like a J;
How little, M L E! did you 4 C,
The grave should soon M U R U, cold as clay,
And you shall cease to be an N T T!

While taking T at Q with L N G,
The M T grate she rose to put a :
Her clothes caught fire — no 1 again shall see
Poor M L E, who now is dead as Solon.

O L N G! in vain you set at 0
G R and reproach for suffering her 2 B
Thus sacrificed; to J L U should be brought,
Or burnt U 0 2 B in F E G.

Sweet M L E K into S X they bore,
Taking good care the monument 2 Y 10,
And as her tomb was much 2 low B 4,
They lately brought fresh bricks the walls to 10.

— Horace Smith, in A Budget of Humorous Poetry, 1866

(This is a bit more recondite than the Ellen Gee poem. “D 0” is decipher, “1 0 to” is one ought to, N is enlarge, 10 is heighten, and “X U V E,” I am pleased to understand, is exuviae, “an animal’s cast or sloughed skin.” Let’s hope it stopped here.)

In Short

Large as the English word-stock is, it is not perfect. There are a number of situations which other languages have a single word for, but which English must express by circumlocution. Some of these were described by Dmitri Borgmann in the February 1970 Word Ways. For example, the English phrase ONE AND ONE HALF is succinctly described by Polish POLTORA, German ANDERTHALB or Latin SESQUIALTER. (In fact the Polish even have the word POLOSMA for SEVEN AND ONE HALF!) Similarly, English THE DAY BEFORE YESTERDAY is more compactly expressed by German VORGESTERN or Spanish ANTEAYER, and English THE DAY AFTER TOMORROW by German UBERMORGEN, Italian DOPODOMANI or Polish POJUTRZE. To express relationships, German uses GESCHWISTER for BROTHERS AND SISTERS, Polish uses STRYJ for the paternal uncle and WUJ for the maternal uncle, and SZWAGROSTWO for one’s husband’s brother and his wife.

— A. Ross Eckler, “English: Best For(e)play With Words,” Word Ways, August 2008

In a Word

instauration
n. the act of restoring or repairing

furacious
adj. given to thieving, thievish

In 1996, workers demolishing the old Apollo Theater on West 42nd Street in New York City discovered a hidden cache of discarded wallets. Apparently a thief had preyed on theatergoers there 40 years earlier, stealing wallets and pocketbooks, removing the cash and valuables, and dropping the rest into an airshaft.

“The farther back I crawled, the older they got, from the 1960s to the 1950s,” foreman Bill Barron told the New York Times.

The finds included a weekly paycheck stub for $226.30, a telephone bill for $7.24, faded photographs, and identification papers of the victims, few of whom were still living.

“The Times Square of the late 1950s and early 1960s was the capital of pickpocketing,” said social historian Luc Sante. “It was simply a more trusting era.”

Misc

  • When written in all caps, the title of John Hiatt’s song “Have a Little Faith in Me” contains no curves.
  • Tycho Brahe kept a tame elk.
  • It isn’t known whether the sum of π and e is irrational.
  • Abraham Lincoln, Andrew Johnson, Ulysses Grant, and James Garfield died without wills.
  • “Selfishness is one of the qualities apt to inspire love.” — Nathaniel Hawthorne

The medieval Latin riddle In girum imus nocte et consumimur igni (“We enter the circle at night and are consumed by fire”) is a palindrome. The answer is “moths.”

In a Word

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

perstringe
v. to criticize

dispendious
adj. costly

connictation
n. a twinkling or winking with the eye

An example of the quick wit of W.S. Gilbert, from actor Rutland Barrington’s 1908 memoir:

“On one occasion, when rehearsing Pinafore, he said, ‘Cross left on that speech, I think, Barrington, and sit on the skylight over the saloon pensively.’ I did so, but the stage carpenter had only sewn the thing together with packthread, and when I sat on it it collapsed entirely, whereupon he said like lightning, ‘That’s expensively!'”

Lost in Translation

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:North_Korea_Propaganda_Photograph_of_prisoners_of_the_USS_Pueblo,_with_the_Hawaiian_Good_Luck_Sign,_1968.jpg

In January 1968, North Korea captured the American spy vessel Pueblo and held 82 crew members captive for 11 months. During the crisis, the North Korean government released the photo above, claiming that the Americans were apologetic and cooperating with their captors.

The Americans managed to send a different message — three of them are extending their middle fingers. They had told the Koreans this was a “Hawaiian good luck sign.”

Commander Lloyd M. Bucher found a way to accomplish the same thing verbally — he wrote the confession “We paean the DPRK [North Korea]. We paean their great leader Kim Il Sung.”

One-Sided Story

In the runup to Thailand’s 2001 elections, Thai Rak Thai party founder Thaksin Shinawatra faced allegations of corruption. The Bangkok Post‘s “week in review” email examined the charges against him, his attempts avoid the media, his reputation, and the Internet’s reaction. It used these paragraph headings:

Thaksin cited
Thaksin sighted
Thaksin slighted
Thaksin sited

In Indexers and Indexes in Fact and Fiction, Hazel K. Bell writes, “Clearly the editor is an indexer manqué.”

In a Word

aeolistic
adj. long-winded

[Edmund] Falconer’s Oonagh, or, The Lovers of Lismona opened one evening in 1866 at half-past seven. By midnight most of the audience had left; by two o’clock in the morning only a few sleeping critics were still there. At three o’clock the stage crew brought the curtain down with the action still in progress and the play was taken off.

The Methuen Drama Dictionary of the Theatre, 2013