In a Word

poculation
n. the action or practice of drinking alcohol

eclaircissement
n. the clearing up of anything which is obscure or not easily understood; an explanation

plerophory
n. full persuasion or confidence; perfect conviction or certitude

In a 1952 speech before the Mississippi house of representatives, lawmaker Noah S. Sweat addressed the question whether the state should continue to prohibit alcoholic beverages:

My friends, I had not intended to discuss this controversial subject at this particular time. However, I want you to know that I do not shun controversy. On the contrary, I will take a stand on any issue at any time, regardless of how fraught with controversy it might be. You have asked me how I feel about whiskey. All right, here is how I feel about whiskey:

If when you say whiskey you mean the devil’s brew, the poison scourge, the bloody monster, that defiles innocence, dethrones reason, destroys the home, creates misery and poverty, yea, literally takes the bread from the mouths of little children; if you mean the evil drink that topples the Christian man and woman from the pinnacle of righteous, gracious living into the bottomless pit of degradation, and despair, and shame and helplessness, and hopelessness, then certainly I am against it.

But, if when you say whiskey you mean the oil of conversation, the philosophic wine, the ale that is consumed when good fellows get together, that puts a song in their hearts and laughter on their lips, and the warm glow of contentment in their eyes; if you mean Christmas cheer; if you mean the stimulating drink that puts the spring in the old gentleman’s step on a frosty, crispy morning; if you mean the drink which enables a man to magnify his joy, and his happiness, and to forget, if only for a little while, life’s great tragedies, and heartaches, and sorrows; if you mean that drink, the sale of which pours into our treasuries untold millions of dollars, which are used to provide tender care for our little crippled children, our blind, our deaf, our dumb, our pitiful aged and infirm; to build highways and hospitals and schools, then certainly I am for it.

“This is my stand,” he said. “I will not retreat from it. I will not compromise.”

In the Dark

In The Limits of Language, Swedish linguist Mikael Parkvall awards this his recognition for “best apologetic endnote”:

“This paper was undertaken in an attempt to shed light on some very mysterious problems. I fear I have done little more than show which lamps have cords too short to reach the outlets.”

(From Georgia Green, “Some Observations on the Syntax and Semantics of Instrumental Verbs,” Papers from the 8th Regional Meeting of the Chicago Linguistic Society 8 [1972], 83-97.)

In a Word

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Grover_Cleveland_-_NARA_-_518139.tif

alembicated
adj. over-refined, excessively subtle in thought or expression

brachylogy
n. conciseness of speech; a condensed expression

mycterism
n. a subtle or scornful jibe; a piece of sarcasm or irony; subtle mocking

In 1886 Grover Cleveland suspended certain officials during a recess of the Senate and refused to give his reasons. When the Senate objected, he sent them a letter that contained a fateful phrase: “And so it happens that after an existence of nearly twenty years of an almost innocuous desuetude these laws are brought forth.”

Everyone pounced on it. Tennessee representative William Robert Moore wrote:

The big Free trade disciple
Who lives on Buzzard’s Bay,
Cannot again be President,
The tariff boys all say;
And they mean “biz” you better bet,
They’re in the proper mood
To send him up Salt River
To “innocuous desuetude” —
To innocuous desuetude,
To innocuous desuetude,
To send him up Salt River
To innocuous desuetude.

The phrase was still echoing in 1920, when former Speaker of the House Champ Clark wrote, “His most exquisite phrase and entirely original, so far as I know, was ‘innocuous desuetude,’ still frequently quoted and perhaps to be quoted as long as our vernacular is spoken by the children of men.”

In a Word

ullage
n. the amount a container lacks of being full

Given a 5-gallon jug, a 3-gallon jug, and a limitless supply of water, how can you measure out exactly 4 gallons?

Click for Answer

Recycling Poetry

pimenta anagram

In 1987, Portuguese poet Alberto Pimenta took the sonnet Transforma-se o amador na cousa amada (The lover becomes the thing he loves), by the 16th-century poet Luís de Camões, and rearranged the letters of each line to produce a new sonnet, Ousa a forma cantor! Mas se da namorada (Dare the form, songster! But if the girlfriend).

Here’s Camões’ (curiously apposite) original poem, translated by Richard Zenith:

The lover becomes the thing he loves
by virtue of much imagining;
since what I long for is already in me,
the act of longing should be enough.
If my soul becomes the beloved,
what more can my body long for?
Only in itself will it find peace,
since my body and soul are linked.
But this pure, fair demigoddess,
who with my soul is in accord
like an accident with its subject,
exists in my mind as a mere idea;
the pure and living love I’m made of
seeks, like simple matter, form.

Carlota Simões and Nuno Coelho of the University of Coimbra calculated that the letters in Camões’ sonnet can be rearranged within their lines in 5.3 × 10312 possible ways.

Interestingly, after Pimenta’s anagramming there were two letters left over, L and C, which are the initials of the original poet, Luís de Camões. “It seems that, in some mysterious and magical way, Luís de Camões came to reclaim the authorship of the second poem as well.”

In 2014, when designer Nuno Coelho challenged his multimedia students to render the transformation, Joana Rodrigues offered this:

Related: In 2005 mathematician Mike Keith devised a scheme to generate 268,435,456 Shakespearean sonnets, each a line-by-line anagram of the others. And see Choice and Fiction.

(Carlota Simões and Nuno Coelho, “Camões, Pimenta and the Improbable Sonnet,” Recreational Mathematics Magazine 1:2 [September 2014], 11-19.)

Tech Talk

In 1944 British graduate student John Hellins Quick published a description of the “turbo-encabulator,” a marvelously sophisticated device whose workings are understandable only by engineers:

The original machine had a base-plate of prefabulated aluminite, surmounted by a malleable logarithmic casing in such a way that the two main spurving bearings were in a direct line with the pentametric fan. The latter consisted simply of six hydrocoptic marzelvanes, so fitted to the ambifacient lunar waneshaft that side fumbling was effectively prevented. The main winding was of the normal lotus-o-delta type placed in panendermic semi-bovoid slots in the stator, every seventh conductor being connected by a nonreversible tremie pipe to the differential girdle spring on the ‘up’ end of the grammeters.

General Electric, Chrysler, and Rockwell Automation have all sung the device’s praises, even if no one can quite explain what it does. Actor Bud Haggart shot the video above in 1977 after completing an industrial training film for General Motors.

The rest of us will just have to take its wonders on faith. When Time magazine published the description in 1946, one reader wrote, “My husband says it sounds like a new motor; I say it sounds like a dictionary that has been struck by lightning.”

A Poet’s Arsenal

Noted in passing: In the May 2004 issue of Word Ways, Max Maven notes that “English words containing ‘ag’ almost invariably have negative meanings, usually rather harsh.” He cites BRAG, DRAG, FLAG, GAG, HAG, LAG, NAG, RAG, SAG, SLAG, SNAG, and SWAG, among others.

In May 1984 Bruce Price pointed out that words rhyming with ash tend to be “words of terrible action, of great vigor and violence”:

BASH, BRASH, CLASH, CRASH, DASH, FLASH, GASH, GNASH, HASH, LASH, MASH, PASH, PLASH, RASH, SLASH, SMASH, SPLASH, STASH, THRASH, TRASH

There are exceptions, of course. I wonder if there are any similar patterns among positive words?

Detente

In his Book of Good Love (1330), Juan Ruiz tells of a silent debate between Greece and Rome. The Romans had no laws and asked the Greeks to give them some. The Greeks feared that they were too ignorant and challenged them first to prove themselves before the wise men of Greece. The Romans agreed to a debate but asked that it be conducted in gestures, as they did not understand the Greek language. The Greeks put forward a learned scholar, and the Romans, feeling themselves at a disadvantage, put forward a ruffian and told him to use whatever gestures he felt inspired to make.

The two mounted high seats before the assembled crowd. The Greek held out his index finger, and the Roman responded with his thumb, index, and middle fingers. The Greek held out his open palm, and the Roman responded with a fist. Then the Greek announced that the Romans deserved to be given laws.

Each side then asked its champion to explain what had happened.

They asked the Greek what he had said to the Roman by his gestures, and what he had answered him. He said: ‘I said that there is one God; the Roman said He was One in Three Persons, and made a sign to that effect.

Next I said that all was by the will of God; he answered that God held everything in his power, and he spoke truly. When I saw that they understood and believed in the Trinity, I understood that they deserved assurance of [receiving] laws.’

They asked the hoodlum what his notion was; he replied: ‘He said that with his finger he would smash my eye; I was mighty unhappy about this and I got mighty angry, and I answered him with rage, with answer, and with fury,

that, right in front of everybody, I would smash his eyes with my two fingers and his teeth with my thumb; right after that he told me to watch him because he would give me a big slap on my ears [that would leave them] ringing.

I answered him that I would give him such a punch that in all his life he would never get even for it. As soon as he saw that he had the quarrel in bad shape, he quit making threats in a spot where they thought nothing of him.’

Ruiz writes, “This is why the proverb of the shrewd old woman says, ‘No word is bad if you don’t take it badly.’ You will see that my word is well said if it is well understood.”

(From Laura Kendrick’s The Game of Love, 1988.)

Inspiration

Many German beer brands combine a place name with the word Hell, which means “pale” and indicates a pale lager:

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Rennsteig_Hell_Vollbier,_VEB_GK_Rennsteig-Meiningen_Werk_Meiningen_Etikett_(DDR).jpg

Image: Wikimedia Commons

In 2010 German businessman Florian Krause recalled that he’d grown up near an Austrian village called Fucking:

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Fucking,_Austria,_street_sign_cropped.jpg

So he brewed a pale lager and named it for the town:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Fucking-hell-original.png

The European Union trademark office initially balked at registering the name, but Krause explained his thinking and they accepted it. “The word combination claimed contains no semantic indication that could refer to a certain person or group of persons,” the office noted. “Nor does it incite a particular act.”

“It cannot even be understood as an instruction that the reader should go to hell.”

The Extra Mile

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:JamesMayAutocar.jpg

Many thanks to podcast listener Matt Taylor for this:

In 1992 British journalist James May was hired to compile the annual “Road Test Year Book” for Autocar magazine, a collection of the year’s car reviews. The task “was extremely boring and took several months,” May said, so to amuse himself he began to hide acrostics in the text. The design of the supplement called for four reviews on each two-page spread, with the first letter of each review presented as a large red capital letter. May arranged the text so that the four red letters on one spread spelled out ROAD, another spread spelled TEST, and so on.

Readers who noticed this might have been disappointed to find that the pattern didn’t continue — the four-letter phrases soon reverted to non-words such as SOYO and UTHI.

But those with the patience to put all the non-words together found a masterly 81-letter message:

SO YOU THINK ITS REALLY GOOD YEAH YOU SHOULD TRY MAKING THE BLOODY THING UP ITS A REAL PAIN IN THE ARSE

Autocar’s editors overlooked the acrostic entirely — they learned about it only when readers called in seeking a prize.

May was fired, but he went on to bigger things: He was a co-presenter of the motoring program Top Gear for 13 years.