Language

Hint

Discovered by Mike Keith — Shakespeare’s 115th sonnet contains a message from the author:

sonnet 115

Repeat Performance

The index of the 57th edition of the Handbook of Chemistry and Physics includes the entry Sea water, see Water, sea.

The Latin phrase Malo malo malo malo can be translated as “I would rather be in an apple tree than a bad boy in adversity.”

Betty and Jock Leslie-Melville’s 1973 book Elephant Have Right of Way cites the Swahili sentence Wale wa Liwali wale wale (“the people of the Arab chieftain eat cooked rice”). “How is it pro­nounced? Just say ‘Wally’ five times.”

And in Finnish the utterance “Kokko, gather up the whole bonfire. The whole bonfire? The whole bonfire, Kokko, gather up!” is rendered as Kokko, kokoa koko kokko kokoon. Koko kokkoko? Koko kokko, Kokko, kokoa kokoon!

(Thanks, Jani.)

In a Word

periscii
n. the inhabitants of the polar circles: so called because in summer their shadows revolve around them

antiscians
n. people who live on the same meridian but on opposite sides of the equator, so that their shadows at noon fall in opposite directions

perioeci
n. people who live at the same latitude but on opposite meridians, so that noon for one is midnight for the other

In a Word

burgh-bote
n. a tax for the repair of fortresses

Orthography

“It’s a damn poor mind that can only think of one way to spell a word.” — Andrew Jackson

“If the professors of English will complain to me that the students who come to the universities, after all those years of study, still cannot spell ‘friend,’ I say to them that something’s the matter with the way you spell friend.” — Richard Feynman

A gentleman received a letter, in which were these words: Not finding Brown at hom, I delivered your meseg to his yf. The gentleman, finding it bad spelling, and therefore not very intelligible, called his lady to help him read it. Between them they picked out the meaning of all but the yf, which they could not understand. The lady proposed calling her chambermaid, ‘because Betty,’ says she, ‘has the best knack at reading bad spelling of any one I know.’ Betty came, and was surprised that neither sir nor madam could tell what yf was. ‘Why,’ says she, ‘yf spells wife; what else can it spell?’ And, indeed, it is a much better, as well as shorter method of spelling wife, than doubleyou, i, ef, e, which in reality spell doubleyifey.

– Benjamin Franklin, letter to his sister, July 4, 1786

Rhyming Trouble

There comes to me a question, your ear toward me bow,
Pray listen to my ditty and do not start a row ­–
I’ve lots of words peculiar, enough to fill a mow — ­
And thoughts crowd in upon me, like piglets by a sow.

So lay aside your weapons, let no one draw the bow,
And sit yourselves around me, all neatly in a row,
On clover leaves and timothy, all ready for to mow –
Alas, we must be moving, the farmer wants to sow.

– “Cryptox,” in the National Puzzlers’ League publication Enigma, May 1945

In a Word

undoctor
v. to make unlike a doctor, to degrade a doctor

Finnegans Brake

In 1932 C.K. Ogden translated the last four pages of Anna Livia Plurabelle into Basic English, “the International Language of 850 words in which everything may be said.”

Here’s Joyce’s text:

Well, you know or don’t you kennet or haven’t I told you every telling has a tailing and that’s the he and the she of it. Look, look, the dusk is growing. My branches lofty are taking root. And my cold cher’s gone ashley. Fieluhr? Filou! What age is at? It saon is late. ‘Tis endless now senne eye or erewone last saw Waterhouse’s clogh. They took it asunder, I hurd thum sigh. When will they reassemble it? O, my back, my back, my bach! I’d want to go to Aches-les-Pains. Pingpong! There’s the Belle for Sexaloitez! And Concepta de Send-us-pray! Pang! Wring out the clothes! Wring in the dew! Godavari, vert the showers! And grant thaya grace!

And here’s Ogden’s translation:

Well are you conscious, or haven’t you knowledge, or haven’t I said it, that every story has an ending and that’s the he and she of it. Look, look, the dark is coming. My branches high are taking root, And my cold seat’s gone grey. ‘Viel Uhr? Filou! What time is it? It’s getting late. How far the day when I or anyone last saw Waterhouse’s clock! They took it to pieces, so they said. When will they put it together again? O, my back, my back, my back! I would go then to Aix-les-Pains. Ping pong! That the bell for Sachseläute — And Concepta de Spiritu — Pang! Take the water of your cloths! Out with the old, in with the new! Godavari keep off the rains! And give us support!

“The simplest and most complex languages of man are placed side by side,” Ogden wrote. “The reader will see that it has generally been possible to keep almost the same rhythms.” Judge for yourself.

Moving Language

Writing in Word Ways in May 1975, David Silverman noted that the phrase LEFT TURN FROM THIS LANE ONLY, stenciled in the leftmost traffic lane at various U.S. intersections, was ambiguous — and that both meanings had been struck down, in contested court cases in Arizona and California.

In one case, the motorist had driven straight ahead rather than turning, which the prosecutor said was illegal. The motorist returned that this wasn’t so — LEFT TURN FROM THIS LANE ONLY meant that it would be illegal to make a left turn from any other lane, but it didn’t require that a left turn be made from this one. “If the city had meant my failure to turn to be illegal, they should have written FROM THIS LANE, ONLY A LEFT TURN.”

In the other case, the motorist had made a left turn from the lane to the right of one marked LEFT TURN FROM THIS LANE ONLY. He argued that this was legal — the marking required drivers in the leftmost lane to turn left, but imposed no requirement on the other lanes. “Had the city wanted to make my turn illegal the marking should have been LEFT TURN ONLY FROM THIS LANE.”

Both motorists were found not guilty. Perhaps because of such confusion, Silverman noted, most intersections had lately begun to use unambiguous arrows: “One good picture is worth ten thousand signs reading LEFT TURN IF AND ONLY IF FROM THIS LANE.”

Dream Sentences

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Antonio_de_Pereda_(1611-1678)_-_Visioen_van_een_ridder_(na_1650)_-_Madrid_Bellas_Artes_21-03-2010_11-15-11.jpg

After taking opium at Malta, Coleridge dreamed of the sentence “Varrius thus prophesied vinegar at his door by damned frigid tremblings.”

Delirious with fever in Scotland, Maria Edgeworth was haunted by the words “A soldier of the forty-second has lost his portmanteau.”

In a vision at Lerici, Shelley met his own figure, which asked, “How long do you mean to be content?”

Poet William Mickle regretted that he could not remember the poetry he composed in his dreams, which he said was “infinitely superior to anything he produced in his waking hours.” But his wife recited two lines he had spoken in his sleep:

By Heaven, I’ll wreak my woes
Upon the cowslip and the pale primrose.

Robert Browning dreamed that he attended a performance of Richard III and heard a line “immensely finer than anything else in the play. … When I woke I still had hold of the stupendous line, and it was this:

‘And when I wake my dreams are madness — Damn me!’”

Penmanship

In 1942 Niels Bohr was asked to give an address on the 300th anniversary of Isaac Newton’s birth. In discussing with Abraham Pais the themes that he might address, he wrote the word harmony on a blackboard:

bohr handwriting - harmony

As they continued to talk he grew dissatisfied with this. At last he said, “Now I’ve got it. We must change harmony to uniformity.” And he did so with “one triumphant bang”:

bohr handwriting - uniformity

Pais called this “the most remarkable act of calligraphy I shall ever witness.”

See Letter From New York.

In a Word

andabatarian
adj. struggling while blindfolded

A More Perfect Union

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:National-atlas-blank-state-outlines.png

The names of the 48 contiguous United States fall neatly into the two halves of the alphabet:

state names alphabetized

16 start with A-L, 16 with M-N, and 16 with O-Z.

Kid Lit

In 1967 Luis d’Antin Van Rooten published Mots D’Heures: Gousses, Rames, a collection of French poems that make little sense until you read them aloud:

Oh, les mots d’heureux bardes
Où en toutes heures que partent.
Tous guetteurs pour dock à Beaune.
Besoin gigot d’air
De que paroisse paire.
Et ne pour dock, pet-de-nonne.

Et qui rit des curés d’Oc?
De Meuse raines, houp! de cloques.
De quelles loques ce turque coin.
Et ne d’ânes ni rennes,
Écuries des curés d’Oc.

In 1980 Ormonde de Kay met this with N’Heures Souris Rames:

Très bel aï n’ de maïs
Si à Oudh héronne.
Des Halles Roi Naphte de phare mer soif
Chicot taffetas tel suite de carvi naïf.
Didier voyou si sachée saille t’ignore l’aï
Fesse très bel aï n’ de maïs.

Rabais dab dab
Trille, ménine, taupe.
Hindou d’yeux tines, que débit?
Débouchoir du bécarre
De canne d’élastique maigre.
Trop d’émaux, nefs alterés.

And in 1981 John Hulme expanded into German with Mörder Guss Reims:

Schach an Schill! Wend’ ab die Hilde –
Fesch Appel, oh Worte!
Schachfell Daunen, Brockensgrauen,
Und Schill Keim Tuümpel in Naphtha.

Pater keck, Pater keck, Bechers Mann.
Bigamie er keck es Festeschuh kann.
Batet und Brikett und Marktwitwe Tie
Und Butter, Tinte offen fort Omi Anämie.

Um die Dumm’ die Saturn Aval;
Um die Dumm’ die Ader Grät’ fahl.
Alter ging’s Ohr säss und Alter ging’s mähen.
Kuh denn “putt” um Dieter Gitter er gähn.

“In this lively allegorical poem a foolish Greek maiden becomes embroiled with the supernatural and is rescued in the nick of time from a fate worse than immortality by being turned into a cow.”

See also “It Means Just What I Choose It to Mean” and Read It Aloud.

(I think de Kay is the same fellow who proposed the theory of continental drip — a very playful man!)

In a Word

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

anemocracy
n. a government by the wind

Frank Hurley took the photo above during Douglas Mawson’s Australasian Antarctic Expedition of 1911. “The figure is actually leaning on a constant 100 miles per hour wind while picking ice for culinary purposes.”

Thrills and Intrigue

In 2005, Chinese novelist Hu Wenliang offered 140,000 yuan ($16,900 U.S.) to the reader who could decipher his novel «?», which consists entirely of punctuation marks:

:?

:!

“‘……’”

(?)·«,»

;——

Hu claimed that the symbols represent a touching love story that took him a year to write, but he told the Beijing Daily Messenger that none of the 20 interpretations that readers had so far offered had satisfied him.

“I have my own answer, which is around 100 Chinese characters,” he said. “The interpretation should cover the description of characters and the plot of the story. I will reward someone who can guess 80 percent the hidden story correct.”

That was in July 2005. If anyone has offered a successful solution, I haven’t been able to discover it.

Misc

  • WEALTH is an anagram of THE LAW.
  • U.S. Navy submarines observe an 18-hour day.
  • Joaquín Rodrigo wrote his compositions in Braille.
  • 45632 = –45 + 63×2
  • “Thy modesty’s a candle to thy merit.” — Henry Fielding

In a Word

ambilevous
adj. “left-handed on both sides”; clumsy

Sensible Nonsense

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

“Jabberwocky” works wonderfully in German — writer Thomas Chatterton offered this translation to Macmillan’s Magazine in 1872:

Es brillig war. Die schlichte Toven
Wirrten und wimmelten in Waben;
Und aller-mümsige Burggoven
Die mohmen Räth’ ausgraben.

»Bewahre doch vor Jammerwoch!
Die Zähne knirschen, Krallen kratzen!
Bewahr’ vor Jubjub-Vogel, vor
Frumiösen Banderschnätzchen!«

Er griff sein vorpals Schwertchen zu,
Er suchte lang das manchsam’ Ding;
Dann, stehend unten Tumtum Baum,
Er an-zu-denken-fing.

Als stand er tief in Andacht auf,
Des Jammerwochen’s Augen-feuer
Durch tulgen Wald mit wiffek kam
Ein burbelnd Ungeheuer!

Eins, Zwei! Eins, Zwei! Und durch und durch
Sein vorpals Schwert zerschnifer-schnück,
Da blieb es todt! Er, Kopf in Hand,
Geläumfig zog zurück.

»Und schlugst Du ja den Jammerwoch?
Umarme mich, mien Böhm’sches Kind!
O Freuden-Tag! O Halloo-Schlag!«
Er chortelt froh-gesinnt.

Es brillig war. Die schlichte Toven
Wirrten und wimmelten in Waben;
Und aller-mümsige Burggoven
Die mohmen Räth’ ausgraben.

In The Philosopher’s Alice, Peter Heath calls this “easily the best” of the poem’s many translations. “In no other language is elaboration of structure so readily compatible with entire absence of meaning.”

In a Word

polysemant
n. a word having more than one meaning

In 1000 Most Obscure Words, lexicographer Norman Schur notes that the Oxford English Dictionary gives three strikingly different definitions for rosmarine:

rosemary
sea spray
the walrus

Similarly, merkin manages to mean both “an artificial covering of hair for the female pubic region” and “a mop to clean cannon.” Kudos.

In 1973, textile merchant Marcus Shloimovitz sued the Oxford Dictionary for defining Jew in part as “a grasping or extortionate money-lender or usurer.” “The Jewish race includes sages, scholars, judges, scientists and people from the arts and stage,” he argued. “They have done great service for their countries. They are not cheats or unscrupulous usurers.” He lost because he failed to show that the definition had caused him personal suffering.

Pillow Talk

In 1951 James Thurber’s friend Mitchell challenged him to think of an English word that contains the four consecutive letters SGRA. Lying in bed that night, Thurber came up with these:

kissgranny. A man who seeks the company of older women, especially older women with money; a designing fellow, a fortune hunter.

blessgravy. A minister or cleric; the head of a family; one who says grace.

hossgrace. Innate or native dignity, similar to that of the thoroughbred hoss.

bussgranite. Literally, a stonekisser; a man who persists in trying to win the favor or attention of cold, indifferent, or capricious women.

tossgravel. A male human being who tosses gravel, usually at night, at the window of a female human being’s bedroom, usually that of a young virgin; hence, a lover, a male sweetheart, and an eloper.

Unfortunately, none of these is in the dictionary. What word was Mitchell thinking of?

Doctor Doctor

Apt names of medical specialists, collected by the MEDLIB-L discussion list in 1998:

Cardiologists: Dr. Valentine, Dr. Hart, Dr. Safety R. First

Chiropractors: Dr. Popwell, Dr. Wack, Dr. Bonebrake, Dr. Bender

Dentists, endodontists and orthodontists: Dr. Pullen, Dr. Fillmore, Dr. Hurt, Dr. Yankum, Dr. Les Plack, Dr. Toothman, Dr. Borer, Dr. Pullman, Dr. Filler, Dr. Harm, Dr. Hurter, Dr. Toothaker

Dermatologists: Dr. Rash, Dr. Pitts, Dr. Skinner, Dr. Whitehead

Family practice, internists: Dr. Kwak, Dr. Blood, Dr. Coffin, Dr. Patient, Dr. Payne, Dr. Slaughter, Dr. A. Sickman, Dr. Deadman, Dr. Will Griever

Hand surgeons: Dr. Palmer, Dr. Nalebuff, Dr. Watchmaker

Medical librarian: Rita Book

Neurologists: Dr. Johnathan Treat Paine, Dr. Brain, Dr. Head

Pediatricians: Dr. Donald Duckles, Dr. Small, Dr. Bunny, Dr. Tickles

Psychiatrists/psychologists/mental health: Dr. Brain, Dr. Strange, Dr. Dippy, Dr. Moodie, Dr. Nutter, Dr. Looney

Surgeons: Dr. Hackman, Dr. Blades, Dr. Klutts, Dr. Graves, Dr. Cutts, Dr. Slaughter, Dr. Kutteroff, Dr. Doctor, Dr. Butcher, Dr. Hurt

More here. In 1977 authors A.J. Splatt and D. Weedon submitted an article on incontinence to the British Journal of Urology. It was accepted.

Square Deal

Wordplay maven Dave Morice discovered something strange in 1992: Write out the three-letter word ONE, and beneath it write out the next odd number whose name is spelled with four letters, then the next spelled with five letters, and so on up to TWENTY-ONE, which has nine letters. Then, in a separate column, do the same with even numbers, from the three-letter TWO to the nine-letter TWENTY-TWO — but list these in reverse order:

square deal

Now each line contains 12 letters — and in each instance the numbers named total 23! What does this mean?

Read This Aloud

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Rose_and_Crown,_Borough,_SE1_(2546486162).jpg

When the Rose & Crown signboard blew down
George the landlord remarked with a frown,
“On the one to replace it
We’ll have much more space be-
Tween Rose and & and & and Crown.”

– Leigh Mercer