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.”

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A Mathless Math Puzzle

hess bug puzzle

Richard Hess posed this problem in the Spring 1980 issue of Pi Mu Epsilon Journal. At noon on Monday, a bug departs the upper left corner, X, of a p × q rectangle and crawls within the rectangle to the diagonally opposite corner, Y, arriving there at 6 p.m. He sleeps there until noon on Tuesday, when he sets out again for X, crawling along another path within the rectangle and reaching X at 6 p.m. Prove that at some time on Tuesday the bug was no farther than p from his location at the same time on Monday.

Click for Answer

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I spend many hours each month researching and writing Futility Closet, and that effort is supported entirely by the readers. If you value this site, please consider making a contribution to help keep it going.

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Greg

Books

FC book covers

Just a reminder — Futility Closet books make great gifts for people who are impossible to buy gifts for. Both contain hundreds of hand-picked favorites from our 12-year archive of curiosities. Some reviews:

“A wild, wonderful, and educational romp through history, science, zany patents, math puzzles, wonderful words (like boanthropy, hallelujatic, and andabatarian), the Devil’s Game, self-contradicting words, and so much more. Buy this book and feed your mind!” — Clifford A. Pickover, author of The Mathematics Devotional

“Futility Closet delivers concentrated doses of weird, wonderful, brain-stimulating ideas and anecdotes, curated mainly from forgotten old books. I’m hooked — there’s nothing quite like it!” — Mark Frauenfelder, founder, Boing Boing

“Meant to be read in pieces, but impossible to put down.” — Gary Antonick, editor, New York Times Numberplay blog

“Futility Closet is a dusty museum back room where one can spend minutes or hours among seldom-seen curiosities, and feel that none of the time was wasted.” — Alan Bellows, DamnInteresting.com

Both books are available now on Amazon. Thanks for your support!

Reminder

This site is supported entirely by its readers. If you value Futility Closet, please consider making a contribution to keep us going.

You can make a one-time donation on our Support Us page.

And you can get bonus posts and other rewards by pledging a monthly donation on Patreon — you choose the amount to contribute, and you can change or cancel it at any time.

Thanks to everyone who has contributed!