In 1970 Dmitri Borgmann and Dwight Ripley compiled a list of “missing words” — foreign words with complex or interesting meanings that have no counterparts in English. I can’t immediately confirm most of these, but they’d certainly be useful words:

DENTERA (Spanish): a setting of the teeth on edge
PAPABILE (Italian): having some chance of becoming Pope
PIECDZIESIECIORUBLOWY (Polish): costing fifty rubles
PREDSVATEBNY (Czech): taking place on the eve of a wedding
KWELDER (Dutch): land on the outside of a dike
PASAULVESTURISKS (Lettish): of worldwide significance
MIHRAP (Turkish): a woman still beautiful though no longer young
UBAC (Provençal): the sunless north side of a mountain
HARFENDAZ (Turkish): one who makes insulting remarks to women in the street
PENCELESMEK (Turkish): to lock fingers with another and have a test of strength
MEZABRALIS (Lettish): a revolutionary hiding in a forest
MATAO (Brazilian Portuguese): a jockey who crowds the others against the fence
NEMIMI (Japanese): the ears of one sleeping
YOKOTOJI (Japanese): bound so as to be broader than long — said of a book
TOADEIRA (Portuguese): a harpooned whale that continues to sound

In 2006 the Goethe Institute held a competition to find German words that deserve a place in English. The winner was Fachidiot, literally “subject idiot,” a scholar blinkered by long study: “A one-track specialist still notices what is going on around him in the world which has nothing to do with university. A Fachidiot simply does not, or not anymore.” Runners-up included Backpfeifengesicht, “a face which invites you to slap it”; Kummerspeck (literally, “grief bacon”), “excessive weight gain caused by emotion-related overeating”; and Torschlusspanik (“gate closing panic”), the fear that time is running out to act.

English has some show horses of its own: to groak is to gaze longingly at one who is eating, and a ucalegon is a neighbor whose house is on fire.

(Dmitri Borgmann, “Missing Words,” Word Ways 3:1, February 1970.)


From the diary of Wilfrid Scawen Blunt, Nov. 20, 1898:

To luncheon at Malwood. Sir William in excellent form, principally about the bishops, with whom he is now in violent conflict. He narrated to us a conversation he had had with the Duke of Devonshire as to the nomination to a bishopric. The Duke’s account of it was this: ‘He had written two letters to Salisbury, recommending a fellow, he couldn’t remember the fellow’s name, and Salisbury hadn’t even answered. He had written because Courtney and another fellow, he couldn’t remember his name either, had wanted it.’ On inquiry it had turned out that the proposed nominee was Page Roberts, and Sir William had taken an opportunity of asking Lord Salisbury why he hadn’t made Page Roberts a bishop. ‘The fact is,’ said Salisbury, ‘I thought they were talking of Page Hopps, and we gave it to some one else.’ ‘That,’ said Sir William, ‘is the way they make bishops.’

No Tabs


William West noticed this inscription in an alehouse near Brighton. What does it mean?

Click for Answer

Pedal Pusher


Inventor Warren C. Schroeder offered a novel energy saver in 1981 — a sail for bicycles:

[The] sail … can be erected, dismantled or removed in seconds and … can take advantage of the wind direction in an arc that exceeds 200 degrees. The sail can be reoriented by the operator from the bicycle seat while in operation of the cycle. This allows operator to take full advantage of the full effective wind directional range and change. The use of the sail improves visibility of the bicycle from other vehicle operators thereby improving the safety of the cyclist.

“The bicycle sail allows the cycle enthusiast an inexpensive means of free transportation energy — the wind, ‘sailing on wheels.'” Stopping may be another matter.

Correlation, Causation

mould storks

From Richard F. Mould’s Introductory Medical Statistics — this graph plots the population of Oldenburg, Germany, at the end of each year 1930-1936 against the number of storks observed in that year.

Does this explain the storks’ presence? Not necessarily: In 1888 J.J. Sprenger noted, “In Oldenburg there is a curious theory that the autumnal gatherings of the storks are in reality Freemasons’ meetings.”

Digit Work

A useful system of finger reckoning from the Middle Ages:

To multiply 6 x 9, hold up one finger, to represent the difference between the 5 fingers on that hand and the first number to be multiplied, 6.

On the other hand, hold up four fingers, the difference between 5 and 9.

Now add the number of extended fingers on each hand to get the first digit of the answer (1 + 4 = 5), and multiply the number of closed fingers on each hand to get the second (4 × 1 = 4). This gives the answer, 54.

In this way one can multiply numbers between 6 and 9 while knowing the multiplication table only up to 5 × 5.

A similar system could be used to multiply numbers between 10 and 15. To multiply 14 by 12, extend 4 fingers on one hand and 2 on the other. Add them to get 6; add 10 times that sum to 100, giving 160; and then add the product of the extended fingers, 4 × 2, to get 168.

This system reflects the fact that xy = 10 [(x – 10) + (y – 10)] + 100 + (x – 10)(y – 10).

(From J.T. Rogers, The Story of Mathematics, 1968.)



Pun fans claim that Sir Francis Drake reported the defeat of the Spanish Armada with a single word: “Cantharides” (an aphrodisiac; hence “The Spanish fly”).

When Sir Charles Napier took the Indian province of Sindh in 1843, he supposedly sent a one-word report to the British war office: Peccavi (Latin for “I have sinned”).

When Lord Dalhousie annexed Oudh in the 1850s, he’s said to have sent a dispatch of a single word: Vovi (I vowed, or “I’ve Oudh”).

And when Lord Clyde captured Lucknow in 1857, he supposedly reported, “Nunc fortunatus sum.”

A dinner guest once bet her friends that she could get Calvin Coolidge to say at least three words during the meal. He told her, “You lose.”

(Thanks, Ted.)

Table Talk


[Prince Christian of Schleswig-Holstein-Augustenburg] was unfortunate enough to lose an eye in a shooting accident. When conversation flagged at a dinner-party, as happened so often when he was the host, he would bid the footman bring him a tray containing his collection of glass eyes, which he would exhibit to his embarrassed guests, explaining at great length the peculiarities of each one — ‘and this one, you see, is blood-shot, I wear it when I have a cold.’

— Georgina Battiscombe, Queen Alexandra, 1969


  • The first child to be vaccinated in Russia was named Vaccinov.
  • Every treasurer of the United States since 1949 has been a woman.
  • 15642 = 1 + 56 + 42
  • up inverted is dn.
  • “Life well spent is long.” — Leonardo



“You often ask me, Priscus, what sort of person I should be, if I were to become suddenly rich and powerful. Who can determine what would be his future conduct? Tell me, if you were to become a lion, what sort of a lion would you be?” — Martial