In a Word

sottisier
n. a list of written stupidities

Unfortunate lines in poetry, collected in D.B. Wyndham Lewis’ The Stuffed Owl, 1930:

  • He suddenly dropt dead of heart-disease. (Tennyson, “Sea-Dreams”)
  • Her smile was silent as the smile on corpses three hours old. (Earl of Lytton, “Love and Sleep”)
  • Irks care the crop-full bird? Frets doubt the maw-crammed beast? (Browning, “Rabbi Ben Ezra”)
  • Then I fling the fisherman’s flaccid corpse / At the feet of the fisherman’s wife. (Alfred Austin, “The Wind Speaks”)
  • With a goad he punched each furious dame. (Chapman, translation of the Iliad)
  • Forgive my transports on a theme like this, / I cannot bear a French metropolis. (Johnson, “London”)
  • So ’tis with Christians, Nature being weak, / While in this world, are liable to leak. (William Balmford, The Seaman’s Spiritual Companion)
  • Now Vengeance has a brood of eggs, / But Patience must be hen. (George Meredith, “Archduchess Anne”)
  • O Sire of Song! Sonata-King! Sublime and loving Master, / The sweetest soul that ever struck an octave in disaster! (Eric Mackay, “Beethoven at the Piano”)
  • The vales were saddened by a common gloom, / When good Jemima perished in her bloom. (Wordsworth, “Epitaph on Mrs. Quillinan”)
  • Such was the sob and the mutual throb / Of the knight embracing Jane. (Thomas Campbell, “The Ritter Bann”)
  • Poor South! Her books get fewer and fewer, / She was never much given to literature. (J. Gordon Coogler)
  • Reach me a Handcerchiff, Another yet, / And yet another, for the last is wett. (Anonymous, A Funeral Elegie Upon the Death of George Sonds, Esq., 1658)
  • Tell me what viands, land or streams produce, / The large, black, female, moulting crab excel? (Grainger, The Sugar-Cane)

In The Razor’s Edge, Larry Darrell says, “The dead look so terribly dead when they’re dead.” Isabel asks, “What do you mean exactly?” He says, “Just that.”

Backtalk

Bilingual palindromes, offered by Luc Étienne in Palindromes Bilingues, 1984:

  • Mon Eva rêve ton image, bidet! = Ted, I beg, am I not ever a venom?
  • Untrodden russet! = T’es sûr, Ned dort nu?
  • Sir, I ate merely on it. = Tino, y le remet à Iris.
  • Isadora rêve = Ever a rod as I?
  • Ton minet t’adora = A rod, at ten, I’m not!
  • Crop, editor, not any Bob = Bob, y n’a ton rôti de porc!

I offer you a sentence which does not indeed read backward and forward the same, but reads forward in English and backward in Latin,– making sense, it seems to me, both ways; granting that it is hardly classical Latin.

Anger? ‘t is safe never. Bar it! Use love!

Evoles ut ira breve nefas sit; regna!

Which being freely translated, may mean,

Rise up, in order that your anger may be but a brief madness; control it!

– John Townsend Trowbridge, ed., Our Young Folks, 1866

Social Studies

From Benoni Lanctot’s Chinese and English Phrase Book (1867), phrases for English-speaking employers of Chinese-Americans:

  • Can you get me a good boy?
  • He wants $8.00 per month.
  • He ought to be satisfied with $6.00.
  • When I find him useful, I will give him more.
  • I think he is very stupid.
  • Do you know how to count?
  • If you want to go out, you must ask me.
  • Come at seven every morning.
  • Go home at eight every night.
  • This lamp is not clean.
  • See that the money is weighed.
  • If there is any thing short, I will make him pay the difference.
  • Take this plate away.
  • Change this napkin.
  • Did you prepare any toast?
  • The tea is too strong.
  • Make me a pigeon pie.
  • Get a bottle of beer.
  • Please carve that capon.
  • Tell the cook to roast it better next time.
  • This wine glass is not clean.
  • The cook is very strange.
  • Sometimes he spoils the dishes.
  • Tell the cook to fry some pancakes.
  • Don’t burn them.
  • He did very bad last time.
  • I want to cut his wages.
  • This tea is very bad.
  • Get out of the way.
  • Don’t speak with me.
  • Who gives you permission?
  • Don’t be lazy.
  • You ought not to do so.
  • Pick this up.
  • This is nothing to you.
  • He is fit for nothing.
  • That belongs to me.
  • Carry it up stairs.
  • You ought to be contented.

Phrases for Chinese speakers:

  • Good morning sir.
  • When shall I begin?
  • I beg your pardon.
  • Lunch is on the table, sir.
  • I beg you to consider again.
  • It is my duty.
  • Sir, what will you have for dinner to-day?
  • You must excuse me.
  • You must not strike me.

Shop Talk

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Americana_1920_Theodore_Roosevelt.jpg

From a letter from Theodore Roosevelt to his son Kermit, Oct. 2, 1903:

There! You will think this a dreadfully preaching letter! I suppose I have a natural tendency to preach just at present because I am overwhelmed with my work. I enjoy being President, and I like to do the work and have my hand on the lever. But it is very worrying and puzzling, and I have to make up my mind to accept every kind of attack and misrepresentation. It is a great comfort to me to read the life and letters of Abraham Lincoln. I am more and more impressed every day, not only with the man’s wonderful power and sagacity, but with his literally endless patience, and at the same time unflinching resolution.

Corner Market

corner market diagram

From Martin Gardner, via Michael Stueben: Obtain a slab of gold measuring 10″ x 11″ x 1″. Divide it diagonally and then cut a triangular notch in two corners as shown. Remove these notches as profit, and slide the remaining halves together to produce a new 10″ x 11″ x 1″ slab. The process can be repeated to yield any amount of money you like!

Podcast: Episode 5

Henry Brown found a unique way to escape slavery: He mailed himself to Pennsylvania. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll accompany Brown on his perilous 1849 journey from Richmond to Philadelphia, follow a 5-year-old Idaho girl who was mailed to her grandparents in 1914, and delve deeper into a mysterious lion sighting in Illinois in 1917.

We’ll also decode a 200-year-old message enciphered by Benjamin Franklin, examine an engraved ball reputed to have fallen out of the Georgia sky in 1887, and present the next Futility Closet Challenge.

You can listen using the player above, or subscribe on iTunes or via the RSS feed at http://feedpress.me/futilitycloset. The show notes are on the blog, where you can also enter your submissions in this week’s Challenge. Many thanks to Doug Ross for the music in this episode.

Next week we plan to recount the story of the U.S. Camel Corps, an enterprising attempt to use camels as pack animals in the American West in the 1850s. If you have any questions or comments you can reach us at podcast@futilitycloset.com. Thanks for listening!

Unquote

“Nothing is really work unless you would rather be doing something else.” — J.M. Barrie

“No, Sir, not a day’s work in all my life. What I have done I have done because it has been play. If it had been work I shouldn’t have done it.” — Mark Twain, New York Times interview, 1905

From a letter by Isaac Asimov, July 20, 1965:

You have a vacation when you do something you like better than your work. But there isn’t anything I like better than my work. My vacation therefore exists all year long — except when I am forced to go away.

But James Thurber wrote, “I suppose that even the most pleasurable of imaginable occupations, that of batting baseballs through the windows of the RCA Building, would pall a little as the days ran on.”

Another Equivoque

This poem takes a pretty dark view of marriage — unless you read only the alternate lines:

That man must lead a happy life
Who’s free from matrimonial chains,
Who is directed by a wife
Is sure to suffer for his pains.
Adam could find no solid peace
When Eve was given for a mate;
Until he saw a woman’s face
Adam was in a happy state.
In all the female race appear
Hypocrisy, deceit, and pride;
Truth, darling of a heart sincere,
In woman never did reside.
What tongue is able to unfold
The failings that in woman dwell;
The worths in woman we behold
Are almost imperceptible.
Confusion take the man, I say,
Who changes from his singleness,
Who will not yield to woman’s sway,
Is sure of earthly blessedness.

– W.S. Walsh, Handy-Book of Literary Curiosities, 1892

Silent Films

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

The word zombie is never used in Night of the Living Dead.

The word Mafia is never used in The Godfather.

Absentee Ballots

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

Can one generation bind another, and all others, in succession forever? I think not. The Creator has made the earth for the living, not the dead. Rights and powers can only belong to persons, not to things, not to mere matter, unendowed with will. The dead are not even things. The particles of matter which composed their bodies, make part now of the bodies of other animals, vegetables, or minerals, of a thousand forms. To what then are attached the rights and powers they held while in the form of men? A generation may bind itself as long as its majority continues in life; when that has disappeared, another majority is in place, holds all the rights and powers their predecessors once held, and may change their laws and institutions to suit themselves. Nothing then is unchangeable but the inherent and unalienable rights of man.

– Thomas Jefferson, letter to Maj. John Cartwright, June 5, 1824

Tradition means giving votes to the most obscure of all classes — our ancestors. It is the democracy of the dead. Tradition refuses to submit to the small and arrogant oligarchy of those who merely happen to be walking around.

– G.K. Chesterton

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