“Does a One-Legged Duck Swim in Circles?”

Recent winners of the Foot in Mouth Award, presented each year by the British Plain English Campaign for “a baffling quote by a public figure”:

  • 2005: Welsh politician Rhodri Morgan on the police: “The only thing which isn’t up for grabs is no change, and I think it’s fair to say it’s all to play for, except for no change.”
  • 2004: M.P. Boris Johnson on the television program Have I Got News For You: “I could not fail to disagree with you less.”
  • 2003: U.S. defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld at a news conference: “Reports that say that something hasn’t happened are always interesting to me, because as we know, there are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say, we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns–the ones we don’t know we don’t know.”
  • 2002: Actor Richard Gere: “I know who I am. No one else knows who I am. If I was a giraffe and somebody said I was a snake, I’d think, ‘No, actually I am a giraffe.'”
  • 2001: English artist Tracey Emin: “When it comes to words, I have a uniqueness that I find almost impossible in terms of art–and it’s my words that actually make my art quite unique.”
  • 2000: Alicia Silverstone, quoted in the Sunday Telegraph: “I think that [the film] Clueless was very deep. I think it was deep in the way that it was very light. I think lightness has to come from a very deep place if it’s true lightness.”



“She is now in the vile embrace of the Apollo of the evening. Her head rests upon his shoulder, her face is upturned to his, her bare arm is almost around his neck, her partly nude swelling breast heaves tumultuously against his, face to face they whirl on, his limbs interwoven with hers, his strong right arm around her yielding form, he presses her to him until every curve in the contour of her body thrills with the amorous contact. Her eyes look into his, but she sees nothing; the soft music fills the room, but she hears it not; he bends her body to and fro, but she knows it not; his hot breath, tainted with strong drink, is on her hair and cheek, his lips almost touch her forehead, yet she does not shrink; his eyes, gleaming with a fierce, intolerable lust, gloat over her, yet she does not quail. She is filled with the rapture of sin in its intensity; her spirit is[Pg 16] inflamed with passion and lust is gratified in thought. With a last low wail the music ceases, and the dance for the night is ended, but not the evil work of the night.”

From the Ball-Room to Hell by T.A. Faulkner, Ex-Dancing Master, Formerly Proprietor of the Los Angeles Dancing Academy and Ex-President of Dancing Masters’ Association of the Pacific Coast, 1892


“Actors are crap.” — John Ford

Extra Credit

On Sept. 15, 1963, at the height of the racial violence in Little Rock, a Miami schoolteacher forwarded the following essay to Dwight Eisenhower. Russell is blind.

How to Stop Trouble
By Leah Russell, age 12

If I were president, I would have all the children blindfolded and send them to school. I would also send some of the colored children and have them blindfolded. I think that all of them would have a lot of fun and there wouldn’t be any fights. Probably after they got to know each other there wouldn’t be any more fights or anything like that.

Eisenhower wrote back, asking the teacher to tell Leah that “she has already grasped one of the great moral principles by which we all should live.”

Orbison Illusion

An optical illusion. The diamond and the bounding rectangle are square, not distorted, as they appear.

In a Word

adj. yellow-haired


“Writer’s block is a fancy term made up by whiners so they can have an excuse to drink alcohol.” — Steve Martin

Galactic Dibs


On New Year’s Day, 1949, James Mangan went to the Cook County recorder of deeds and registered his own country. The Nation of Celestia, he said, encompassed all of outer space. He was claiming it, as “founder and first representative,” to prevent anyone else from establishing political hegemony there.

Mangan wasn’t shy about it, either. Later that year he informed the United States, the Soviet Union, the United Kingdom, and the United Nations that he was banning atmospheric nuclear tests, and he sent angry letters to the Americans and the Soviets when their space flights infringed on his “territory.” He even briefly got the U.N. to add the Celestian flag to those of its member nations.

Still, the idea never caught on, it largely died with its founder. All that’s left are some stamps, coins (“celestons”), and the titles Mangan gave to his grandsons: Glen Stump, “Duke of Selenia,” Dean Stump, “Duke of Mars,” and Todd Stump, “Duke of the Milky Way.”

Don’t Blink

The world’s slowest science experiment is the “pitch drop experiment” at the University of Queensland. In 1927, physics professor Thomas Parnell poured some pitch into a funnel to see how long it would take to drip out. Pitch is pretty viscous: When Parnell died in 1948, only two drops had fallen.

The experiment is still going on. The eighth drop fell on Nov. 28, 2000, allowing experimenters to calculate that the pitch has a viscosity about 100 billion times that of water.

Space to Let

Times are hard everywhere, but shed a tear for the Kongo Gumi Company of Osaka, Japan. When it closed its doors in January, the construction firm had been operating continuously for 1,400 years. The family business built its first temple in the year 578 and could trace its leadership through 39 generations.