In a Word

n. beard-growing contest


“Only two things are infinite, the universe and human stupidity, and I’m not sure about the former.” — Albert Einstein

Bunny Hop

Don’t laugh, they’re good at it. Rabbit show jumping began in Sweden in the late 1970s, and today there are more than 50 clubs throughout Scandinavia.

In case you’re wondering, the official world records are 99.5 cm (39.17 inches) for the high jump, 300 cm (118.11 inches) for the long jump.

Hoist by Their Own Petards

Inventors killed by their own inventions:

  • According to the Bible, Haman was hanged by the gallows he invented.
  • William Bullock (1813-1837) was crushed to death while trying to fix a rotary printing press he’d invented.
  • Otto Lilienthal died in 1896 after a crash in one of his hang gliders.
  • Thomas Midgley Jr. strangled in the cord of a pulley-operated mechanical bed he’d designed in 1944.
  • Alexander Bogdanov, a Russian physician, died when he accepted a “rejuvenating” transfusion of blood infected with malaria and tuberculosis.

And Jim Fixx, author of The Complete Book of Running, died of a heart attack while jogging.


Charles McKinley lacked the airfare to visit his folks in Texas, so on Sept. 5, 2003, he mailed himself from New York to Dallas.

Amazingly, authorities didn’t catch on until an air freight driver reported that he “had seen a pair of eyes looking out from inside the crate.”

Henry Box Brown did the same thing 150 years ago, but he was escaping slavery. McKinley, apparently, just wanted to save money.

Cueva de las Manos

Found in a cave in Argentina, these handprints are at least 9,500 years old.

No one knows who made them, but their size suggests a 13-year-old boy.

Mindsight Fablelore

Here’s what English might look like if the Norman Conquest had failed:

To be, or not to be: that is the ask-thing:
is’t higher-thinking in the brain to bear
the slings and arrows of outrageous dooming
or to take weapons ‘gainst a sea of bothers
and by againstwork end them?

Author Paul Jennings composed this excerpt in 1966, 900 years after 1066. It uses words with Germanic roots in place of those with Greek, Latin, and Romance ones, which came to England with William the Conqueror. Jennings calls it “Anglish.”

Atlanta Nights

In 2004, when vanity press PublishAmerica disdained science fiction and claimed to be a “traditional publisher,” the SF community decided to teach it a lesson. Dozens of authors collaborated on Atlanta Nights, a deliberate attempt to create the worst novel possible:

She went to the door, her hips swaying like palm trees in a Hawaiian hurricane.

Bruce lied there in the bed, trying to recover his memory. All he could remember was the screeching of tires’, like a steam engine gone crazy, and then there was just all that pain. Hell on wheels, that’s what it was, yeses.


On wheels.

PublishAmerica took the bait, accepting the manuscript that December. When the authors revealed the hoax, the company retracted its acceptance, but the point was made. “The world is full of bad books written by amateurs,” wrote reviewer Teresa Nielsen Hayden. “Atlanta Nights is a bad book written by experts.”


Swans mate for life.

It Was Ever Thus

Insulting nicknames of U.S. presidents:

  • John Adams: His Rotundity
  • Martin Van Buren: Martin Van Ruin
  • William Henry Harrison: Granny Harrison
  • John Tyler: His Accidency
  • James Buchanan: Old Public Functionary
  • Ulysses S. Grant: Useless
  • Rutherford B. Hayes: His Fraudulency
  • Grover Cleveland: The Beast of Buffalo
  • Woodrow Wilson: Coiner of Weasel Words
  • Warren G. Harding: President Hardly