War Talk

Just an interesting fragment: When the Chiricahua Apaches of southern Arizona went on a raiding party, they adopted a special speech. One informant told anthropologists Morris Edward Opler and Harry Hoijer:

I used to know many words, but I have forgotten just about all of them. Only one sticks in my mind, and that is the ceremonial way of asking for a drink of water. Instead of saying, ‘I want to drink some water,’ we had to say, ‘I begin to swim the specular iron ore.’

Peter Farb writes in Word Play (1981), “This kind of formal speech had to be maintained until the war party returned to the camp, at which time conversation switched back to everyday language.”

(Morris Edward Opler and Harry Hoijer, “The Raid and War-Path Language of the Chiricahua Apache,” American Anthropologist, New Series, 42:4 Part 1 [October-December 1940], 617-634.)

A Signature Achievement

The 2018 Name of the Year title went to Canadian hockey player Jimbob Ghostkeeper, beating Dr. Narwhals Mating with 57 percent of 7,500 votes cast. Notable also-rans in this year’s contest: Salami Blessing, La Royce Lobster-Gaines, Makenlove Petit-Fard, Bernard Bumpus, Christine Plentyhoops, Habbakkuk Baldonado, Early Champagne, Fabulous Flournoy, Dr. Dimple Royalty, Darthvader Williamson, Chosen Roach, Chardonnay Beaver, Forbes Thor Kiddoo, Quindarious Gooch, Darwin Tabacco, Blossom Albuquerque, Rev. Dongo Pewee, Mahogany Loggins, and Gandalf Hernandez.

Each year 64 candidates are chosen from reader nominations to compete in an NCAA-style bracket to establish the world’s most entertaining personal name. So far the “Hall of Name” includes Assumption Bulltron, Doby Chrotchtangle, Crescent Dragonwagon, Honka Monka, Excellent Raymond, Licentious Beastie, Mummenschontz Bitterbeetle, African Grant, Largest Agbejemison, Nimrod Weiselfish, Tokyo Sexwale, Tanqueray Beavers, Roszetia McConeyhead, Moses Regular, Jerome Fruithandler, Delano Turnipseed, Princess Nocandy, and Destiny Frankenstein. Send your nominations to nameoftheyear@gmail.com.

Podcast Episode 228: The Children’s Champion

Image: Wikimedia Commons

Polish educator Janusz Korczak set out to remake the world just as it was falling apart. In the 1930s his Warsaw orphanage was an enlightened society run by the children themselves, but he struggled to keep that ideal alive as Europe descended into darkness. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll tell the story of the children’s champion and his sacrifices for the orphans he loved.

We’ll also visit an incoherent space station and puzzle over why one woman needs two cars.


Elbert Hubbard and his wife decided on a final gesture aboard the sinking Lusitania.

E.E. Cummings dedicated his 1935 collection of poetry to the 14 publishing houses that rejected it.


Sources for our story on Janusz Korczak:

Betty Jean Lifton, The King of Children, 1988.

Adir Cohen, The Gate of Light, 1994.

E.P. Kulawiec, ed., The Warsaw Ghetto Memoirs of Janusz Korczak, 1979.

Marc Silverman, A Pedagogy of Humanist Moral Education: The Educational Thought of Janusz Korczak, 2017.

Susan J. Berger, “The Children’s Advocate: Janusz Korczak,” American Educational History Journal 33:2 (2006), 137-142.

Robert Leiter, “For the Sake of Children,” Jewish Exponent, April 6, 2000, 59.

Liba H. Engel, “Does School Reform Have Legs? The Flourishing of Janusz Korczak’s Pedagogy in Modern Israel,” Educational Forum 68:2 (Winter 2004), 170-179.

Reinhold Boschki, “Re-Reading Martin Buber and Janusz Korczak: Fresh Impulses Toward a Relational Approach to Religious Education,” Religious Education 100:2 (Spring 2005), 114-126.

Liba H. Engel, “Experiments in Democratic Education: Dewey’s Lab School and Korczak’s Children’s Republic,” Social Studies 99:3 (May/June 2008), 117-121.

Robert Leiter, “‘Who Is That Man?’ In the End, He Was the Comforter of Lost Children,” Jewish Exponent, June 10, 2004, 32.

Daniel Feldman, “Honoring the Child’s Right to Respect: Janusz Korczak as Holocaust Educator,” The Lion and the Unicorn 40:2 (April 2016), 129-143.

Martha J. Ignaszewski, Kevin Lichtenstein, and Maya Ignaszewski, “Dr. Janusz Korczak and His Legacy,” British Columbia Medical Journal 55:2 (March 2013), 108-110.

Gabriel Eichsteller, “Janusz Korczak — His Legacy and Its Relevance for Children’s Rights Today,” International Journal of Children’s Rights 17:3 (July 2009), 377-391.

Sara Efrat Efron, “Moral Education Between Hope and Hopelessness: The Legacy of Janusz Korczak,” Curriculum Inquiry 38:1 (January 2008), 39-62.

Aleksander Lewin and Agnieszka Bolczynska, “Janusz Korczak Is Greater Than His Legend: The Saint of All Creeds,” Dialogue & Universalism 11:9/10 (2001), 75.

Marie Syrkin, “The Saint in the Ghetto,” New Republic 198:23 (June 6, 1988), 44.

Yerachmiel Weingarten, “Janusz Korczak — Living Legend of Warsaw,” Canadian Jewish Chronicle, Dec. 8, 1944.

Vivian Eden, “Korczak Controversy,” Jerusalem Post, April 14, 1989, 7.

Amy O’Brian, “Exhibit Honours Hero of the Holocaust,” Vancouver Sun, Oct. 21, 2002, B2.

Eva Hoffman, “My Hero: Janusz Korczak,” Guardian, April 8, 2011.

James MacDonald, “Himmler Program Kills Polish Jews,” New York Times, Nov. 25, 1942.

Gabrielle Glaser, “Warsaw Journal; Where Children Are Taught Survival,” New York Times, May 30, 1992.

Vincent Canby, “Of a Saintly Jewish Doctor in Poland Who Died at Treblinka,” New York Times, April 12, 1991.

Betty Jean Lifton, “Wajda’s ‘Korczak’; Human Values, Inhuman Time,” New York Times, May 5, 1991.

Stephen Engelberg, “Wajda’s ‘Korczak’ Sets Loose the Furies,” New York Times, April 14, 1991.

Carolyn A. Murphy, “The King of Children,” New York Times, Aug. 21, 1988.

Geoffrey Wolff, “A Saint’s Life in Warsaw,” New York Times, July 31, 1988.

Betty Jean Lifton, “Shepherd of the Ghetto Orphans,” New York Times, April 20, 1980.

James Feron, “Awarding of a West German Peace Prize Stirs Memories of a Wartime Martyr of the Warsaw Ghetto,” New York Times, Oct. 1, 1972.

“Parenting Advice From a Polish Holocaust Hero,” Weekend All Things Considered, NPR, March 3, 2007.

Listener mail:

Annalee Newitz, “Movie Written by Algorithm Turns Out to Be Hilarious and Intense,” Ars Technica, June 9, 2016.

Dyllan Furness, “‘Sunspring’ Is an Absurd Sci-Fi Short Film Written By AI, Starring Thomas Middleditch,” Digital Trends, June 10, 2016.

Jacob Brogan, “An Artificial Intelligence Scripted This Short Film, But Humans Are Still the Real Stars,” Slate, June 9, 2016.

Amanda Kooser, “AI-Written Film ‘Sunspring’ a Surreal Delight, Upchucked Eyeball Included,” CNET, June 13, 2016.

“HAL 90210,” “This Is What Happens When an AI-Written Screenplay Is Made Into a Film,” Guardian, June 10, 2016.

Max Woolf, “I trained an (actual) AI on the titles of BuzzFeed YouTube videos and it generated some *interesting* results,” Twitter, Nov. 19, 2018.

This week’s lateral thinking puzzle was contributed by listener B Vann.

You can listen using the player above, download this episode directly, or subscribe on Google Podcasts, on Apple Podcasts, or via the RSS feed at https://futilitycloset.libsyn.com/rss.

Please consider becoming a patron of Futility Closet — you can choose the amount you want to pledge, and we’ve set up some rewards to help thank you for your support. You can also make a one-time donation on the Support Us page of the Futility Closet website.

Many thanks to Doug Ross for the music in this episode.

If you have any questions or comments you can reach us at podcast@futilitycloset.com. Thanks for listening!

Point Pairs


University College London mathematician Matthew Scroggs has released this year’s puzzle Christmas card for Chalkdust magazine.

This year’s card contains 10 puzzles, each with a numerical answer. Splitting each answer into two strings of digits will identify two dots on the card’s cover to be connected by a straight line. Drawing 10 lines correctly will produce a Christmas-themed picture.

You can download the card as a PDF or complete it online.


Submitted by Edward Thomas Noonan for Life magazine’s 1915 short story contest:

‘Here’s a pathetic case of chronic melancholia,’ the doctor continued, as we walked among the inmates. ‘That white-haired woman has been here twenty-six years. She is entirely tractable with one obsession. Every Sunday she writes this letter:


Dear John:

I am sorry we quarreled when you were going away out West. It was all my fault. I hope you will forgive and write.

Your loving,


‘Every Monday she asks for a letter, and, though receiving none, becomes radiant with hope and says: “It will come to-morrow.” The last of the week she is depressed. Sunday she again writes her letter. That has been her life for twenty-six years. Her youthful face is due to her mental inactivity. Aimlessly she does whatever is suggested. The years roll on and her emotions alternate between silent grief and fervid hope.

‘This is the male ward. That tall man has been here twenty years. His history sheet says from alcoholism. He went to Alaska, struck gold, and returned home to marry the girl he left behind. He found her insane and began drinking, lost his fortune and then his reason, and became a ward of the State, always talking about his girl and events that happened long ago.

‘He is the “John” to whom “Esther” writes her letter.

‘They meet every day.

‘They will never know each other.’

The Clockwork Monk

In the collection of the Smithsonian Institution is this 460-year-old automaton, a robot monk who walks in a square, beats his breast in contrition, raises a rosary and crucifix to his lips, turns and nods his head, rolls his eyes, and mouths obsequies. Its origin is not clear: The story goes that when the Spanish king’s son was ailing the relics of a Franciscan monk were brought to his side, and after he recovered the king commissioned the automaton in gratitude.

But no one really knows. “Many of the earliest automata were commissioned as expressions of religious belief: models of Jesus bled, automata of Satan roared and screamed, moving tableaux of biblical scenes were quite commonplace, coming to life for festivals and holy days,” writes historian E.R. Truitt in Ben Russell’s Robots: The 500-Year Quest to Make Machines Human. “Amazingly, no fewer than three mechanical monks survive: this one … and two more in Munich and Budapest, at the Deutsches Museum and Museum of Applied Arts respectively.”

The Seneca White Deer


When the Seneca Army Depot in upstate New York was shut down in 2000 it left an odd legacy: the world’s largest herd of white deer. The fence erected around the facility in 1941 happened to enclose a few white-tailed deer that carried a recessive gene for all-white coats; the depot commander forbade his GIs to shoot any white deer, and eventually the white herd grew to number more than 300.

These are not albinos; they have brown eyes, not pink, and they live alongside some 600 brown white-tailed deer. In 2016 the Army sold the depot to a local businessman, and part of the land has now been established as a conservation park. Bus tours have “turned out to be hugely successful.”

In a Word

I’ve mentioned this elsewhere, but I hadn’t realized the source was known: In 1844, British general Sir Charles Napier was criticized in Parliament for his ruthless campaign to take the Indian province of Sind. On hearing this, 16-year-old schoolgirl Catherine Winkworth “remarked to her teacher that Napier’s despatch to the Governor General of India, after capturing Sind, should have been Peccavi (Latin for ‘I have sinned’).”

She sent this immortal pun to Punch, which unfortunately printed it as a factual report:


This mangled its meaning and credited Napier. Winkworth’s authorship was discovered only by later literary sleuths.