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.”
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 email@example.com.
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.
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.
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.
What’s the smallest amount of information that will permit us to recognize an animated form as human? Study for Fifteen Points, by London-based art collective Random International, builds on the discoveries of Swedish perceptual psychologist Gunnar Johansson to show that a mere 15 moving points can suggest the gait of a walking person.
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:
I am sorry we quarreled when you were going away out West. It was all my fault. I hope you will forgive and write.
‘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.
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.”
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.”
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.