Melodic Puns

In Leonard Bernstein’s Mass, in which the phrase “me and my soul” is sung repeatedly, the words me and soul are sung to the notes mi and sol.

In the song “Sodomy” in the 1967 rock musical Hair, the word sodomy is sung to the notes so, do, and mi.

(From Dave Morice, The Dictionary of Wordplay, 2001.)


A great portrait is always more a portrait of the painter than of the painted. When we look at a portrait by Holbein or Rembrandt it is of Holbein or Rembrandt that we think more than of the subject of their picture. Even a portrait of Shakespeare by Holbein or Rembrandt could tell us very little about Shakespeare. It would, however, tell us a great deal about Holbein or Rembrandt.

— Samuel Butler, Notebooks, 1912

Art Appreciation

James McNeill Whistler hated the work of J.M.W. Turner.

A lady once asked him, “Oh, Mr. Whistler, my husband has discovered in a secondhand shop what he thinks are two real Turners. Will you come and tell us whether they are real Turners or imitation Turners?”

“Well, ma’am,” Whistler said, “now that’s really a fine distinction.”

Trompe L’Oeil,_a_Wellcome_V0049678.jpg

[Parrhasius], it is recorded, entered into a competition with Zeuxis, who produced a picture of grapes so successfully represented that birds flew up to the stage-buildings; whereupon Parrhasius himself produced such a realistic picture of a curtain that Zeuxis, proud of the verdict of the birds, requested that the curtain should now be drawn and the picture displayed; and when he realized his mistake, with a modesty that did him honour he yielded up the prize, saying that whereas he had deceived birds Parrhasius had deceived him, an artist.

From Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia. See Demo.

Voice Flowers

In 1885, seeking a way to depict vocal sounds visually, Welsh singer Megan Watts Hughes invented the eidophone, a chamber capped with an elastic membrane that would resonate when the singer sang into a tube. When she spread the disk with a thin layer of sand or glycerine, standing waves would register as visible patterns resembling forget-me-nots, daisies, marigolds, chrysanthemums, and sunflowers.

“Stepping out of doors,” she wrote, “[I] have seen their parallels living in the flowers, ferns, and trees around me; and … the hope has come to me that these humble experiments may afford some suggestions in regard to nature’s production of her own beautiful forms.”

The field of study she helped to pioneer is now known as cymatics — see Chladni Figures.


  • Dorothy Parker said that James Thurber’s cartoon figures had the “semblance of unbaked cookies.”
  • In typing AUTHENTICITY, the left and right hands alternate.
  • P.G. Wodehouse wrote the last 26 pages of Thank You, Jeeves in one day.
  • 1232882 + 3287682 = 123288328768

(Thanks, Steve.)

A Sharp

Antique dealer Leopoldo Franciolini (1844–1920) was so prolific in creating fraudulent musical instruments that scholars are still trying to sort out the confusion he left behind. The modern stewards of Frederick Stearns’ collection write:

In this case, we have an Alto Clarinet in F. … It is a composite instrument with four sections: two are leather-covered maple, … the barrel appears to have been purloined from a bass clarinet … the bell from an oboe. The mouthpiece appears to be re-purposed from a bass clarinet. … The simultaneous crudeness and creativity demonstrated in [Franciolini’s] catalogue is greatly entertaining. More troubling, however, is the shadow cast upon the flawed judgment of Frederick Stearns in his last years of collecting.

The catalog description of a harpsichord in the Stearns collection reads, “One could say that it is the only surviving instrument ever crafted by the maker Rigunini, however, given that not a single person by the name of Rigunini ever seems to have drawn breath, we might assume that Franciolini invented the name and forged the date.”


A critic said to James McNeill Whistler, “Your picture is not up to your mark; it is not good this time.”

Whistler said, “You should not say it isn’t good; you should say you don’t like it, and then, you know, you’re perfectly safe.”