In a Word;_a_comprehensive_history,_extending_from_the_earliest_times_to_the_present,_founded_on_the_most_modern_authorities,_and_including_chronological_summaries_and_(14579767308).jpg

adj. difficult to deal with or settle

n. a verbal nicety, a subtle distinction

n. the act of bringing something up to date to meet current needs

adj. fitted or designed to promote peace

The survivors of the Titanic were picked up by the English passenger steamship Carpathia, which conveyed them to New York. This presented a delicate problem to the Social Register. “In those days the ship that people travelled on was an important yardstick in measuring their standing, and the Register dutifully kept track,” notes Walter Lord in A Night to Remember (1955). “To say that listed families crossed on the Titanic gave them their social due, but it wasn’t true. To say they arrived on the plodding Carpathia was true, but socially misleading. How to handle this dilemma? In the case of those lost, the Register dodged the problem — after their names it simply noted the words, ‘died at sea, 15 April 1912’. In the case of those living, the Register carefully ran the phrase, ‘Arrived Titan-Carpath, 18 April 1912’. The hyphen represented history’s greatest sea disaster.”


Imprisoned at Theresienstadt during World War II, Czech composer Rudolf Karel wrote a five-act opera, Three Hairs of the Wise Old Man, on toilet paper using the medicinal charcoal he’d been prescribed for his dysentery.

The illness eventually claimed his life, but a sketch of the opera was preserved by a friendly warden, and the orchestrations were finished by Karel’s pupil Zbynek Vostrák.

In a Word

n. a man killer; an executioner

In 1014, after a decisive victory over the Bulgarian Empire at the Battle of Kleidion, Byzantine emperor Basil II followed up with a singularly cruel stroke. He ordered that his 14,000 prisoners be divided into groups of 100; that 99 of each group be blinded; and that the hundredth retain one eye so that he could lead the others home. The columns were then released into the mountains, each man holding on to the belt of the man in front. It’s not known how many were lost on the journey, but when the survivors reached the Bulgar capital, their tsar collapsed at the sight and died of a stroke two days later. Basil is remembered as “the Bulgar slayer.”

Shining Sea

Early European colonists were staggered at the abundance of fish in the Chesapeake Bay. William Byrd II wrote in his natural history of Virginia:

Herring are not as large as the European ones, but better and more delicious. When they spawn, all streams and waters are completely filled with them, and one might believe, when he sees such terrible amounts of them, that there was as great a supply of herring as there is water. In a word, it is unbelievable, indeed, indescribable, as also incomprehensible, what quantity is found there. One must behold oneself.

More accounts here. “The abundance of oysters is incredible,” marveled Swiss explorer Francis Louis Michel in 1701. “There are whole banks of them so that the ships must avoid them. A sloop, which was to land us at Kingscreek, struck an oyster bed, where we had to wait about two hours for the tide.”


  • Liza Minnelli, daughter of Judy Garland, married Jack Haley Jr., son of the Tin Man.
  • The Netherlands still sends 20,000 tulip bulbs to Canada each year.
  • Every positive integer is a sum of distinct terms in the Fibonacci sequence.
  • HIDEOUS and HIDEOUT have no vowel sounds in common.
  • “Death is only a larger kind of going abroad.” — Samuel Butler

(Thanks, Colin and Joseph.)

Object Lesson

When alchemist Georg Honauer (1572-1597) claimed he could convert iron into gold, Duke Friedrich I of Württemberg ordered all the iron in his Mömpelgard armory conveyed to Stuttgart for a demonstration. Honauer panicked and fled but was extradited back to town, where, according to this contemporary woodcut, he was dressed in a gilded garment and hanged on a gilded gallows.

The anonymous printer concludes, er soll besser lernen Gold machen — “he should learn how to make gold better.”

(Thanks, Charlie.)

Beyond the Call

Dubious but entertaining: After the Battle of Wauhatchie on the night of October 29, 1863, rumors circulated that Confederate troops had retreated in the darkness because they’d mistaken a stampede of mules for a cavalry charge. Someone wrote a “Charge of the Mule Brigade,” and the Union quartermaster reportedly asked that the gallant mules “have conferred upon them the brevet rank of horses.”

But there are no Southern reports of a mule attack at Wauhatchie, and one Confederate combatant categorically denied the story when it appeared in Grant’s memoir. At best, it appears, some mules broke loose and caused enough confusion to permit the 137th New York Infantry to arrive and oppose the rebels.

“The exact details of whatever the mules did at Wauhatchie will never be precisely known,” writes historian Gene C. Armistead in Horses and Mules in the Civil War (2013), “but the story is too humorous and too good to abandon.”

A High Purpose

The Massachusetts School Law of 1642 declared ignorance to be a satanic ill:

It being one chief project of that old deluder, Satan, to keep men from the knowledge of the Scriptures, as in former times by keeping them in an unknown tongue, so in these latter times by persuading from the use of tongues, that so that at least the true sense and meaning of the original might be clouded and corrupted with love and false glosses of saint-seeming deceivers; [we resolve] that learning may not be buried in the grave of our forefathers, in church and commonwealth, the Lord assisting our endeavors.

It ordered every town of more than 50 families to hire a teacher and every town of more than 100 families to establish a grammar school, an early step toward public education in the United States.

In a Word

adj. resounding with arms

The Battle of the Somme began with a weeklong artillery bombardment in which more than a million shells were fired at the German lines. A soldier describes the first day:

The sound was different, not only in magnitude but in quality, from anything known to me. It was not a succession of explosions or a continuous roar; I at least, never heard either a gun or a bursting shell. It was not a noise; it was a symphony. And it did not move. It hung over us. It seemed as though the air were full of vast and agonized passion, bursting now with groans and sighs, now into shrill screaming and pitiful whimpering … And the supernatural tumult did not pass in this direction or in that. It did not begin, intensify, decline and end. It was poised in the air, a stationary panorama of sound, a condition of the atmosphere, not the creation of man.

At the Battle of Messines in June 1917, 19 mines comprising 600 tonnes of explosives were detonated, producing the largest man-made explosions in history to that date. One witness recalled that the “earth rocked as though a giant hand had roughly shaken it.”

(John Ellis, Eye-Deep in Hell, 1989, via Joy Damousi et al., eds., Museums, History and the Intimate Experience of the Great War, 2020.)