A Tour of England

From reader Dave King:

A certain young lady of Prinknash
Was looking decidedly thinknash.
Her diet restriction
Had proved an addiction
And caused her to swiftly diminknash.

A hungry young student of Norwich
Went into his larder to forwich.
For breakfast he usually
Had bacon or muesli
But today he would have to have porwich.

An ethical diner at Alnwick
Was suddenly put in a palnwick
“This coffee you’ve made
Are you sure it’s Fair Trade?
And I must insist that it’s orgalnwick!”

A Science don, Gonville and Caius,
Kept body parts in his deep fraius.
He didn’t remember
And one dark November
He ate them with cabbage and paius.

A Frenchman now living at Barnoldswick
Was terribly partial to garnoldswick.
The smell of his breath
Drove one lady to death;
She fell from the ramparts at Harnoldswick.

A forceful young prisoner from Brougham
Was confined to a windowless rougham,
So, venting his feelings,
He bashed through the ceiling,
Dispelling the gathering glougham.

(Thanks, Dave.)

Stops and Starts


Henry James’ 1903 novella The Beast in the Jungle is written in his famously tortured syntax:

It led, briefly, in the course of the October afternoon, to his closer meeting with May Bartram, whose face, a reminder, yet not quite a remembrance, as they sat much separated at a very long table, had begun merely by troubling him rather pleasantly.

James Thurber parodied this with “The Beast in the Dingle”:

He had brought himself so fully in the end, poor Grantham, to accept his old friend’s invitation to accompany her to an ‘afternoon’ at ‘Cornerbright’ that now, on the very porch of the so evident house, he could have, for his companion, in all surrender, a high, fine — there was no other word for it — twinkle.

Thurber originally called this “The Return of the Screw.” See Homage and A Prose Maze.


In a 1963 issue of Bokmakierie, a magazine for birdwatchers, Frank A. Goodliffe described a curiously familiar species he called Clericus polydenominata, the “dog-collared sombre blackbird”:

Identification: Similar to common laity but plumage and behaviour should serve to differentiate. Plumage black with narrow white collar — unbroken at throat. Feet black, of leathery appearance. Beak pink — often with blueish tint during winter months. When in groups are often seen with wings folded behind rump. … Habits: Usually found congregating with flocks of common laity, the females of which are frequently seen with plumage of vivid colours. Nesting: This usually occurs close to old buildings with spires. They are usually very friendly and may be seen around nesting sites of common laity at tea-time. … Call: The voice is distinctive, commencing ‘Brrrrr–rethren’ and continuing low and pleasant — often prolonged. Usually sings in congregations.

In a private booklet published four years later, M.A. Traylor suggested that the species belonged in the family of bishop birds.

(From Curiosities of Biological Nomenclature.)


English history 1066-1154 as depicted by Mark Twain:


He had discovered that taking notes using pictures helped to fix details in his memory, and in an 1899 essay he recommended the practice to children. An explanation of the diagram, starting at the bottom:

21 whales heading west: These represent William I, whose reign lasted 21 years (1066-1087). “We choose the whale for several reasons: its name and William’s begin with the same letter; it is the biggest fish that swims, and William is the most conspicuous figure in English history in the way of a landmark; finally, a whale is about the easiest thing to draw.”

13 whales heading east: William II, 1087-1100. The change in direction marks a change in leaders. “Make him spout his water forward instead of backward; also make him small, and stick a harpoon in him and give him that sick look in the eye. Otherwise you might seem to be continuing the other William, and that would be confusing and a damage.”

35 hens going west: Henry I, 1100-1135. “That is a hen, and suggests Henry by furnishing the first syllable.”

19 steers going east: Stephen of Blois, 1135-1154. “That is a steer. The sound suggests the beginning of Stephen’s name. I choose it for that reason. I can make a better steer than that when I am not excited. But this one will do. It is a good-enough steer for history.”

The essay was published in Harper’s Monthly Magazine in December 1914, four years after Twain’s death.

Plain Enough

In Jewish Bankers and the Holy See (2012), León Poliakov cites a joke current in 12th-century ghettos to justify usury between Jews.

“It consisted, it is said, of reciting Deuteronomy 23:20 in interrogative tones to make it mean the opposite of its obvious sense:

“‘Unto a foreigner thou mayest lend upon usury; but unto thy brother thou shalt not lend upon usury?'”


Letter to the Times, June 26, 2000:

Sir, Travelling near Washington DC about 24 years ago, I saw a large billboard by the roadside. Beautifully painted in letters a foot high, was the legend: ‘DISREGARD THIS SIGN’.

Really and truly,

Ernest Spacey
Bradford, West Yorkshire


Letter to the Times, June 23, 2000:

Sir, The shortest ambiguous sentence I have come across is a road sign found everywhere in New York. It consists of three words: ‘Fine for Parking.’

But I would not like to argue the point with a New York traffic cop.

Yours faithfully,

House of Lords

10/16/2023 UPDATE: From reader Brieuc de Grangechamps:

schrödinger's dumpster