A jester being on his death-bed, one of his companions begged when he got to the other world, he would put in a good word for him. ‘I may perhaps forget,’ said he; ‘tie a string about my finger.’

The Laughing Philosopher, 1825


L is for lovable Lena,
Who met a ferocious hyena;
Whatever occurred
I never have heard;
But anyhow, L is for Lena.

— Anonymous, from Carolyn Wells’ Book of American Limericks, 1925


A globe-trotting man from St. Paul
Made a trip to Japan in the faul.
One thing he found out,
As he rambled about,
Was that Japanese ladies St. Taul.

A censor, whose name was Magee,
Suppressed the whole dictionaree;
When the public said, “No!”
He replied, “It must go!
It has alcohol in it, you see!”

There was a young man from the city,
Who met what he thought was a kitty;
He gave it a pat
And said, “Nice little cat!”
And they buried his clothes out of pity.

Carolyn Wells’ Book of American Limericks, 1925

Near Thing

‘Well, do you know the one,’ I began, ‘in which two geologists converse in a cafe? One of them says: ‘Yes, unfortunately fifteen billion years from now the Sun will cool, and then all life on Earth will perish.’ A card-player nearby has been half listening to the joke, and turns in terror to the geologist: ‘What did you say? In how many years will the Sun cool?’ ‘Fifteen billion years,’ the scientist replies. The card-player lets out a sigh of relief: ‘Oh, I was afraid you said fifteen million!’

— László Feleki in Impact of Science on Society, 1969

“The High Standard of Education in Scotland”

We were staying in Ballater, a small town on Deeside in Scotland. In the town was a tiny shop which sold tourist attractions and picture postcards, and in its minute window was a very fine specimen of smoky quartz material. Buying a postcard, I said to the proprietor, ‘That’s a fine group of smoky quartz in your window’ and had this reply in very broad Scotch:

‘That’s no smoky quartz, that’s topaz. It’s a crystal. You can tell crystals by the angles between their faces. If you’re interested I’ll lend you a book on the subject.’

I knew enough (crystals being rather in my line) to be sure it was smoky quartz, and on return to base looked up a book on Mineralogy which said ‘Smoky Quartz, also known as Cairngorm, is called Topaz in Scotland.’

— Sir W.L. Bragg, quoted in R.L. Weber, A Random Walk in Science, 1973

Intro Zoology

How to tell a parrot from a carrot, from American physicist Robert W. Wood’s extracurricular How to Tell the Birds From the Flowers: A Manual of Flornithology for Beginners (1907):

The Parrot and the Carrot we may easily confound,
They’re very much alike in looks and similar in sound.
We recognize the Parrot by his clear articulation,
For Carrots are unable to engage in conversation.

Below: A further distinction.