Brave New World

We instinktivly shrink from eny chaenj in whot iz familyar; and whot kan be mor familyar dhan dhe form ov wurdz dhat we hav seen and riten mor tiemz dhan we kan posibly estimaet? We taek up a book printed in Amerika, and honor and center jar upon us every tiem we kum akros dhem; nae, eeven to see forever in plaes ov for ever atrakts our atenshon in an unplezant wae. But dheez ar iesolaeted kaesez; think ov dhe meny wurdz dhat wood hav to be chaenjd if eny real impruuvment wer to rezult. At dhe furst glaans a pasej in eny reformd speling looks ‘kweer’ or ‘ugly’. Dhis objekshon iz aulwaez dhe furst to be maed; it iz purfektly natueral; it iz dhe hardest to remuuv. Indeed, its efekt iz not weekend until dhe nue speling iz noe longger nue, until it haz been seen ofen enuf to be familyar.

— Walter Ripman and William Archer, New Spelling, 1948

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.)

True Love

The 1937 edition of Webster’s Universal Dictionary of the English Language contains this peculiar entry:

jungftak (jŭngf´ täk) n. a fabled Persian bird, the male of which had only one wing, on the right side, and the female only one wing, on the left side; instead of the missing wings, the male had a hook of bone, and the female an eyelet of bone, and it was by uniting hook and eye that they were enabled to fly, — each, when alone, had to remain on the ground.

This appears to be neither an error nor a trap to catch copyright thieves. When scholar Richard Rex asked about it, an associate editor at the dictionary replied, “[W]e have gone through a good many sources and jungftak simply does not show up. It is quite a curiosity, for the various accounts of Persian mythology do not describe such a bird even under another name.” The entry disappears from editions after 1943. Probably it was a joke, but the story behind it is lost.

(Richard Rex, “The Incredible Jungftak,” American Speech 57:4 [Winter 1982], 307-308.)

06/19/2024 UPDATE: Reader Nick Hare offers another fantastic bird: the oozlum, which flies in smaller and smaller circles until it disappears up its own backside. Wikipedia observes drily that this behavior “adds to its rarity.”

06/21/2024 UPDATE: Wow, this is really interesting. Reader Edward White informs me that there’s a bird in Chinese mythology, the biyiniao or linked-wing bird, that closely resembles the jungftak — each biyiniao has one eye and one wing, so they have to pair up to fly. The bird is used as a symbol of married love in poems. Can this be a coincidence?

Race to the Bottom

In the 1970s, San Francisco painting contractor Bill Holland discovered he could save money on business cards by listing himself as Zachary Zzzra in the local telephone directory and telling potential customers to find his number at the end of the book.

This worked well until he was displaced by a Zelda Zzzwramp. He changed his name to Zachary Zzzzra but was overtaken by Vladimir Zzzzzzabakov. So in 1979 he pulled out all stops and became Zachary Zzzzzzzzzra.

Victory brought its trials. “People making illegal calls from phone booths look up the last name in the book and charge them to me,” he admitted to Time. “I don’t pay a damn one of them.”

06/17/2024 UPDATE: Reader Nick Semanko adds that in 1964 two Rhode Island politicians, Raphael R. Russo and Mario Russillo, changed their names to aRusso and aRussillo so that they could appear at the top (technically the left) of the ballot. aRussillo won and aRusso lost.

Four years later the two faced one another for the position of town administrator of Johnston. aRussillo added another a to his name (becoming aaRussillo) and won, though aRusso eventually succeeded him. aaRussillo dropped the extra letters from his name in 1995, but aRusso kept his to his death in 1999. (Thanks, Nick.)

In a Word

chirk
v. to be or become cheerful

adiaphorous
adj. doing neither good nor harm

nugae
n. things of little value; trifles

crocodility
n. a sophistical mode of arguing

When playwright St. John Ervine lost a leg in World War I, George Bernard Shaw wrote to him: “For a man of your profession two legs are an extravagance. … The more the case is gone into the more it appears that you are an exceptionally happy and fortunate man, relieved of a limb to which you owed none of your fame, and which indeed was the cause of your conscription; for without it you would not have been accepted for service.”

Inventory Control

In 2015 British computer scientist Chris Patuzzo produced a self-enumerating pangram — a sentence that itemizes its own contents — that records its totals as percentages:

This sentence is dedicated to Lee Sallows and to within one decimal place four point five percent of the letters in this sentence are a’s, zero point one percent are b’s, four point three percent are c’s, zero point nine percent are d’s, twenty point one percent are e’s, one point five percent are f’s, zero point four percent are g’s, one point five percent are h’s, six point eight percent are i’s, zero point one percent are j’s, zero point one percent are k’s, one point one percent are l’s, zero point three percent are m’s, twelve point one percent are n’s, eight point one percent are o’s, seven point three percent are p’s, zero point one percent are q’s, nine point nine percent are r’s, five point six percent are s’s, nine point nine percent are t’s, zero point seven percent are u’s, one point four percent are v’s, zero point seven percent are w’s, zero point five percent are x’s, zero point three percent are y’s and one point six percent are z’s.

The next challenge was to extend the precision beyond one decimal place. Impressively, Matthias Belz produced this specimen in 2017:

Rounded to five decimal places, two point six five two five two percent of the letters of this sentence are a’s, zero point zero eight eight four two percent are b’s, two point six five two five two percent are c’s, zero point four four two zero nine percent are d’s, nineteen point eight zero five four eight percent are e’s, three point four four eight two eight percent are f’s, one point seven six eight three five percent are g’s, two point nine one seven seven seven percent are h’s, seven point eight six nine one four percent are i’s, zero point zero eight eight four two percent are j’s, zero point zero eight eight four two percent are k’s, zero point three five three six seven percent are l’s, zero point one seven six eight three percent are m’s, ten point two five six four one percent are n’s, eight point nine three zero one five percent are o’s, four point seven seven four five four percent are p’s, zero point zero eight eight four two percent are q’s, nine point five four nine zero seven percent are r’s, four point nine five one three seven percent are s’s, nine point six three seven four nine percent are t’s, two point zero three three six zero percent are u’s, two point seven four zero nine four percent are v’s, one point six seven nine nine three percent are w’s, zero point nine seven two five nine percent are x’s, zero point zero eight eight four two percent are y’s and one point nine four five one eight percent are z’s.

These numbers are still rounded, so later that year he surpassed that with an instance giving precisely accurate values:

Exactly three point eight seven five percent of the letters of this autogram are a’s, zero point one two five percent are b’s, three point five percent are c’s, zero point two five percent are d’s, twenty-one point two five percent are e’s, three point seven five percent are f’s, zero point three seven five percent are g’s, one point five percent are h’s, seven point two five percent are i’s, zero point one two five percent are j’s, zero point one two five percent are k’s, zero point three seven five percent are l’s, zero point two five percent are m’s, nine point seven five percent are n’s, seven point five percent are o’s, six point five percent are p’s, zero point one two five percent are q’s, nine point three seven five percent are r’s, five point one two five percent are s’s, ten percent are t’s, zero point three seven five percent are u’s, four point six two five percent are v’s, one point five percent are w’s, zero point five percent are x’s, zero point three seven five percent are y’s and one point five percent are z’s.

Details are here.

Ease of Use

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Hangul_chosongul_fontembed.svg
Image: Wikimedia Commons

The Korean alphabet was designed expressly to increase literacy among the country’s uneducated lower classes, who found traditional Chinese characters hard to recognize and understand. King Sejong the Great promulgated the new letters in 1444 to permit the common people to express themselves conveniently in writing.

It’s said that “a wise man can acquaint himself with them before the morning is over, and even a stupid man can learn them in the space of 10 days.”

In a Word

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Hans_Richter_Korrespondenzkarte_mit_Notenzitat_und_Unterschrift_1898.jpg

tracasserie
n. a state of disturbance or annoyance

infamation
n. reproach

alienigenate
adj. born in a foreign country

baragouin
n. language so altered in sound or sense as not to be generally understood

‘It is a fact,’ wrote Stephen Spender, after trying to write a book about interwar Berlin, ‘that all the best German jokes are unconscious.’ He instanced the expostulation of the German conductor Hans Richter after a difficult rehearsal with the London Philharmonic Orchestra: ‘Up with your damned nonsense will I put twice, or perhaps once, but sometimes always, by God, never!’

— Paul Johnson, Humorists, 2011

Full Service

In his 1967 book Beyond Language, Dmitri Borgmann points out that every permutation of the three words ONE, MAY, and SAW produces a valid English sentence:

  1. ONE MAY SAW. (An individual has the privilege of performing the action of sawing some object, such as a wooden log.)
  2. ONE SAW MAY. (One person saw the girl whose first name is ‘May’.)
  3. MAY ONE SAW? (Is one permitted to saw wood?)
  4. MAY SAW ONE. (A girl named ‘May’ saw some object, previously mentioned, that is regarded as belonging to a group of objects of like character.)
  5. SAW ONE, MAY! (Cut a log of wood in half, May, by sawing through it!)
  6. SAW MAY ONE! (Saw a log of wood for May, Buster!)

In Word Ways, David Morice notes that BILL, PAT, and SUE can produce 12 valid three-word sentences, distinguished by capitalization and comma placement. Each item in the first group corresponds in meaning to one in the second:

Bill, pat Sue.     Pat Sue, Bill.
Bill, sue Pat.     Sue Pat, Bill.
Sue, bill Pat.     Bill Pat, Sue.
Sue, pat Bill.     Pat Bill, Sue.
Pat, bill Sue.     Bill Sue, Pat.
Pat, sue Bill.     Sue Bill, Pat.

(David Morice, “Kickshaws,” Word Ways 26:2 [May 1993], 105-117.)

Misc

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Tulip_festival_in_Ottawa_-_2019_(47925742658).jpg

  • 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.)