“A Remarkable Newspaper”

kamloops wawa

In British Columbia there is a little newspaper, the Kamloops Wawa, circulating among several tribes of North American Indians. The unique feature of this journal is that it is printed in shorthand. Its story is a remarkable one. Some years ago the Rev J.M. Le Jeune, a Breton missionary, arrived in British Columbia to take charge of a territory some fifty miles square. He found the great obstacle to his work to be the absence of any means of written communication, as the natives had no written language of their own. His repeated efforts to teach them to read and write by ordinary methods failed entirely. The missionary was acquainted with the simple French Duployan shorthand, and then conceived the novel idea of teaching the Indians to write their own language phonetically by means of the shorthand characters. He adapted the stenographic signs of the Chinook language, and the experiment proved a complete success. There are to-day three thousand Indians able to to write and read their own language by no other means than shorthand. ‘Wawa’ means ‘talk’ in the Chinook, hence the title of the little newspaper which has been the natural outcome of the missionary’s undertaking. The page shown above is part of an article dealing with the Boxer trouble in China.

— J.D. Sloan, in The Strand Magazine, October 1911

In a Word

n. bombastic or laboured language

n. confused language, meaningless talk, nonsense

v. to impede or hinder; hence, to fatigue; weary

v. to disparage or decry

A paragraph from an unnamed “publication from a leading geographical society”:

The examples given suggest that the multiformity of environmental apprehension and the exclusivity of abstract semantic conceptions constitute a crucial distinction. Semantic responses to qualities, environmental or other, tend to abstract each individual quality as though it were to be considered in isolation, with nothing else impinging. But in actual environmental experience, our judgements of attributes are constantly affected by the entire milieu, and the connectivities such observations suggest reveal this multiform complexity. Semantic response is generally a consequence of reductive categorization, environmental response or synthesizing holism.

In The Jargon of the Professions, Kenneth Hudson suggests that the authors “should be locked up without food or water until they can produce an acceptable translation.” In Secret Language, Barry J. Blake adds, “I think the passage simply means that in experiencing the environment we need to look at it as a whole rather than at particular properties, though I am at a loss to decode the first sentence.”

In a Word


n. swiftness, quickness, agility

n. the state of not having a husband

adj. leaping upon

adj. married

The Fenway Millionaires also have a ‘sleeper’ in Norm Zauchin, a massive fellow just out of the Army. Don’t underestimate him. When he was at Birmingham he pursued a twisting foul ball into a front row box. He clutched frantically. He missed grabbing the ball but he did grab a girl, Janet Mooney. This might not be considered a proper introduction by Emily Post but it worked for Zauchin. He married the gal. Nope. Don’t underestimate an opportunist like that.

— Arthur Daley, “Life Among the Millionaires,” New York Times, March 11, 1954

“A Very Descript Man”

I am such a dolent man,
I eptly work each day;
My acts are all becilic,
I’ve just ane things to say.

My nerves are strung, my hair is kempt,
I’m gusting and I’m span:
I look with dain on everyone
And am a pudent man.

I travel cognito and make
A delible impression:
I overcome a slight chalance,
With gruntled self-possession.

My dignation would be great
If I should digent be:
I trust my vagance will bring
An astrous life for me.

— J.H. Parker

From Schott’s Vocab. (Thanks, Jacob.)

In a Word

adj. circumlocutory

v. to talk a great deal

n. genteel irony, polite and ingenious mockery

The prolixity of counsel has provoked much good-and-bad-humored interruption from the Bench; and first for the good:– In Mr. Justice Darling’s court a few years ago, counsel, in cross-examining a witness, was very diffuse, and wasted much time. He had begun by asking the witness how many children she had, and concluded by asking the same question. Before the witness could reply, Justice Darling interposed with the suave remark — ‘When you began, she had three.’

Central Law Journal, Sept. 13, 1912

A Friendly Greeting


On Nov. 21, 1897, Mark Twain addressed the Vienna Press Club on “The Horrors of the German Language.” He spoke in German; here’s his literal translation:

It has me deeply touched, my gentlemen, here so hospitably received to be. From colleagues out of my own profession, in this from my own home so far distant land. My heart is full of gratitude, but my poverty of German words forces me to great economy of expression. Excuse you, my gentlemen, that I read off, what I you say will.

The German language speak I not good, but have numerous connoisseurs me assured that I her write like an angel. Maybe — I know not. Have till now no acquaintance with the angels had. That comes later — when it the dear God please — it has no hurry.

Since long, my gentlemen, have I the passionate longing nursed a speech on German to hold, but one has me not permitted. Men, who no feeling for the art had, laid me ever hindrance in the way and made naught my desire — sometimes by excuses, often by force. Always said these men to me: ‘Keep you still, your Highness! Silence! For God’s sake seek another way and means yourself obnoxious to make.’

In the present case, as usual it is me difficult become, for me the permission to obtain. The committee sorrowed deeply, but could me the permission not grant on account of a law which from the Concordia demands she shall the German language protect. Du liebe Zeit! How so had one to me this say could — might — dared — should? I am indeed the truest friend of the German language — and not only now, but from long since — yes, before twenty years already. And never have I the desire had the noble language to hurt; to the contrary, only wished she to improve — I would her only reform. It is the dream of my life been. I have already visits by the various German governments paid and for contracts prayed. I am now to Austria in the same task come. I would only some changes effect. I would only the language method — the luxurious, elaborate construction — compress, the eternal parenthesis suppress, do away with, annihilate; the introduction of more than thirteen subjects in one sentence forbid; the verb so far to the front pull that one it without a telescope discover can. With one word, my gentlemen, I would your beloved language simplify so that, my gentlemen, when you her for prayer need, One her yonder-up understands.

I beseech you, from me yourself counsel to let, execute these mentioned reforms. Then will you an elegant language possess, and afterward, when you some thing say will, will you at least yourself understand what you said had. But often nowadays, when you a mile-long sentence from you given and you yourself somewhat have rested, then must you a touching inquisitiveness have yourself to determine what you actually spoken have. Before several days has the correspondent of a local paper a sentence constructed which hundred and twelve words contained, and therein were seven parentheses smuggled in, and the subject seven times changed. Think you only, my gentlemen, in the course of the voyage of a single sentence must the poor, persecuted, fatigued subject seven times change position!

Now, when we the mentioned reforms execute, will it no longer so bad be. Doch noch eins. I might gladly the separable verb also a little bit reform. I might none do let what Schiller did: he has the whole history of the Thirty Years’ War between the two members of a separable verb in-pushed. That has even Germany itself aroused, and one has Schiller the permission refused the History of the Hundred Years’ War to compose — God be it thanked! After all these reforms established be will, will the German language the noblest and the prettiest on the world be.

Since to you now, my gentlemen, the character of my mission known is, beseech I you so friendly to be and to me your valuable help grant. Mr. Potzl has the public believed make would that I to Vienna come am in order the bridges to clog up and the traffic to hinder, while I observations gather and note. Allow you yourselves but not from him deceived. My frequent presence on the bridges has an entirely innocent ground. Yonder gives it the necessary space, yonder can one a noble long German sentence elaborate, the bridge-railing along, and his whole contents with one glance overlook. On the one end of the railing pasted I the first member of a separable verb and the final member cleave I to the other end — then spread the body of the sentence between it out! Usually are for my purposes the bridges of the city long enough; when I but Potzl’s writings study will I ride out and use the glorious endless imperial bridge. But this is a calumny; Potzl writes the prettiest German. Perhaps not so pliable as the mine, but in many details much better. Excuse you these flatteries. These are well deserved.

Now I my speech execute — no, I would say I bring her to the close. I am a foreigner — but here, under you, have I it entirely forgotten. And so again and yet again proffer I you my heartiest thanks.

Reportedly his spoken German was actually excellent (PDF), and he delivered the address without reading the text.

He’d been sparring with German for some time — his essay “The Awful German Language” had appeared as an appendix to A Tramp Abroad in 1880.



In the Middle Ages, when schoolchildren spelled a one-letter word, they would indicate this with the Latin phrase per se (“by itself”) — so students learning to read would say “D-O-G, dog” but “A per se, a,” meaning “A by itself, [the word] a.”

When the alphabet was printed, the symbol & was customarily added at the end, and the reader would say, “& per se, and.”

After many years of hasty slurring, this left us with the word ampersand.

(Thanks, David.)