Amplitude

This passage, from E.B. White’s Charlotte’s Web, is often cited as a masterpiece of rhythm — the length of the phrases diminishes with the motion of the swing:

Mr. Zuckerman had the best swing in the county. It was a single long piece of heavy rope tied over the north doorway. At the bottom end of the rope was a fat knot to sit on. It was arranged so that you could swing without being pushed. You climbed a ladder into the hayloft. Then, holding the rope, you stood at the edge and looked down, and were scared and dizzy. Then you straddled the knot, so that it served as a seat. Then you got up all your nerve, took a deep breath, and jumped. For a second you seemed to be falling to the barn floor far below, but then suddenly the rope would begin to catch you, and you would sail through the barn door going a mile a minute, with the wind whistling in your eyes and ears and hair. Then you would zoom upward into the sky, and look up at the clouds, and the rope would twist and you would twist and turn with the rope. Then you would drop down, down, down out of the sky and come sailing back into the barn almost into the hayloft, then sail out again (not quite so far this time), then in again (not quite so high), then out again, then in again, then out, then in; and then you’d jump off and fall down let somebody else try it.

“All that I hope to say in books, all that I ever hope to say, is that I love the world,” White wrote. Though Eudora Welty called Charlotte’s Web “just about perfect,” White never revealed his reason for creating it. “I haven’t told why I wrote the book, but I haven’t told you why I sneeze, either,” he wrote to his editor. “A book is a sneeze.”

In a Word

philobiblist
n. a lover of books

Created by Slovakian artist Matej Kren, the Idiom Installation in Prague’s municipal library seems to present an infinite tower of books, thanks to some conveniently placed mirrors.

It debuted at the São Paulo International Biennial in 1995 and moved permanently Prague in 1998.

Ape Talk

Edgar Rice Burroughs invented an extensive vocabulary for the Mangani, the great apes of the Tarzan novels:

afraid: utor
baboon: tongani
branch: balu-den
cave: zu-kut
country: pal
elephant: tantor
hair: b’zan
hate: ugla
jackal: ungo
lightning: ara
look: yato
love: gree-ah
mother: kalu
rhinoceros: buto
strong: zu-vo
valley: pele
water: lul

Tarzan supposed that Mangani might be the basis for the language of all creatures, because all the animals of the jungle understood it to some extent. “It sounds to man like growling and barking and grunting, punctuated at times by shrill screams, and it is practically untranslatable to any tongue known to man,” Burroughs wrote in Tarzan at the Earth’s Core.

I’m getting this from David Ullery’s The Tarzan Novels of Edgar Rice Burroughs, but there are many online dictionaries. French writer Jacques Jouet even composed a love poem in the language.

Related: In reading English books Tarzan learned to grasp each word in its entirety, but in speaking them aloud he would spell them using the names he’d invented for the letters, according to Jungle Tales of Tarzan. “Thus it was an imposing word which Tarzan made of GOD. The masculine prefix of the apes is BU, the feminine MU; g Tarzan had named LA, o he pronounced TU, and d was MO. So the word God evolved itself into BULAMUTUMUMO, or, in English, he-g-she-o-she-d.”

“American Ships Head to Gulf”

In a forum on Testy Copy Editors in 2009, editor Mike O’Connell posted a headline from the newspaper Japan Today: “Violinist Linked to JAL Crash Blossoms.” He asked, “what do you call these kinds of strangely phrased hedlines? is there a word for them?”

The answer suggested itself — a crash blossom is headline that’s painfully ambiguous, usually due to unwise ellipsis, double meaning, or tortured syntax. Linguist Ben Zimmer gave some examples in the New York Times the following year:

Giant Waves Down Queen Mary’s Funnel
MacArthur Flies Back to Front
Eighth Army Push Bottles Up Germans
McDonald’s Fries the Holy Grail for Potato Farmers
British Left Waffles on Falklands
Gator Attacks Puzzle Experts

And the Language Log blog lists examples from time to time:

Infant Pulled From Wrecked Car Involved in Short Police Pursuit
Letter Bombs Accused in Court
Mexico Mine Missing Declared Dead
Queen Mary Having Bottom Scraped
Two Soviet Ships Collide — One Dies
Soviet Virgin Lands Short of Goal
Smoking Riskier Than Thought
Headless Corpse Accused in Court

Here’s an archive.

Two Birds

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Joseph_Siffrein_Duplessis_-_Benjamin_Franklin_-_Google_Art_Project.jpg

Ben Franklin used chess to learn Italian. From his autobiography:

I had begun in 1733 to study languages; I soon made myself so much a master of the French as to be able to read the books with ease. I then undertook the Italian. An acquaintance, who was also learning it, us’d often to tempt me to play chess with him. Finding this took up too much of the time I had to spare for study, I at length refus’d to play any more, unless on this condition, that the victor in every game should have a right to impose a task, either in parts of the grammar to be got by heart, or in translations, etc., which tasks the vanquish’d was to perform upon honour, before our next meeting.

“As we play’d pretty equally,” he wrote, “we thus beat one another into that language.”

Punctuation

Greed

My life is full, indeed, of gloom.
I’ve naught, you see; just this small room.
I need more wealth — that’s misery.
What joys in great renown! What glee!
The mace and throne I long to own.
No crown too grand for me alone.

Contentment

My life is full, indeed!
Of gloom I’ve naught, you see.
Just this small room I need.
More wealth? That’s misery.
What joy’s in great renown?
What glee, the mace and throne?
I long to own no crown.
Too grand for me alone.

— Mary Youngquist

(David L. Silverman, “Kickshaws,” Word Ways 5:3 [August 1972], 168-181.)

In a Word

quadragenarian
n. one in her forties

repentine
adj. sudden

monomachy
n. a duel; single combat

labefaction
n. overthrow, downfall

The longest-lived spider on record is Number 16, a wild female trapdoor spider that lived on the North Bungulla Reserve near Tammin, Western Australia. She’d reached age 43 when ecologist Leanda Mason discovered that something, probably a parasitic wasp, had pierced the silk door of her burrow, which was now empty.

“She was cut down in her prime,” Mason told the Washington Post. “It took a while to sink in, to be honest.”

More Fortuitous Numbers

Two years ago I wrote about the number 84,672, which has a surprising property: When its name is written out in (American) English (EIGHTY FOUR THOUSAND SIX HUNDRED SEVENTY TWO) and the letter counts of those words are multiplied together (6 × 4 × 8 × 3 × 7 × 7 × 3), they yield the original number (84,672).

Such numbers are called fortuitous, and, not surprisingly, very few of them are known. When I wrote about them in 2019, the whole list ran 4, 24, 84672, 1852200, 829785600, 20910597120, 92215733299200. Now Jonathan Pappas has discovered two more:

1,239,789,303,244,800,000

ONE QUINTILLION TWO HUNDRED THIRTY NINE QUADRILLION SEVEN HUNDRED EIGHTY NINE TRILLION THREE HUNDRED THREE BILLION TWO HUNDRED FORTY FOUR MILLION EIGHT HUNDRED THOUSAND

3 × 11 × 3 × 7 × 6 × 4 × 11 × 5 × 7 × 6 × 4 × 8 × 5 × 7 × 5 × 7 × 3 × 7 × 5 × 4 × 7 × 5 × 7 × 8 = 1,239,789,303,244,800,000

887,165,996,513,213,819,259,682,435,576,627,200,000,000

EIGHT HUNDRED EIGHTY SEVEN DUODECILLION ONE HUNDRED SIXTY FIVE UNDECILLION NINE HUNDRED NINETY SIX DECILLION FIVE HUNDRED THIRTEEN NONILLION TWO HUNDRED THIRTEEN OCTILLION EIGHT HUNDRED NINETEEN SEPTILLION TWO HUNDRED FIFTY NINE SEXTILLION SIX HUNDRED EIGHTY TWO QUINTILLION FOUR HUNDRED THIRTY FIVE QUADRILLION FIVE HUNDRED SEVENTY SIX TRILLION SIX HUNDRED TWENTY SEVEN BILLION TWO HUNDRED MILLION

5 × 7 × 6 × 5 × 12 × 3 × 7 × 5 × 4 × 11 × 4 × 7 × 6 × 3 × 9 × 4 × 7 × 8 × 9 × 3 × 7 × 8 × 9 × 5 × 7 × 8 × 10 × 3 × 7 × 5 × 4 × 10 × 3 × 7 × 6 × 3 × 11 × 4 × 7 × 6 × 4 × 11 4 × 7 × 7 × 3 × 8 × 3 × 7 × 6 × 5 × 7 × 3 × 7 × 7 = 887,165,996,513,213,819,259,682,435,576,627,200,000,000

A 10th solution, if one exists, will be greater than 10138.

Details are here. Jonathan has also discovered some cyclic solutions (ONE HUNDRED SIXTY EIGHT -> FIVE HUNDRED TWENTY FIVE -> SIX HUNDRED SEVENTY TWO -> FOUR HUNDRED FORTY ONE -> FOUR HUNDRED TWENTY -> ONE HUNDRED SIXTY EIGHT) and the remarkable 195954154450774917120 -> 195954154450774917120000 -> 1959541544507749171200000.

(Thanks, Jonathan.)