Wooden Words

https://www.katieholten.com/public-realm/#/new-york-city-tree-alphabet/

Artist Katie Holten has created a New York City Tree Alphabet, a Latin alphabet in which each letter is assigned a drawing of an existing city tree or one that will be planted as a result of the changing climate. There’s a free font that you can play with here and download here.

Holten had planned to plant messages around the city using real trees last spring, and invited people to make suggestions, though I don’t know which were ultimately chosen. “Right now, we’re leaving it completely wide open, so we’ve no idea what messages we’ll be planting,” she told Fast Company in March. “I’m excited to see what people send us. People have been suggesting words like ‘Dream,’ ‘Hope,’ and ‘Peace.’ But we’re also receiving longer messages, love letters, poems, and short stories. We’re curious to see how we could translate a long text into a grove of planted trees. It’s an exciting challenge and we can make up the rules as we go along, so anything could happen.”

(Via MetaFilter.)

A New Word

In 1940 H.L. Mencken received a letter from a woman who called herself Georgia Southern. She said her profession was known as strip teasing, and she wondered whether Mencken could provide “a new and more palatable word to describe this art.” He wrote back:

It might be a good idea to relate strip teasing in some way or other to the associated zoological phenomenon of molting. Thus the word moltician comes to mind, but it must be rejected because of its likeness to mortician.

A resort to the scientific name for molting, which is ecdysis, produces both ecdysist and ecdysiast. Then there are suggestions in the names of some of the creatures which practice molting. The scientific name for the common crab is Callinectes hastatus, which produces callinectian. Again there is a family of lizards called the Geckonidae, and their name produces gecko.

She went with ecdysiast. Mencken notes that the popular press consulted scholars S.I. Hayakawa, who “seemingly demurred on the incredible ground that he had never seen a strip teaser in action,” and Stuart Chase, who made no reply, “so I won by a sort of forfeit.” The British correspondent for United Press cabled the new word to England, where it was briefly hoped that it might open the way to lifting a ban on strip teasing; that went nowhere, but “the inevitable Association of Ecdysiasts soon appeared in the United States.”

(“Euphemisms,” from Mencken’s The American Language, 1947.)

Heel!

Minutes of a borough council meeting, quoted by Robert Graves and Alan Hodge in The Reader Over Your Shoulder, 1943:

Councillor Trafford took exception to the proposed notice at the entrance of South Park: “No dogs must be brought to this Park except on a lead.” He pointed out that this order would not prevent an owner from releasing his pets, or pet, from a lead when once safely inside the park.

The Chairman (Colonel Vine): What alternative wording would you propose, Councillor?

Councillor Trafford: “Dogs are not allowed in this Park without leads.”

Councillor Hogg: Mr. Chairman, I object. The order should be addressed to the owners, not to the dogs.

Councillor Trafford: That is a nice point. Very well then: “Owners of dogs are not allowed in this Park unless they keep them on leads.”

Councillor Hogg: Mr. Chairman, I object. Strictly speaking, this would prevent me as a dog-owner from leaving my dog in the back-garden at home and walking with Mrs. Hogg across the Park.

Councillor Trafford: Mr. Chairman, I suggest that our legalistic friend be asked to redraft the notice himself.

Councillor Hogg: Mr. Chairman, since Councillor Trafford finds it so difficult to improve on my original wording, I accept. “Nobody without his dog on a lead is allowed in this Park.”

Councillor Trafford: Mr. Chairman, I object. Strictly speaking, this notice would prevent me, as a citizen who owns no dog, from walking in the Park without first acquiring one.

Councillor Hogg (with some warmth): Very simply, then: “Dogs must be led in this Park.”

Councillor Trafford: Mr. Chairman, I object: this reads as if it were a general injunction to the Borough to lead their dogs into the Park.

Councillor Hogg interposed a remark for which he was called to order; upon his withdrawing it, it was directed to be expunged from the Minutes.

The Chairman: Councillor Trafford, Councillor Hogg has had three tries; you have had only two …

Councillor Trafford: “All dogs must be kept on leads in this Park.”

The Chairman: I see Councillor Hogg rising quite rightly to raise another objection. May I anticipate him with another amendment: “All dogs in this Park must be kept on the lead.”

This draft was put to the vote and carried unanimously, with two abstentions.

The “Un-Word”

Every year since 1991, a panel of German linguists has identified a term that violates human rights or infringes democratic principles:

1991: ausländerfrei (“free of foreigners”)
1992: ethnische Säuberung (“ethnic cleansing”)
1996: Rentnerschwemme (“flood of senior/retired citizens”)
1999: Kollateralschaden (“collateral damage”)
2005: Entlassungsproduktivität (“layoff productivity,” a surge in productivity induced by laying off workers)
2008: notleidende Banken (“suffering/needy banks”)
2014: Lügenpresse (“lying press”)
2019: Klimahysterie (“climate hysteria”)

The terms are usually German, but not always. In 1994 the word was peanuts, after Deutsche Bank’s chairman used that term to refer to 50 million Deutsche Marks.

Wikipedia has the whole list.

In a Word

epinician
adj. celebrating victory

rovery
n. an act of straying in thought

peripeteia
n. a sudden turn of events or an unexpected reversal

algedonic
adj. pertaining to both pleasure and pain

In the 1934 US Open Championship at Merion, Philadelphia, [Bobby Cruickshank] was leading after two rounds and going well in the third round. His approach to the 11th hole was slightly spared and to his dismay he saw the ball falling short into the brook which winds in front of the green.

The ball landed on a rock which was barely covered by water, rebounded high into the air and landed on the green. Cruickshank jubilantly tossed his club into the air, tipped his cap and shouted ‘Thank you, God.’ Further expressions of gratitude were cut short as the descending club landed on top of his head and knocked him out cold. He recovered his senses but not the impetus of his play and finished third.

— Peter Dobereiner, The Book of Golf Disasters, 1986

“Lion-Eating Poet in the Stone Den”

Chinese-American linguist Yuen Ren Chao composed this passage in classical Chinese; when read in modern Mandarin, every syllable has the sound “shi,” with only the tones differing.

In a stone den was a poet called Shi Shi, who was a lion addict, and had resolved to eat ten lions.
He often went to the market to look for lions.
At ten o’clock, ten lions had just arrived at the market.
At that time, Shi had just arrived at the market.
He saw those ten lions, and using his trusty arrows, caused the ten lions to die.
He brought the corpses of the ten lions to the stone den.
The stone den was damp. He asked his servants to wipe it.
After the stone den was wiped, he tried to eat those ten lions.
When he ate, he realized that these ten lions were in fact ten stone lion corpses.
Try to explain this matter.

Aaron Posehn gives an explanation, including the full text in Chinese, here.

(Thanks, Brad.)

Borrowed Gold

Eunoia is a dictionary of more than 500 untranslatable (or obscurely useful) words:

tsundoku: acquiring reading materials but letting them pile up in one’s home without reading them (Japanese)
sankocha: the feeling of embarrassment due to receiving an inordinate or extravagant gift, making you feel as though you need to return a favor that you can’t (Kannada)
mudita: the pleasure that comes from delighting in other people’s well-being or happiness (Sanskrit)
Erbsenzähler: literally “pea counter”: a nitpicker (German)
jayus: a joke so unfunny that one has to laugh (Indonesian)
házisárkány: “indoor dragon”: a nagging, restless spouse (Hungarian)
tretår: a third cup of coffee (Swedish)
xiao xiao: the whistling and pattering of rain or wind (Chinese)

There’s a whole subreddit for these.

(Thanks, Sharon.)

Dear Sirs

Here’s a letter that might have been received by the Restormel County Council. What’s unusual about it?

Dear Sirs:

I shed no tears to learn that the hill in Mansion Road, close to most locals’ homesteads, is at last considered at least a minor threat to residents in the area. At times in the cold season the ice created on this road is a colossal attraction to the local children. Some slither and slide on the ice on sleds, tin sheets, etc, to their hearts’ content, and create concerns to motorists, and others in the area, in the colder months. It is nice to see that this matter is at last in hand, to note its consideration as an essential element in Restormel’s schemes to decrease the district’s road accidents.

A Contented Resident.

Click for Answer