• What time is it on the sun?
  • PATERNAL, PARENTAL, and PRENATAL are anagrams.
  • If forecastle is pronounced “fo’c’sle,” should forecast be pronounced “folks”?
  • A clock’s second hand is its third hand.
  • “The religion of one seems madness unto another.” — Thomas Browne

Bonus poser: In what sport does only the winning team travel backward?

What’s in a Name?

Founded by Daniel Dennett, the Philosophical Lexicon converts philosophers’ surnames into useful words (with often pointed definitions):

  • bergson, n. A mountain of sound, a “buzzing, blooming confusion.”
  • braithwaite, n. The interval of time between two books. “His second book followed his first after a long braithwaite.”
  • chomsky, adj. Said of a theory that draws extravagant metaphysical implications from scientifically established facts.
  • derrida, n. A sequence of signs that fails to signify anything beyond itself. From a old French nonsense refrain: “Hey nonny derrida, nonny nonny derrida falala.”
  • foucault, n. A howler, an insane mistake. “I’m afraid I’ve committed an egregious foucault.”
  • heidegger, n. A ponderous device for boring through thick layers of substance. “It’s buried so deep we’ll have to use a heidegger.”
  • hughmellorate, v. To humiliate at a seminar.
  • kripke, adj. Not understood, but considered brilliant. “I hate to admit it, but I found his remarks quite kripke.”
  • rand, n. An angry tirade occasioned by mistaking philosophical disagreement for a personal attack and/or evidence of unspeakable moral corruption.
  • turing, v. To travel from one point to another in simple, discrete steps, without actually knowing where one is going, or why.
  • voltaire, n. A unit of enlightenment.

And, inevitably, dennett: “To while away the hours defining surnames.”

“The Poet’s Corner”

In November 2003, Word Ways: The Journal of Recreational Linguistics challenged its readers to discover why Ed Wolpow had sent in the following poem:


Among old and crafty mountain men,
Far gone in their heart-held dreaming,
Nearest neighbor one mile down a rock road,
Busy poking old and peeling car bonnets,
An owl hoots past a tin ear.
The sunny period in every week
Is time for one–one hoarse chuckle.
It’s not the place for foxy generals
Nor a spiffy consul, furtive, medalled.
No young and flaxen onlookers
With peach fuzz included.
Extant alumni of a meaner university
Plead for simple knots and bolts.
Home to fossil icons of steep hills,
And not fossil verses which gleam
With glib phrases that parse nicely,
A rogue element in every line.

The answer is that each line contains the name of an element.

Line Handling


“If you can describe clearly without a diagram the proper way of making this or that knot, then you are a master of the English tongue.” — Hilaire Belloc

Forked Tongues

From the New Englander and Yale Review, January 1843: “The great etymological affinity between Italian and Latin, is illustrated by the following lines addressed to Venice, by a citizen of that republic before its fall, which read equally in both languages”:

Te saluto, alma Dea, Dea generosa,
O gloria nostra, O Veneta Regina!
In procelloso turbine funesto
Tu regnasti secura; mille membra
Intrepida prostrasti in pugna acerba.
Per te miser non fui, per te non gemo;
Vivo in pace per te. Regna, O beata,
Regna in prospera sorte, in alta pompa,
In augusto splendore, in aurea sede.
Tu serena, tu placida, tu pia,
Tu benigna; tu salva, ama, conserva.

A reader of Notes and Queries, August 1868, presents these lines as “being at the same time Latin, Italian, and Portuguese”:

In mare irato, in subita procella,
Invoco te, nostra benigna Stella.
Vivo in acerba poena, in maesto horrore,
Quando te non imploro, in te non spero,
Purissima Maria, et in sincero
Te non adoro, et in divino ardore.
Et, O vita beata, et anni et horae
Quando, contra me armato odio severo
Te, Maria, amo, et in gaudio vero
Vivere spero ardendo in vivo amore.
Non amo te, regina augusta, quando
Non vivo in pace et in silentio fido;
Non amo te, quando non vivo amando.
In te sola, Maria, in te confido,
In tua materna cura respirando,
Quasi columba in suo beato nido.

Short Subject

Here is a short poem which is complete without any exercise of the imagination. The rhymes need no precedent clauses; they are heads and tails at once. In their simple way they tell the sad story of a common domestic tragedy:


— William Shepard Walsh, Handy-Book of Literary Curiosities, 1892