Number Names

The smallest number whose name is spelled with:

  • 3 letters is 1 (one)
  • 4 letters is 4 (four)
  • 5 letters is 3 (three)
  • 6 letters is 11 (eleven)
  • 7 letters is 15 (fifteen)
  • 8 letters is 13 (thirteen)
  • 9 letters is 17 (seventeen)
  • 10 letters is 24 (twenty-four)
  • 15 letters is 103 (one hundred three)
  • 20 letters is 124 (one hundred twenty-four)
  • 25 letters is 1104 (one thousand one hundred four)
  • 30 letters is 1117 (one thousand one hundred seventeen)
  • 40 letters is 13,373 (thirteen thousand three hundred seventy-three)
  • 50 letters is 113,373 (one hundred thirteen thousand three hundred seventy-three)
  • 100 letters is 11,373,373,373 (eleven billion three hundred seventy-three million three hundred seventy-three thousand three hundred seventy-three)

Words With Early Pedigrees

Surprisingly old words:

  • SPACESHIP (first print use: 1894)
  • ACID RAIN (1858)
  • HAIRDRESSER (1771)
  • ANTACID (1753)
  • HAS-BEEN (1606)
  • EARTHLING (1593)
  • MILKY WAY (ca. 1384, even earlier in Latin)

Amazingly, light beer (“leoht beor”) first shows up around the year 1000.

The Great Gadsby

Gadsby is a 50,000-word novel that doesn’t use the letter E:

“But a man has to think of that, Allan. And you will, as you grow up. My two big sons just put off on that big troop train. I don’t know how long Bill and Julius will stay away. Your big cannon might go Boom! and hit Bill or Julius. Do you know Frank Morgan, Paul Johnson and John Smith? All right; that big cannon might hit that trio, too. Nobody can say who a cannon will hit, Allan. Now, you go right on through Grammar School, and grow up into a big strong man, and don’t think about war;” and Gadsby, standing and gazing far off to Branton Hills’ charming hill district, thought: “I think that will bust up a wild young ambition!”

The author, Ernest Vincent Wright, notes that he could mention no numbers between 6 and 30. And “When introducing young ladies into the story, this is a real barrier; for what young woman wants to have it known that she is over thirty?”

Voynich Manuscript

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Voynich.png

Some writers seem to crave anonymity. None more so than the author of the Voynich manuscript, who invented a mysterious language and an unknown alphabet that has been defying scholars for 500 years.

To judge from the illustrations, the text deals with astronomy, biology, cosmology, herbs, and recipes. Handwriting experts say that the glyphs were written with speed and care, as if the author were facile with them. Statistical analysis seems to show that it’s a natural language, but the vocabulary is unusually small, and in some ways it seems to resemble Arabic more than European languages.

Because no one knows precisely what the 240-page book is, it’s hard to guess who wrote it. Suspects include a who’s who of Europe in the Middle Ages, Roger Bacon and John Dee among them. The cipher has resisted even the National Security Agency, leading some to think it’s a hoax, but even that is hard to prove conclusively.

There’s a great irony at the bottom of this. The mysterious author was one of the most successful cryptologists in history — so successful, in fact, that we may never know who he was.

Rubber-Stamp Poetry

“Lion-Eating Poet in the Stone Den,” a poem by Zhao Yuanren, in English:

In a stone den was a poet Shi Shi, who loved to eat lions, and decided to eat ten.
He often went to the market to look for lions.
One day at ten o’clock, ten lions just arrived at the market.
At that time, Shi Shi just arrived at the market too.
Seeing those ten lions, he killed them with arrows.
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 those ten lions were in fact ten stone lion corpses.
Try to explain this.

… and in Hanyu Pinyin:

Shishi shishi Shi Shi, shi shi, shi shi shi shi.
Shi shishi shi shi shi shi.
Shi shi, shi shi shi shi shi.
Shi shi, shi Shi Shi shi shi.
Shi shi shi shi shi, shi shi shi, shi shi shi shi shishi.
Shi shi shi shi shi shi, shi shishi.
Shishi shi, Shi shi shi shi shishi.
Shishi shi, Shi shi shi shi shi shi shi.
Shi shi, shi shi shi shi shi, shi shi shi shi shi.
Shi shi shi shi.

Globetrotters

When you’re a traveling pig, you need a good phrasebook. Estonian pigs go rui, French groin, Polish chrum, and Czech, improbably, chro. English pigs have been oinking only since 1940. And in Rome, presumably, they speak Pig Latin.

Five Times Fast

Dutch tongue twisters:

De koetsier poetst de postkoets met postkoetspoets.
The coachman cleans the stagecoach with stagecoach cleaner.

De kat krabt de krullen van de trap met drie droge doeken.
The cat scratches the woodcurls of the stairs with three dry cloths.

De knappe kapper kapt knap, maar de knappe knecht van de knappe kapper kapt knapper dan de knappe kapper kappen kan.
The clever barber cuts hair well, but the clever helper of the clever barber cuts hair more cleverly than the clever barber can cut it.

De meid snijdt recht, en de knecht snijdt scheef.
The maid cuts straight, and the servant cuts crooked.

Liesje leerde lotje lopen langs de lange lindenlaan.
Liesje taught Lotje how to walk along the long tree lane.