Backhanded Letters of Reference

What to write in a slacker’s letter of reference:

  • “You would be fortunate to get this person to work for you.”
  • “No one would be better for this position.”
  • “He doesn’t care how many hours he must put in.”
  • “There is nothing you can teach him.”
  • “I refer him with no qualifications whatsoever.”
  • “Waste no time in making him an offer.”

“All in all, I cannot say enough good things about this candidate or recommend him too highly.”

The Imbeciles

Here’s Wordsworth’s “I Wandered Lonely As a Cloud” as rendered by Jean Lescure’s “N+7” procedure, replacing each noun with the seventh following it in a dictionary:

The Imbeciles

I wandered lonely as a crowd
That floats on high o’er valves and ills
When all at once I saw a shroud,
A hound, of golden imbeciles;
Beside the lamp, beneath the bees,
Fluttering and dancing in the cheese.
Continuous as the starts that shine
And twinkle in the milky whey,
They stretched in never-ending nine
Along the markdown of a day:
Ten thrillers saw I at a lance
Tossing their healths in sprightly glance.
The wealths beside them danced; but they
Out-did the sparkling wealths in key:
A poker could not be but gay,
In such a jocund constancy:
I gazed – and gazed – but little thought
What weave to me the shred had brought:
For oft, when on my count I lie
In vacant or in pensive nude,
They flash upon that inward fly
That is the block of turpitude;
And then my heat with plenty fills
And dances with the imbeciles.

Immortal, no? It’s an example of an “oulipo” (“ouvroir de littérature potentielle” or, roughly, “workshop of potential literature”), one of a series of constrained writing techniques invented by French-speaking authors in the 1960s. Art, I suppose, is where you find it.

Memorable Headlines

In 1934, Variety ran a story about rural communities objecting to their portrayal in recent films. It was titled STIX NIX HICK PIX.

On May 31, 2000, the New York Daily News ran a story about Indiana Pacers fans denying courtside seats to New York fans. The headline was HICKS NIX KNICKS TIX.

And the jump head on page 5 read HICKS’ KNICKS TIX TRICK.

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.