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.

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.

All’indietro

Latin palindromes:

Si bene te tua laus taxat sua laute tenebis
If you are considered praiseworthy, you, elegant man, will keep your own property.

Et necat eger amor non Roma rege tacente,
Roma reges una non anus eger amor

And sick love kills, not from Rome, while the king is silent,
Rome, you will rule together, an old woman is not your sick love.

A favorite among Roman lawyers was Si nummi immunis, which means “Give me my fee, and I’ll warrant you free.”

Intercourse the Penguin!

Films with the most prolific use of the word fuck:

  1. Tigerland (527)
  2. Nil By Mouth (470)
  3. Casino (422)
  4. South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut (399)
  5. Martin Lawrence Live: Runteldat (347)
  6. Another Day in Paradise (327)
  7. Summer of Sam (326)
  8. Twin Town (320)
  9. Ken Loach’s Sweet Sixteen (313)
  10. Narc (298)

The winner, Joel Schumacher’s 2000 infantry-training drama Tigerland, packs 527 fucks into 100 minutes, for a fuck-per-minute ratio of 5.27, or one fuck every 12 seconds. (“Damn it, Cantwell! Shit, man. Shit! Fuck, I don’t even know you, man! You sittin’ there telling your fucking stories. You make me want to fuckin’ cry! What’s that about?”) Schumacher got a lump of coal that Christmas.