Harry S? Truman


You can start fights among copyeditors by asking them how to punctuate Harry Truman’s name.

The 34th president had no middle name — just the letter S. So the question is, do you add a period afterward? Purists say no, it’s not an abbreviation. Pragmatists say yes, if you omit the period then some readers will stop at the “error.”

Truman himself usually signed his name with a period, but he once remarked that it should be omitted. That’s why, to this day, some newspapers refer to him as Harry S Truman.

Hapax Legomenon

A hapax legomenon is a word that occurs only once in a given body of text:

  • NORTELRYE (“education”) was used only by Chaucer, and only once.
  • AUTOGUOS, an ancient Greek word for “plow,” was used only once, in Hesiod.
  • FLOTHER, a charming synonym for “snowflake,” appears only once in written English before 1900 (in a manuscript from around 1275).
  • PIM, a stone weight of about a quarter ounce, appears only once in Biblical Hebrew (1 Samuel 13:20).

HONORIFICABILITUDINITATIBUS appears only once in Shakespeare’s works (in Love’s Labour’s Lost). Probably a good thing.



Statues aren’t the only mystery on Easter Island. Tablets found on the island bear a mysterious script, known as rongorongo, that has never been successfully deciphered.

Some scholars have pointed out similarities between the strange characters and the prehistoric script of the Indus Valley in India, 6,000 miles away, but others dispute this.

The islanders themselves give eager and varying accounts to archaeologists and historians, and perhaps they themselves don’t know. Some say that rongorongo means peace-peace, and that the documents record treaties, perhaps with visitors to the island.

So far, none of the attempts at translation have withstood peer review.