Autological words describe themselves:

  • pentasyllabic
  • seventeen-lettered
  • descriptive
  • uninformative
  • English
  • pronounceable
  • confusionful
  • wee

Heterological words don’t:

  • abbreviated
  • adverb
  • purple
  • carcinogenic
  • plural
  • phonetic
  • misspelled

So is heterological a heterological word?


A kadigan is a placeholder for an unspecified word. You know: blivet, deelie-bob, device, dingus, doodad, doohickey, doofunny, doover, fnord, gadget, geemie, gizmo, hoochamajigger, kerjigger, oojah, oojamaflip, thingamajig, thingamabob, thingamadoodle, thingo, thingum, thingummy, thingy, thing-thing, whatchamacallit, whatchamajigger, whatsit, whosey, whoseywhatsit, whosis, widget, whatsitsname.

These are common words that do useful work, but they have no formal part of speech, falling somewhere between nouns and pronouns. “Speak properly, and in as few words as you can, but always plainly,” wrote William Penn, “for the end of speech is not ostentation, but to be understood.”



  • Campus motto: Bottoms up, Mac!
  • Do geese see God?
  • Dennis sinned.
  • Name now one man’s sensuousness. Name now one man.
  • Never odd or even.
  • Plan no damn Madonna LP!
  • Rotary gyrator
  • Roy, am I mayor?
  • Sex at noon taxes.
  • Ten animals I slam in a net.
  • Was it Eliot’s toilet I saw?
  • Tarzan raised a Desi Arnaz rat.
  • Norma is as selfless as I am, Ron.
  • Sums are not set as a test on Erasmus.
  • Satan, oscillate my metallic sonatas.
  • Are we not drawn onward, we few, drawn onward to new era?
  • Rettebs, I flahd noces, eh? Ttu, but the second half is better. (Stephen Fry)
  • Rats drown in WordStar.
  • “Sit on a potato pan, Otis!”
  • “Do nine men interpret?” “Nine men,” I nod.
  • A slut nixes sex in Tulsa.

And “Gnu dung, sides reversed, is gnu dung.”

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.