Apt

The letters in OVERSUFFICIENTLY can be rearranged to spell the English number names for 1, 4, 5, 7, 10, 14, 15, 40, 45, 47, 50, 51, 57, 70, and 74.

The letters in A PLACE FOR EVERYTHING AND EVERYTHING IN ITS PLACE can spell 1, 3, 5, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 13, 17, 18, 19, 30, 31, 33, 35, 37, 38, 39, 40, 43, 47, 48, 49, 70, 71, 73, 75, 78, 79, 80, 81, 83, 85, 87, 88, 89, 90, 91, 93, 95, 97, 98, and 99.

And the latter can also spell 26 numbers in the form “one-and-twenty,” from ONE-AND-THIRTY to EIGHT-AND-NINETY.

(Rex Gooch, “Number Names in Words and Phrases,” Word Ways 34:4 [November 2001], 254-258.)

In a Word

habile
adj. able or skillful

philobiblian
n. a book lover

tachydidaxy
n. a short method of teaching

telesis
n. the intelligent direction of effort toward the achievement of an end

Mathematician Theodor Molien was fluent in German, Estonian, French, Swedish, Greek, Hebrew, Latin, English, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Dutch, and Norwegian.

“Read a hundred novels in a language,” he liked to say, “and you will know that language.”

The Giving Tree

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In the February 2003 issue of Word Ways, Dave Morice nominates PEPPERTREE as the “holy grail” of wordplay. PEPPERTREE is a “pyramid word” — it contains 1 T, 2 Rs, 3 Ps, and 4 Es:

peppertree - 1

But it contains two shorter pyramid words, PEPPER and PEP:

peppertree - 2

Also:

  • All the letters in PEPPERTREE can be typed on the top row of a typewriter.
  • PEPPERTREE’s vowels are drawn from the first half of the alphabet, its consonants from the second. The vowels occupy odd-numbered positions in the alphabet, the consonants even.
  • Written in capitals, all the letters in PEPPERTREE contain vertical lines. Half contain curves and half don’t; half contain closed spaces and half don’t.
  • In lowercase each letter has one line and one curve.
  • E appears 4 times and T once; if A = 1, B = 2, etc., then E + E + E + E = T.
  • The PEPPERTREE is an EVERGREEN, and each of these words contains the letter E, its only vowel, four times.

Altogether, Morice lists 26 ways in which PEPPERTREE is notable for its letters, pronunciation, and meaning, making it “an evergreen of the most alphabetic kind.” The whole list is here.

(Dave Morice, “Peppertree: The Logological Holy Grail,” Word Ways 36:1 [February 2003], 3-5.)

Silver and Gold

I know of only one triple pun that is also an accurate touché. A visitor who came in upon the wife of Sir Herbert Beerbohm Tree while she was giving her daughter a geography lesson, asked the child: ‘What is the capital of the Rothschilds?’ Answered the mother: ‘Bering Straits.’ (The Baring family, it is perhaps permissible to add, were the great rival English bankers.)

— Louis Kronenberger, The Cutting Edge, 1970

Charlestonese

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While writing for the Charleston News and Courier, journalist Frank Gilbreth Jr. made a study of the local language. “Although, as everyone knows, Charlestonians speak perfect English,” he wrote, “residents of many other sections of the United States unfortunately do not. Ironically, these sloppy talkers from elsewhere complain sometimes, while visiting the Holy City, that they cannot understand the pure and clear accents of Charlestonians.” He offered a glossary:

ABODE: wooden plank

AIN’T: sister of one of your parents

BALKS: a container, such as a match balks

BALL: to heat a liquid until it bubbles

CANADA: politician running for public office

FAINTS: a barricade of wood or brick

FORKS: bushy-tailed animal hunted by riders in red coats

MINE EYES: salad dressing

SEND WISHES: items of food made with bread, handy for a picnic

TOY: cravat

WRETCHED: the long name for the nickname “Dick”

“A person desiring to maneuver a car to the curb might ask a pool-lease-man, ‘Cain I police pack hair?’ To which the pool-lease-man would doubtless respond, ‘No, you cain not.'”

Eventually he published a dictionary under the pseudonym Lord Ashley Cooper, and the paper sold it for 25 cents a copy. I don’t know whether it did any good. The whole thing is here.

Extraordinary Lengths

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A number of German writers intentionally suppressed the letter ‘r’ (as did also a fair number of Italians), of whom the eighteenth-century German poet Gottlob Burmann (1737-1805) is perhaps the most amusing: he is reported to have hated the letter ‘r’ to such an extent that in 130 poems he never used it and refused to pronounce his own last name.

— Laurence de Looze, The Letter & the Cosmos, 2016

In a Word

anfractuous
adj. winding, sinuous, involved

quomodo
n. the manner, way, or means

flagitate
v. to entreat earnestly

planiloquent
adj. plain-speaking

In a 1993 New York Times article lamenting the obscurity of scholarly writing, University of Colorado history professor Patricia Nelson Limerick cited this passage from Allan Bloom’s Closing of the American Mind as an example of indecipherable prose:

If openness means to ‘go with the flow,’ it is necessarily an accommodation to the present. That present is so closed to doubt about so many things impeding the progress of its principles that unqualified openness to it would mean forgetting the despised alternatives to it, knowledge of which makes us aware of what is doubtful in it.

She wrote, “Is there a reader so full of blind courage as to claim to know what this sentence means?”

Guidance

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In the Sherlock Holmes story “The Adventure of the Solitary Cyclist,” Arthur Conan Doyle created an inadvertent grammatical puzzle: Who does the term “solitary cyclist” refer to? Apart from the title, the phrase appears only twice in the story:

  1. “I will now lay before the reader the facts connected with Miss Violet Smith, the solitary cyclist of Charlington, and the curious sequel of our investigation, which culminated in unexpected tragedy.”
  2. “‘That’s the man!’ I [Watson] gasped. A solitary cyclist was coming towards us. His head was down …”

The first passage describes a woman and the second a man, Bob Carruthers. Which is the solitary cyclist of the title? For 69 years Holmes fans debated the question. Those who argued for Smith read “the solitary cyclist of Charlington” as an appositive phrase, another name for “Miss Violet Smith.” Certainly Carruthers was “a” solitary cyclist, but “the” solitary cyclist was Smith.

Those who argued for Carruthers thought that “the solitary cyclist of Charlington” above was not a description of Smith but the second item in a list — that is, Watson was promising to describe three things: the facts of the case, the cyclist, and the sequel. They allowed, though, that the comma after that phrase was unusual (I gather that the serial comma wasn’t commonly used then). In the story Carruthers pursues Smith, both on bicycles, so either interpretation seems reasonable.

The matter was resolved in 1972, when Andrew Peck tracked down the original manuscript in Cornell University’s rare book room. In the title and in the first passage above Doyle had originally written “man” and then crossed it out and substituted “cyclist.” So the solitary cyclist is definitely Bob Carruthers. Another mystery solved!

(Andrew J. Peck, “The Solitary Man-uscript,” Baker Street Journal, June 1972.)

Recoupling

From reader Dave Lawrence: What is notable about these 14 sets of words?

accost commit launch deeded
adhere heckle silent versed
ampere arrive angers theses
chance ascent tester stored
chaste ascend tinder seeded
cohere heckle silent versed
debase mucked refile stress
demure riffle silent versed
endure shelve riling nested
forego recess gossip needed
herein advice resins stones
rebate locket career tested
recast costar pirate esters
remade astute surest rested
Click for Answer

Sound and Sense

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In this passage from Tennyson’s Morte d’Arthur, the mail-clad Sir Bedivere carries his wounded king down to a lake by a narrow path along a cliff:

Dry clash’d his harness in the icy caves
And barren chasms, and all to left and right
The bare black cliff clang’d round him, as he based
His feet on juts of slippery crag that rang
Sharp-smitten with the dint of armed heels —
And on a sudden, lo! the level lake,
And the long glories of the winter moon.

“This passage is particularly interesting in the sudden change from the harsh imitative sounds describing the trip itself to the peaceful passage, dominated by liquids and nasals, representing the arrival at the shore,” writes Calvin Brown in Music and Literature.

He gives two examples of poets attempting to imitate musical timbres. Detlev von Liliencron’s Die Musik kommt describes the progress of a military band through a little German village:

Klingling, tschingtsching und Paukenkrach,
Noch aus der Ferne tönt es schwach,
Ganz leise bumbumbumbum tsching,
Zog da ein bunter Schmetterling,
Tschingtsching, bum, um die Ecke?

And the first stanza of Paul Verlaine’s Chanson d’automne famously imitates a violin:

Les sanglots longs
Des violons
De l’automne
Blessent mon cœur
D’une langueur
Monotone.

In The Craft of Translation, John Biguenet writes, “English simply has no matching nasal sounds in words that would convey the meaning, unless we turn to trombones, and then we have changed instruments.”