In a Word

n. a bookseller

adj. slow; tardy; dilatory; causing delay

n. an inquisitive person

adv. from elsewhere; from another source

[Edmund Law] had a book printed at Carlisle; they were a long time about it: he sent several times to hasten them; at last he called himself to know the reason of the delay. ‘Why does not my book make its appearance?’ said he to the printer. ‘My Lord, I am extremely sorry; but we have been obliged to send to Glasgow for a pound of parentheses.’

— Henry Colburn, Personal and Literary Memorials, 1829

Time and Talk

Speakers of the Kuuk Thaayorre language, spoken by the Thaayorre people in Queensland’s Pormpuraaw settlement, use absolute cardinal directions (north, south, east, west) rather than relative spatial terms (left, right), even at small scales. So, for example, they would say, “The cup is southeast of the plate” or “The boy standing to the south of Mary is my brother.”

In 2010, University of California psychologists Lera Boroditsky and Alice Gaby gave Kuuk Thaayorre speakers sets of cards depicting temporal progressions — a man aging, a crocodile growing, a banana being eaten — and asked them to arrange the shuffled cards on the ground to indicate the correct temporal order.

English speakers arrange the cards from left to right, Hebrew speakers from right to left. But the Kuuk Thaayorre arranged them from east to west, regardless of the direction the subjects themselves were facing.

Among other things, this means that the Kuuk Thaayorre must be constantly aware of their orientation in the world. “We never told anyone which direction they were facing,” Boroditsky wrote later. “The Kuuk Thaayorre knew that already and spontaneously used this spatial orientation to construct their representations of time.”

(Lera Boroditsky, “How Language Shapes Thought,” Scientific American 304:2 [February 2011], 62-65.)

In a Word

adj. emitting a particularly harsh or shrill sound

adj. restless; agitated; unquiet

n. a fit of passion; anger, fury

n. masterful violence

Of the numerous war scenes in operas of all ages, it is worth noting one in particular for its extraordinary tempo marking. The opera Sofonisba (1762) by Tommaso Traetta (or Trajetta) opens with a battle scene in which two oboes, two horns (pitched in C and D respectively), and a string band are instructed to play ‘Allegrissimo e strepitosissimo,’ literally, ‘very joyfully and with much animation and gaiety and extremely noisily and boisterously.’

— Robert Dearling, The Guinness Book of Music Facts & Feats, 1976

One Way

The French constrained writing group Oulipo refers to the “Canada Dry principle” — the color, name, and bottle design of that ginger ale would lead you to think it’s alcoholic, but it’s simply not. Similarly, “falindromes” are expressions that appear to be palindromes but aren’t:

O, gin, need a dingo?
So cats taste staccato tacos?
Ray, eat a ripe pirate tea. YAR!!
Mime Eminem.
A-hah! A banana ban. Haha!
“I, a CD-ROM?!” ribbed a bearded Mordcai.
A brazen zebra.
Pandas tired diet? A sad nap.
I am mad at a Canada dam, Mai!

These are from an extinct 2008 blog created by Amir Blumenfeld; there was also a short-lived Twitter account (“Able sidlers race cars, Idris Elba!”).

A working palindrome, by Stephen Fry:

Rettebs iflahd noces, eh? Ttu, but the second half is better.


Bishop Porteus, whom in all conversations about him George III called the Queen’s Bishop, was asked by her Majesty, at a period when all ladies were employed (when they had nothing better to do) in knotting, whether she might knot on a Sunday. He answered, ‘You may not;’ leaving her Majesty to decide whether, as knot and not were in sound alike, she was, or was not, at liberty so to employ herself on that day.

— Horace Twiss, The Public and Private Life of Lord Chancellor Eldon, 1844

For What It’s Worth

In 2015 Keele University historian Paul Booth found evidence of a man named “Roger Fuckbythenavele” in the Chester county court plea rolls of 1310:

County Court of Chester, held on Tuesday after the feast of St Nicholas, 4 Edw. II, before Payn Tibotot, justiciar of Chester (8th December 1310)

A man called ‘Roger Fuckbythenavele’ was exacted for the first time [the process preliminary to outlawry].

TNA CHES 29/23 m 10d

Booth believes that’s the earliest known reference to fuck as a swear word. “This surname is presumably a nickname. I suggest it could either mean an actual attempt at copulation by an inexperienced youth, later reported by a rejected girlfriend, or an equivalent of the word ‘dimwit’ i.e. a man who might think that that was the correct way to go about it.”

Humiliatingly, Roger is mentioned seven times by that name in the rolls in 1310 and 1311. The “serjeants of the peace” had been ordered to bring him before the court, but they’d failed to find him, and consequently he was outlawed. Apparently a court clerk gave him the nickname.

(Paul Booth, “An Early Fourteenth-Century Use of the F-word in Cheshire, 1310–11,” Transactions of the Historic Society of Lancashire and Cheshire 164 [2015], 99–102.)

In a Word

n. a forcible separation; a tearing asunder

n. practical judgment; the faculty of conducting oneself wisely

v. to entreat (a person) earnestly

v. to write back; to write in reply

From Betty’s Weekly, Feb. 19, 1916:

Dear Betty — My boy has been in the trenches for six months, and expects to get furlough any moment. What I want to ask is that, if you were me, would you meet him at the station, or would you wait for him at home?

You ask me a difficult question, little girl, and I find it hard to advise you. Were I you I’d want with all my heart and soul to be the first woman my boy would see when he arrived. And yet, dear, the meeting him after all he’s been through would mean so much to me and to him, too, that I don’t think I could bear to see him in public. Really and truly, were I you, I’d wait for him alone somewhere — at home, if possible. Somehow, such a meeting is too sacred to be witnessed by anybody. But be sure you go to see him off when he leaves for the Front again, and be as brave as you can, dear.

Mankindish Goodgain

In 1989 Poul Anderson wrote a short text using only words of Germanic origin, to show what English might look like if it expressed new concepts using German-style compounds rather than borrowing from other languages. The piece described atomic theory, or “uncleftish beholding”:

The firststuffs have their being as motes called unclefts. These are mightly small; one seedweight of waterstuff holds a tale of them like unto two followed by twenty-two naughts. Most unclefts link together to make what are called bulkbits. Thus, the waterstuff bulkbit bestands of two waterstuff unclefts, the sourstuff bulkbit of two sourstuff unclefts, and so on. (Some kinds, such as sunstuff, keep alone; others, such as iron, cling together in ices when in the fast standing; and there are yet more yokeways.) When unlike clefts link in a bulkbit, they make bindings. Thus, water is a binding of two waterstuff unclefts with one sourstuff uncleft, while a bulkbit of one of the forestuffs making up flesh may have a thousand thousand or more unclefts of these two firststuffs together with coalstuff and chokestuff.

The full text is here. Douglas Hofstadter called this style “Ander-Saxon.”

UPDATE: Apparently there’s a whole wiki for “Anglish,” including recastings of famous texts:

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this greatland, a new folkship, dreamt in freedom, and sworn to the forthput that all men are made evenworthy. Now we are betrothed in a great folk-war, testing whether that folkship, or any folkship so born and so sworn, can long withstand. We are met on a great battle-field of that war.

(Thanks, Dave.)


Hate and debate Rome through the world hath spread,
Yet Roma amor is, if backward read.
Then is’t not strange Rome hate should foster? No:
For out of backward love all hate doth grow.

— Sir John Harington