When Virginia senator William B. Spong Jr. first went to Washington, he worried that the media might mistakenly pronounce his name Sponge.

But he observed that his Senate colleagues included Russell B. Long (D-La.) and Hiram L. Fong (R-Hawaii).

So in introducing himself at the National Press Club, he announced that the three of them would be introducing a bill to protect the rights of songwriters in Hong Kong. It would be called the Long Fong Spong Hong Kong Song Bill.

They never introduced the bill, but the media never mispronounced Spong’s name.

In a Word


n. a person of great and varied learning

n. one who may be depended upon

n. a dispute about or concerning words

v. to speak of with disparagement or contempt

In 1746 Samuel Johnson set out to write a dictionary of the English language. He proposed to finish it in three years.

Dr. Adams found him one day busy at his Dictionary, when the following dialogue ensued.

ADAMS. This is a great work, Sir. How are you to get all the etymologies? JOHNSON. Why, Sir, here is a shelf with Junius, and Skinner, and others; and there is a Welch gentleman who has published a collection of Welch proverbs, who will help me with the Welch. ADAMS. But, Sir, how can you do this in three years? JOHNSON. Sir, I have no doubt that I can do it in three years. ADAMS. But the French Academy, which consists of forty members, took forty years to compile their Dictionary. JOHNSON. Sir, thus it is. This is the proportion. Let me see: forty times forty is sixteen hundred. As three to sixteen hundred, so is the proportion of an Englishman to a Frenchman.

(From Boswell.) (In the end it took him seven years.)



In Dante’s Inferno, a sign above the gate to hell reads LASCIATE OGNI SPERANZA, VOI CH’ENTRATE.

There are many ways to translate this (Robert Ripley claimed to find 100), but a common one is ABANDON YE ALL HOPE WHO ENTER HERE.

By an unlikely coincidence, this yields ABANDON Y.A.H.W.E.H.

(Discovered by Dave Morice.)

Some Odd Words

Doubtful but entertaining:

Several sources define vacansopapurosophobia as “fear of blank paper” — it’s not in the Oxford English Dictionary, but it’s certainly a useful word.

I’ve also seen artiformologicalintactitudinarianisminist, “one who studies 4-5-letter Latin prefixes and suffixes.” I don’t have a source for that; it’s not in the OED either.

In Say It My Way, Willard R. Espy defines a cypripareuniaphile as “one who takes special pleasure in sexual intercourse with prostitutes” and acyanoblepsianite as “one who cannot distinguish the color blue.”

In By the Sword, his history of swordsmen, Richard Cohen defines tsujigiri as “to try out a new sword on a chance passerby.” Apparently that’s a real practice.

And one that is in the OED: mallemaroking is “the boisterous and drunken exchange of hospitality between sailors in extreme northern waters.”

(Thanks, Dave.)


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

adj. able or skillful

n. a book lover

n. a short method of teaching

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


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


  • 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