Bootstraps

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At the beginning of 1983’s Return of the Jedi, the third film in the original Star Wars trilogy, an alien script could be seen on monitor readouts on the second Death Star. Devised by artist Joe Johnston, these lines weren’t intended to be read, but West End Games art director Stephen Crane gave each character a name, creating an alphabet for gamers to use.

With Lucasfilm’s approval, this has become “Aurabesh,” a 34-letter writing system named for its first two letters, aurek and besh. And Aurabesh has now found its way into Star Wars films, books, comics, and TV series. Since the 2004 DVD release of A New Hope, the original film in the series, the words on the Death Star’s tractor beam control have appeared in Aurebesh, bringing the alphabet’s adoption full circle.

“The Aurebesh is a lot like Boba Fett,” Crane wrote. “It is a facet of the Star Wars phenomenon that had its origin as a cinematic aside, but which has come to be widely embraced, far out of proportion to its humble origins.”

In a Word

allograph
n. something written for another person

facrere
n. the art of “make-believe”

dabster
n. a master of his business

gelastic
n. something capable of exciting smiles or laughter

Leroy Anderson’s 1950 composition “The Typewriter” uses a manual typewriter as an instrument.

To keep the keys from jamming, the machine is modified so that only two keys work. All the same, Anderson found that percussionists perform it more reliably than typists do.

“We have two drummers,” Anderson said in a 1970 interview. “A lot of people think we use stenographers, but they can’t do it because they can’t make their fingers move fast enough. So we have drummers because they can get wrist action.”

Jerry Lewis famously adopted the piece for his 1963 film Who’s Minding the Store?, below.

A Cloak

In Foucault’s Pendulum, Umberto Eco suggests a technique for making one language look like another:

Abu, do another thing now: Belbo orders Abu to change all words, make each ‘a’ become ‘akka’ and each ‘o’ become ‘ulla,’ for a paragraph to look almost Finnish.

Akkabu, dulla akkanullather thing nullaw: Belbulla ullarders Akkabu tulla chakkange akkall wullards, makkake eakkach ‘akka’ becullame ‘akkakkakka’ akkand eakkach ‘ulla’ becullame ‘ullakka,’ fullar akka pakkarakkagrakkaph tulla lullaullak akkalmulast Finnish.

In a 1955 letter to W.H. Auden, J.R.R. Tolkien described his discovery of the Finnish language: “It was like discovering a complete wine-filled cellar filled with bottles of an amazing wine of a kind and flavor never tasted before. It quite intoxicated me …”

Men in Aida

In 1983 poet David Melnick reinterpreted the first book of Homer’s Iliad by brutely understanding the spoken Greek as English, producing a bathhouse farce:

Men in Aida, they appeal, eh? A day, O Achilles.
Allow men in, emery Achaians. All gay ethic, eh?
Paul asked if team mousse suck, as Aida, pro, yaps in.
Here on a Tuesday. “Hello,” Rhea to cake Eunice in.
“Hojo” noisy tap as hideous debt to lay at a bully.
Ex you, day. Tap wrote a “D,” a stay. Tenor is Sunday.
Atreides stain axe and Ron and ideas’ll kill you.

In 2015 he published two more books, in each “hearing” Homer’s words as English. He calls it Men in Aïda.

A British Limerick

A young man called Cholmondeley Colquhoun
Kept as a pet a babolquhoun.
His mother said, “Cholmondeley,
Do you think it quite colmondeley
To feed your babolquhoun with a spolquhoun?”

(Via Willard R. Espy.)

Hint

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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

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polyhistor
n. a person of great and varied learning

suresby
n. one who may be depended upon

logomachy
n. a dispute about or concerning words

vilipend
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.)

Notice

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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.)