In a Word

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:U.S._Air_Force_fire_trucks_spray_water_over_a_KC-135_Stratotanker_aircraft_during_the_final_flight,_or_fini_flight,_for_Col._Corey_Martin,_the_commander_of_the_376th_Air_Expeditionary_Wing,_at_Transit_Center_130604-F-LK329-001.jpg

oss
v. to signify, indicate, or make known to somebody that something is the case

mensk
n. honor, dignity, reverence

eximious
adj. distinguished, eminent, excellent

serein
n. a fine rain falling from a cloudless sky

Momentous flights are sometimes marked by a “water salute” in which an aircraft passes under plumes of water sprayed by firefighting vehicles.

Here U.S. Air Force fire trucks salute a KC-135 Stratotanker, marking the final flight of Col. Corey Martin, commander of the 376th Air Expeditionary Wing, in Kyrgyzstan in 2013.

“Hannibal, Missouri”

Glimmering, gone — springtime stream
Lapping … road winding down
The shimmering hill. Hometown
Napping … sweet, solemn dream!
Dream solemn, sweet … napping
Hometown … hill shimmering … the
Down-winding road … lapping
Stream … springtime … gone, glimmering.

Willard R. Espy quotes this in his 1999 book The Best of an Almanac of Words at Play without citing the source. It’s by David L. Stephens.

What’s in a Name?

The fastest man on earth is named Bolt. Is that a coincidence, or did his name influence his choice of career?

In 2015, four curious researchers combed the British medical register looking for practitioners whose surnames seemed apt for their specialties (e.g., a neurologist named Brain). Then they compared the frequency of apt names listed under hospital specialties against their frequency in the register in general. They found that “[t]he frequency of names relevant to medicine and to subspecialties was much greater than that expected by chance.” Some examples:

General surgery: Gore, Butcher, Boyle, Blunt
Urology: Ball, Burns, Cox, Dick, Waterfall
Psychiatry: Downs, Lowe, Bhatti, Moodie, Nutt
Cardiology: Hart, Pump, Payne
Dermatology: Boyle, Hickey
Neurology: Counsell, Panicker
Paediatric medicine: Boys, Gal, Child, Kinder

Also: “Paediatric medicine was much more likely to be Wong than White (10:2), whereas anaesthetists were far more likely to be White than Wong (22:4).” And “One wonders if the comforting words of Dr Lie carry less impact because of the name, or whether consultations with Dr Dark in oncology are made any more ominous.”

(C. Limb et al., “Nominative Determinism in Hospital Medicine,” Bulletin of the Royal College of Surgeons of England 97:1 [2015], 24-26.) (See Doctor Doctor and the Doctor’s Names List.)

Ethology

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Buffalo_buffalo_Buffalo_buffalo_buffalo_buffalo_Buffalo_buffalo_sentence_diagram.jpg
Image: Wikimedia Commons

I had written about this back in 2006, but it’s worth mentioning again because someone has created this pellucid diagram: Buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo is a grammatical English sentence. It means something like “Bison residing in Buffalo, New York, feeling themselves intimidated by their fellows, visit a similar fate upon yet others of their local ilk.”

I’d attributed it to linguist William J. Rapaport, but apparently it’s arisen independently at least three times, first (it is believed) by wordplay maven Dmitri Borgmann, in 1965.

Root Words

Square roots:

EIGHTY-ONE has 9 letters.

ONE HUNDRED has 10 letters.

FIVE HUNDRED AND SEVENTY SIX has 24 letters.

Cube roots:

THIRTY-NINE THOUSAND THREE HUNDRED FOUR has 34 letters.

SIXTY-EIGHT THOUSAND NINE HUNDRED AND TWENTY-ONE has 41 letters.

ONE MILLION and ONE BILLION have 10 letters each, making them a sixth root and (in the United States) a ninth root word.

(Dave Morice, “Kickshaws,” Word Ways 30:2 [May 1997], 129-141.)

10/26/2020 UPDATE: Reader Hans Havermann has found many more, including this alarming specimen:

341183 = ONE HUNDRED SIXTY-NINE SENONAGINTILLION, FIVE HUNDRED FIVE QUINONAGINTILLION, SEVENTY-SEVEN QUATTUORNONAGINTILLION, FIFTY-ONE TRENONAGINTILLION, EIGHT HUNDRED SEVENTY DUONONAGINTILLION, SEVEN HUNDRED FIFTY-FOUR UNONAGINTILLION, SEVEN HUNDRED THIRTY-EIGHT NONAGINTILLION, SIX HUNDRED FIFTY-SIX NOVOCTOGINTILLION, TWO HUNDRED SEVENTY OCTOCTOGINTILLION, TWO HUNDRED NINETY-EIGHT SEPTENOCTOGINTILLION, SIX HUNDRED FORTY-SEVEN SEXOCTOGINTILLION, EIGHT HUNDRED FORTY-EIGHT QUINTOCTOGINTILLION, FOUR HUNDRED FOUR QUATTUOROCTOGINTILLION, EIGHT HUNDRED FIFTY-SIX TRESOCTOGINTILLION, SIX HUNDRED THIRTEEN DUOOCTOGINTILLION, EIGHT HUNDRED THIRTY-THREE UNOCTOGINTILLION, NINE OCTOGINTILLION, SEVEN HUNDRED SIXTY-FIVE NOVEMSEPTUAGINTILLION, EIGHT HUNDRED SIXTY-SEVEN OCTOSEPTUAGINTILLION, ONE HUNDRED FIFTY-THREE SEPTENSEPTUAGINTILLION, NINE HUNDRED SEVENTY-TWO SESEPTUAGINTILLION, EIGHT HUNDRED SEVENTY-EIGHT QUINSEPTUAGINTILLION, FIFTY-NINE QUATTUORSEPTUAGINTILLION, SEVEN HUNDRED SIX TRESEPTUAGINTILLION, EIGHT HUNDRED FIFTEEN DUOSEPTUAGINTILLION, TWO HUNDRED THIRTY-ONE UNSEPTUAGINTILLION, FOUR HUNDRED EIGHT SEPTUAGINTILLION, ONE HUNDRED FIFTY-FIVE NOVEMSEXAGINTILLION, FOUR HUNDRED EIGHTY-SIX OCTOSEXAGINTILLION, TWELVE SEPTENSEXAGINTILLION, TWO HUNDRED FORTY-SIX SESEXAGINTILLION, EIGHT HUNDRED EIGHTY-FIVE QUINSEXAGINTILLION, TWO HUNDRED FIFTY-SIX QUATTUORSEXAGINTILLION, FOUR HUNDRED NINETY-TWO TRESEXAGINTILLION, SEVEN HUNDRED FORTY-THREE DUOSEXAGINTILLION, FIVE HUNDRED FIFTY-FIVE UNSEXAGINTILLION, ONE HUNDRED FORTY-ONE SEXAGINTILLION, EIGHT HUNDRED TWENTY-FIVE NOVEMQUINQUAGINTILLION, SEVEN HUNDRED FORTY-SIX OCTOQUINQUAGINTILLION, ONE HUNDRED SEVENTY-ONE SEPTENQUINQUAGINTILLION, NINE HUNDRED THIRTY-TWO SEXQUINQUAGINTILLION, ONE HUNDRED SIXTY-SIX QUINQUINQUAGINTILLION, FOUR HUNDRED THREE QUATTUORQUINQUAGINTILLION, THIRTY-TWO TRESQUINQUAGINTILLION, SIX HUNDRED TWENTY-FOUR DUOQUINQUAGINTILLION, ONE HUNDRED FORTY-SIX UNQUINQUAGINTILLION, ONE HUNDRED TWENTY-FIVE QUINQUAGINTILLION, EIGHT HUNDRED TWO NOVEMQUADRAGINTILLION, EIGHT HUNDRED FIFTY-EIGHT OCTOQUADRAGINTILLION, ONE HUNDRED SEVENTY-NINE SEPTENQUADRAGINTILLION, ONE HUNDRED FIFTY-SIX SEXQUADRAGINTILLION, ONE HUNDRED TWENTY-FOUR QUINQUADRAGINTILLION, NINE HUNDRED FIFTY-FOUR QUATTUORQUADRAGINTILLION, NINE HUNDRED ELEVEN TRESQUADRAGINTILLION, TWO HUNDRED FIFTEEN DUOQUADRAGINTILLION, NINE HUNDRED SIXTY-SIX UNQUADRAGINTILLION, NINE HUNDRED TWELVE QUADRAGINTILLION, EIGHT HUNDRED THREE NOVEMTRIGINTILLION, SIX HUNDRED SIXTY-EIGHT OCTOTRIGINTILLION, SEVEN HUNDRED SIXTY-THREE SEPTRIGINTILLION, ONE HUNDRED EIGHTY-THREE SEXTRIGINTILLION, SEVEN HUNDRED NINETY-SIX QUINTRIGINTILLION, NINETY QUATTUORTRIGINTILLION, SEVEN HUNDRED TRESTRIGINTILLION, FIVE HUNDRED EIGHTY-SIX DUOTRIGINTILLION, ONE HUNDRED FORTY-ONE UNTRIGINTILLION, SIX HUNDRED FIFTY-FOUR TRIGINTILLION, SIX HUNDRED EIGHT NOVEMVIGINTILLION, SEVEN HUNDRED FIFTY-THREE OCTOVIGINTILLION, SIX HUNDRED FOURTEEN SEPTENVIGINTILLION, THREE HUNDRED FOUR SEXVIGINTILLION, SEVEN HUNDRED NINETY-FIVE QUINVIGINTILLION, SIX HUNDRED FORTY-FOUR QUATTUORVIGINTILLION, THREE HUNDRED SIXTY-FIVE TREVIGINTILLION, EIGHT HUNDRED NINETY-SEVEN DUOVIGINTILLION, EIGHT HUNDRED SEVENTEEN UNVIGINTILLION, FIVE HUNDRED EIGHTY-TWO VIGINTILLION, FOUR HUNDRED FIFTY-FIVE NOVEMDECILLION, FOUR OCTODECILLION, SIX HUNDRED FORTY-FIVE SEPTENDECILLION, NINE HUNDRED SEVEN SEXDECILLION, FOUR HUNDRED EIGHTY QUINDECILLION, EIGHT HUNDRED THIRTY-SEVEN QUATTUORDECILLION, ONE HUNDRED FORTY-FOUR TREDECILLION, TWO HUNDRED TWENTY-FIVE DUODECILLION, EIGHT HUNDRED EIGHTY-ONE UNDECILLION, SIX HUNDRED SEVEN DECILLION, THREE HUNDRED FIFTY-TWO NONILLION, FIVE HUNDRED FORTY-THREE OCTILLION, FOUR HUNDRED NINE SEPTILLION, TWO HUNDRED SEVENTY-NINE SEXTILLION, ONE HUNDRED EIGHTY-EIGHT QUINTILLION, SEVEN HUNDRED SEVENTY-SIX QUADRILLION, FORTY-EIGHT TRILLION, THREE HUNDRED NINETY-FOUR BILLION, SEVEN HUNDRED SEVENTY-ONE MILLION, EIGHT HUNDRED EIGHT THOUSAND, THREE HUNDRED THIRTY-ONE

The name of that number contains 3,411 letters.

(Thanks, Hans.)

One of a Kind

An unpaired word has a prefix or suffix that suggests that an antonym exists when in fact it doesn’t: disheveled is a word, but sheveled isn’t. In many cases the seeming antonym is a real word that’s fallen out of popular usage: corrigible, domitable, effable, feckful, gainly, nocuous, scathed, stinting, trepid, and wieldy are words; they’re just not used as often as their opposites.

Somewhat similarly, a plurale tantum is a noun that appears only its plural form: We speak of scissors and trousers, but not normally of “a scissor” or “a trouser.” A singulare tantum is a noun that’s used only in the singular, such as information, dust, or wealth.

(See “A Very Descript Man.”) (Thanks, Matt.)

Unspoken

A little oddity: In Edith Wharton’s The Age of Innocence, a sentence of 16 words (“The change will do you good, and you must be sure to go and see Ellen,” spoken to Newland Archer by his wife May) has a meaning of 221 words:

It was the only word that passed between them on the subject; but in the code in which they had both been trained it meant: ‘Of course you understand that I know all that people have been saying about Ellen, and heartily sympathise with my family in their effort to get her to return to her husband. I also know that, for some reason you have not chosen to tell me, you have advised her against this course, which all the older men of the family, as well as our grandmother, agree in approving; and that it is owing to your encouragement that Ellen defies us all, and exposes herself to the kind of criticism of which Mr. Sillerton Jackson probably gave you, this evening, the hint that has made you so irritable…. Hints have indeed not been wanting; but since you appear unwilling to take them from others, I offer you this one myself, in the only form in which well-bred people of our kind can communicate unpleasant things to each other: by letting you understand that I know you mean to see Ellen when you are in Washington, and are perhaps going there expressly for that purpose; and that, since you are sure to see her, I wish you to do so with my full and explicit approval — and to take the opportunity of letting her know what the course of conduct you have encouraged her in is likely to lead to.’

The Stairs of Reconciliation

https://www.flickr.com/photos/liakadaweb/44140173651
Image: Flickr

The Burg, the official headquarters of the regional government in Graz, Austria, contains a double spiral staircase, two flights of stairs spiraling in opposite directions that “reunite” at each floor, a masterpiece of architecture designed in 1499.

Bonus: Interestingly, several facades of the building bear the inscription A.E.I.O.U., a motto coined by Frederick III in 1437, when he was Duke of Styria. It’s not clear what this means, and over the ensuing centuries heraldists have offered more than 300 interpretations:

  • “All the world is subject to Austria” (Alles Erdreich ist Österreich untertan or Austriae est imperare orbi universo)
  • “I am loved by the elect” (from the Latin amor electis, iniustis ordinor ultor)
  • “Austria is best united by the Empire” (Austria est imperio optime unita)
  • “Austria will be the last (surviving) in the world” (Austria erit in orbe ultima)
  • “It is Austria’s destiny to rule the whole world” (Austriae est imperare orbi universo)

At the time Styria was not yet part of Austria, so here it would refer to the House of Austria, or the Habsburg dynasty — which historically adopted the curious motto itself.