v. to quarrel about trifles
v. to quarrel about trifles
DR. GALL: You see, so many Robots are being manufactured that people are becoming superfluous; man is really a survival. But that he should begin to die out, after a paltry thirty years of competition! That’s the awful part of it. You might think that nature was offended at the manufacture of the Robots. All the universities are sending in long petitions to restrict their production. Otherwise, they say, mankind will become extinct through lack of fertility. But the R.U.R. shareholders, of course, won’t hear of it. All the governments, on the other hand, are clamoring for an increase in production, to raise the standards of their armies. And all the manufacturers in the world are ordering Robots like mad.
HELENA: And has no one demanded that the manufacture should cease altogether?
DR. GALL: No one has the courage.
DR. GALL: People would stone him to death. You see, after all, it’s more convenient to get your work done by the Robots.
HELENA: Oh, Doctor, what’s going to become of people?
DR. GALL: God knows, Madame Helena, it looks to us scientists like the end!
— From Karel Čapek’s 1920 play R.U.R., which introduced the word robot
In the minuet in Haydn’s Symphony No. 47, the orchestra plays the same passage forward, then backward.
When Will Shortz challenged listeners to submit word-level palindromes to National Public Radio’s Weekend Edition Sunday in 1997, Roxanne Abrams offered the poignant Good little student does plan future, but future plan does student little good.
And Connecticut’s Oxoboxo River offers a four-way palindrome — it reads the same forward and backward both on the page and in a mirror placed horizontally above it.
n. a musical or literary work of small size
In 1965 poet Aram Saroyan wrote a poem consisting of a single word, lighght. George Plimpton included it in the American Literary Anthology, and Saroyan received a $500 cash award from the National Endowment for the Arts.
Perhaps to mock this, in 1972 Dave Morice published Matchbook, a literary magazine whose inch-square pages were stapled inside working matchbooks. Edited by the fictional Joyce Holland, each issue featured nine one-word poems submitted by contributors. Examples:
apocatastasis (Allen Ginsberg)
borken (Keith Abbott)
cerealism (Fletcher Copp)
cosmicpolitan (Morty Sklar)
embooshed (Cinda Wormley)
gulp (Pat Paulsen)
Joyce (Andrei Codrescu)
meeeeeeeeeeeeee (Duane Ackerson)
puppylust (P.J. Casteel)
sixamtoninepm (Kit Robinson)
underwhere (Carol DeLugach)
zoombie (Sheila Heldenbrand)
The longest submission, Trudi Katchmar’s whahavyagotthasgudtareedare, appeared as a fold-out.
Drear fiend: How shall this spay be dent?
I jell you no toque — I do not know.
What can I do but snatch the woe
that falls beyond my pane, and blench
my crows and ted my briny shears?
Now galls another class. I’ll sit
and eye the corm that’s fought in it.
Maces will I fake, and heart my pare.
Is this that sold elf that once I was
with lapped chips and tolling lung?
I hollow sward and tight my bung
for very shame, and yet no cause —
save that the beery witchery
of Life stows grail. Shall I abroad?
Track up my punks? Oh gray to pod
for him who sanders on the wee!
I’ll buff a stag with shiny torts
and soulful hocks, a truthbush too,
perhaps a rook to bead — but no!
my wishes must be dashed. Reports
of danger shake the reaming scare.
Whack against blight! Again that tune,
“A gritty pearl is just like a titty prune”
blows from the fox. I canot bear
this sweetness. Silence is best. I mat
my mistress and my sleazy lumber.
I’ll shake off my toes, for they encumber.
What if I tub my stow? The newt
goes better fakèd to the cot.
I’ll hash my wands or shake a tower,
(a rug of slum? a whiskey sour?)
water my pants in all their plots,
slob a male hairy before I seep —
and dropping each Id on heavy lie,
with none to sing me lullaby,
slop off to dreep, slop off to dreep.
— Robert Morse, quoted in W.H. Auden’s commonplace book A Certain World
adj. useless; unprofitable
One Day a Caddy sat in the Long Grass near the Ninth Hole and wondered if he had a Soul. His Number was 27, and he almost had forgotten his Real Name.
As he sat and Meditated, two Players passed him. They were going the Long Round, and the Frenzy was upon them. They followed the Gutta Percha Balls with the intent swiftness of trained Bird Dogs, and each talked feverishly of Brassy Lies, and getting past the Bunker, and Lofting to the Green, and Slicing into the Bramble — each telling his own Game to the Ambient Air, and ignoring what the other Fellow had to say.
As they did the St. Andrews Full Swing for eighty Yards apiece and then Followed Through with the usual Explanations of how it Happened, the Caddy looked at them and Reflected that they were much inferior to his Father.
His Father was too Serious a Man to get out in Mardi Gras Clothes and hammer a Ball from one Red Flag to another.
His Father worked in a Lumber Yard.
He was an Earnest Citizen, who seldom Smiled, and he knew all about the Silver Question and how J. Pierpont Morgan done up a Free People on the Bond Issue.
The Caddy wondered why it was that his Father, a really Great Man, had to shove Lumber all day and could seldom get one Dollar to rub against another, while these superficial Johnnies who played Golf all the Time had Money to Throw at the Birds. The more he Thought the more his Head ached.
MORAL: Don’t try to Account for Anything.
— George Ade, Fables in Slang, 1899
In 1970 Dmitri Borgmann and Dwight Ripley compiled a list of “missing words” — foreign words with complex or interesting meanings that have no counterparts in English. I can’t immediately confirm most of these, but they’d certainly be useful words:
DENTERA (Spanish): a setting of the teeth on edge
PAPABILE (Italian): having some chance of becoming Pope
PIECDZIESIECIORUBLOWY (Polish): costing fifty rubles
PREDSVATEBNY (Czech): taking place on the eve of a wedding
KWELDER (Dutch): land on the outside of a dike
EZERNYOLCSZAZNEGYVENNYOLCBAN (Hungarian): in 1848
PASAULVESTURISKS (Lettish): of worldwide significance
MIHRAP (Turkish): a woman still beautiful though no longer young
UBAC (Provençal): the sunless north side of a mountain
HARFENDAZ (Turkish): one who makes insulting remarks to women in the street
PENCELESMEK (Turkish): to lock fingers with another and have a test of strength
MEZABRALIS (Lettish): a revolutionary hiding in a forest
MATAO (Brazilian Portuguese): a jockey who crowds the others against the fence
NEMIMI (Japanese): the ears of one sleeping
YOKOTOJI (Japanese): bound so as to be broader than long — said of a book
TOADEIRA (Portuguese): a harpooned whale that continues to sound
In 2006 the Goethe Institute held a competition to find German words that deserve a place in English. The winner was Fachidiot, literally “subject idiot,” a scholar blinkered by long study: “A one-track specialist still notices what is going on around him in the world which has nothing to do with university. A Fachidiot simply does not, or not anymore.” Runners-up included Backpfeifengesicht, “a face which invites you to slap it”; Kummerspeck (literally, “grief bacon”), “excessive weight gain caused by emotion-related overeating”; and Torschlusspanik (“gate closing panic”), the fear that time is running out to act.
English has some show horses of its own: to groak is to gaze longingly at one who is eating, and a ucalegon is a neighbor whose house is on fire.
(Dmitri Borgmann, “Missing Words,” Word Ways 3:1, February 1970.)
Pun fans claim that Sir Francis Drake reported the defeat of the Spanish Armada with a single word: “Cantharides” (an aphrodisiac; hence “The Spanish fly”).
When Sir Charles Napier took the Indian province of Sindh in 1843, he supposedly sent a one-word report to the British war office: Peccavi (Latin for “I have sinned”).
When Lord Dalhousie annexed Oudh in the 1850s, he’s said to have sent a dispatch of a single word: Vovi (I vowed, or “I’ve Oudh”).
And when Lord Clyde captured Lucknow in 1857, he supposedly reported, “Nunc fortunatus sum.”
A dinner guest once bet her friends that she could get Calvin Coolidge to say at least three words during the meal. He told her, “You lose.”
n. reason, intellect, understanding
n. the faculty of observing the world