Target Practice

From Henry Fowler’s immortal 1906 Modern English Usage, a table of commonly confused terms:

fowler table

“So much has been written upon the nature of some of these words, and upon the distinctions between pairs or trios among them, that it would be both presumptuous and unnecessary to attempt a further disquisition,” Fowler wrote. “But a sort of tabular statement may be of service against some popular misconceptions.”


From J.A. Lindon in Recreational Mathematics Magazine, December 1962: If you advance I MUNCH BUN six places through the alphabet, you get O SATIN HAT:

lindon lettershift

Surely this means something.


“I am willing to give you a show,
But are these all the rôles that you know?”
The manager cried.
And the actor replied,
“Sirrah! No, sir; I know ‘Cyrano’!”

There was a young lady of Butte,
Who thought herself very acute.
That her suitor might praise her,
She gave him a razor,
Which suited her suitor hirsute.

There was a nice fellow named Jenner,
Who sang a phenomenal tenor,
He had little to spend,
So I often would lend
The tenor a ten or a tenner.

‘Tis said, woman loves not her lover
So much as she loves his love of her;
Then loves she her lover
For love of her lover,
Or love of her love of her lover?

— From Carolyn Wells’ Book of American Limericks, 1925.

Brass Tacks

Published in 1961, the New English Bible was an attempt to translate the original Greek, Hebrew, and Aramaic texts of the Bible into modern English. Dwight MacDonald found this was “like finding a parking lot where a great church once stood.” As an illustration, he recast the Sermon on the Mount using only phrases that appear in the NEB:

When he realized how things stood, Jesus held a meeting to look into the matter. It was no hole-in-the-corner business. He went up the hill and began. ‘And now, not to take up too much of your time, I crave indulgence for a brief statement of our case. How blest are they that know they are poor. You are light for all the world. If a man wants to sue you for your shirt, let him have your coat as well. I also might make bold to say that you cannot serve God and money. Do not feed your pearls to pigs, and be ready for action, with belts fastened and lamps alight. Thanks for giving me a hearing.’ He then went to lunch with some distinguished persons.

“True, they did preserve ‘Jesus wept,'” MacDonald wrote. “But I’m sure there was strong support for ‘Jesus burst into tears.'”

In a Word

n. ignorance; lack of knowledge

n. the study of ignorance

In 1927, Hungarian physiologist Albert Szent-Györgyi isolated a substance in lemons and oranges that seemed to prevent scurvy.

He couldn’t identify it chemically, so he called it “ignose,” meaning “I do not know.”

When the editors of the Biochemical Journal asked for a different name, Szent-Györgyi suggested “godnose.” Finally they settled on “hexuronic acid.”

It turned out to be vitamin C.

Another Country

In 1975, radio personality Jim Everhart published a three-volume Illustrated Texas Dictionary of the English Language:

ARN: A silver-white metallic element. “Mah muscle is as strong as arn.”
TOAD: The past tense of tell. “Ah toad you never to do that.”
PRAYED: A large public procession, usually including a marching band. “That was some prayed they had downtown.”

Four years later, Chase Untermeyer contributed a “Texlexicon” of words uttered by his colleagues in the state legislature:

HARD: Employed, as “I hard him to do the job.” Also a man’s name, as “Mah wife’s a cousin of Hard Hughes.”
RULE: Nonurban, as “He comes from the rule area.”
FORCED: A large group of trees, as “Lemme showya mah pine forced.”
BAR SHUN: The termination of pregnancy, as “Bar shun is murder!”
WHORED: Difficult, as “That was a whored one.”
WON’T: To desire, as “Ah won’t to seeya tonight.”
LOWERED BARN: An English poet (1788-1824).

“The amazing thing about this is that I never had one single Texan tell me he resented it,” Everhart told the New York Times. “They have accepted it more enthusiastically than anybody else. I think they’re kind of proud of it.”

See Wine Chevver Cole Share?

In a Word

n. seasickness

After an unusually queasy Channel crossing in 1868, Henry Bessemer conceived a steamer whose cabin was mounted on gimbals. In heavy seas the hull could roll beneath the passengers without rippling their cognac.

Work began immediately; in 1872 constructor E.J. Reed promised, “Although she may not fulfil every random prophecy that has been printed respecting her, she will thoroughly fulfil the object which the travelling public desire — namely, that of enabling us to cross to and from the Continent with health, decency, and comfort.”

The 350-foot S.S. Bessemer undertook her first public voyage on May 8, 1875 — and inauspiciously crashed into the pier. She moved too slowly and would not answer the helm. Investors lost confidence and the ship was eventually sold for scrap, but Bessemer insisted to the last that his conception had not been fully realized: “My hydraulic controlling apparatus was never completed, was never tested at sea, and consequently never failed.”