In a Word

n. tallness

adj. having slender toes or fingers

adj. having a long, narrow nose

n. a thin, frail, or slender person

n. a tall, thin person


“Terms of approbation and eulogy in American dialect speech,” compiled by Elsie Warnock for Dialect Notes, 1913:

  • angeliferous
  • cavascacious
  • flambustious
  • flippercanorious
  • grandacious
  • grandificent
  • grandilious
  • humgumptious
  • magnolious
  • rapteriferous
  • roritorious
  • scrumbotious
  • sniptious
  • spinortic
  • spondiculous
  • superumdifferous
  • swellelegant

“The facetious terms ‘gobsloptious,’ ‘gobersloptious,’ ‘globsloptious’ and ‘supergobsloptious,’ ‘superglobsloptious,’ ‘superglobbersloptious,’ and ‘supergobosnoptious’ seem to be variant forms differing because of the desire of one person to outdo another in the force of his terms of eulogy.”

(Thanks, Owen.)

“Sonnet From the Brooklynese”

My heart is gayly purzed as if it wuy
Ra buyd about to dart in jeryous flight
To you; my darling, may it but alight
On vuygin surl. And may it not incuy
Your anger or disdain. ‘Tis but a fleuy
D’amour, and if you spuyn it you will blight
Its life as if some purzon in the night
Had been instilled into its depths. You stuy
My soul into a tuymurl. If you’ve turyed
With me, I fain would hie me to a clurster,
Wherein my heart would never be annuryed
By thoughts of love. My eyes grow murst and murster
At contemplating such an aching vurd —
O grant me, then, the sang-froid of an urster.

— Margaret Fishback, One to a Customer, 1937

Summing Up

Suppose I write these phrases on a blackboard:

the sum of the numbers denoted by expressions on the board in Room 213

And suppose I’m in Room 213. It’s clear what the first two phrases denote, but what of the third? If it denotes the quantity k, then k = π + 6 + k, which is absurd. So the third phrase is pathological — it appears to denote a number but it doesn’t.

But if the third phrase doesn’t denote a number, then the sum of the numbers denoted by expressions on the board in Room 213 is π + 6 — and the third phrase has a clear meaning. Asks University of North Carolina professor Keith Simmons, “How can the same phrase be pathological and yet successfully refer?”

(Keith Simmons, “Reference and Paradox,” in JC Beall, ed., Liars and Heaps, 2003)


Advance the word GOD through the alphabet and you get OWL, SAP, and WET:

god owl sap wet lettershift

Whatever that means. Further multistep lettershifts:


If we admit words of differing lengths, some interesting coincidences appear:

honey nut bar lettershift

day light lettershift

hood zipper lettershift

tub model ship lettershift

And, disturbingly,

demon go now lettershift

Perhaps that owl is telling us something. See A Hidden Message.

Plain Language

A reporteress on the St. Paul Globe speaks of a lady ‘who is a well-known real estate speculatress.’ The Pittsburg Press alludes to ‘the Presidentress of the Board of Lady Managers of the World’s Fair,’ and the Indianapolis Journal tells of the elopement of a ‘dime museum freakess.’

Des Moines Leader, quoted in New York Times, Feb. 13, 1891

Letter to the Times from the director of the Royal School for the Blind, Dec. 23, 1986:


Radio 4 this morning (December 15) introduced the verb ‘anonymise’. May I therefore letterise you that such verbising terribilises the English language and should not be radioised by the BBC.

Yours sincerely,

Bernard Coote

“I would never use a long word where a short one would answer the purpose,” wrote Oliver Wendell Holmes. “I know there are professors in this country who ‘ligate’ arteries. Other surgeons only tie them, and it stops the bleeding just as well.”

“Essay to Miss Catharine Jay”

An S A now I mean 2 write
2 U sweet K T J,
The girl without a ∥,
The belle of U T K.

I 1 der if U got that 1
I wrote 2 U B 4
I sailed in the R K D A,
And sent by L N Moore.

My M T head will scarce contain
A calm I D A bright,
But A T miles from you I must
M{ this chance 2 write.

And first, should N E N V U,
B E Z, mind it not.
Should N E friendship show, be true:
They should not be forgot.

From virt U nev R D V 8;
Her influence B 9
Alike induces 10 dern S,
Or 40 tude D vine.

And if you cannot cut a —
Or cause an !
I hope U’ll put a .
2 1 ?

R U for an X ation 2,
My cous N ? — heart and ☞
He off R’s in a ¶
A § 2 of land.

He says he loves you 2 X S,
U R virtuous and Y’s,
In X L N C U X L
All others in his I’s.

This S A, until U I C,
I pray U 2 X Q’s,
And do not burn in F E G
My young and wayward muse.

Now fare U well, dear K T J,
I trust that U R true–
When this U C, then you can say,
An S A I O U.

— Charles Carroll Bombaugh, Gleanings for the Curious From the Harvest-Fields of Literature, 1890