The “Un-Word”

Every year since 1991, a panel of German linguists has identified a term that violates human rights or infringes democratic principles:

1991: ausländerfrei (“free of foreigners”)
1992: ethnische Säuberung (“ethnic cleansing”)
1996: Rentnerschwemme (“flood of senior/retired citizens”)
1999: Kollateralschaden (“collateral damage”)
2005: Entlassungsproduktivität (“layoff productivity,” a surge in productivity induced by laying off workers)
2008: notleidende Banken (“suffering/needy banks”)
2014: Lügenpresse (“lying press”)
2019: Klimahysterie (“climate hysteria”)

The terms are usually German, but not always. In 1994 the word was peanuts, after Deutsche Bank’s chairman used that term to refer to 50 million Deutsche Marks.

Wikipedia has the whole list.

In a Word

epinician
adj. celebrating victory

rovery
n. an act of straying in thought

peripeteia
n. a sudden turn of events or an unexpected reversal

algedonic
adj. pertaining to both pleasure and pain

In the 1934 US Open Championship at Merion, Philadelphia, [Bobby Cruickshank] was leading after two rounds and going well in the third round. His approach to the 11th hole was slightly spared and to his dismay he saw the ball falling short into the brook which winds in front of the green.

The ball landed on a rock which was barely covered by water, rebounded high into the air and landed on the green. Cruickshank jubilantly tossed his club into the air, tipped his cap and shouted ‘Thank you, God.’ Further expressions of gratitude were cut short as the descending club landed on top of his head and knocked him out cold. He recovered his senses but not the impetus of his play and finished third.

— Peter Dobereiner, The Book of Golf Disasters, 1986

“Lion-Eating Poet in the Stone Den”

Chinese-American linguist Yuen Ren Chao composed this passage in classical Chinese; when read in modern Mandarin, every syllable has the sound “shi,” with only the tones differing.

In a stone den was a poet called Shi Shi, who was a lion addict, and had resolved to eat ten lions.
He often went to the market to look for lions.
At ten o’clock, ten lions had just arrived at the market.
At that time, Shi had just arrived at the market.
He saw those ten lions, and using his trusty arrows, caused the ten lions to die.
He brought the corpses of the ten lions to the stone den.
The stone den was damp. He asked his servants to wipe it.
After the stone den was wiped, he tried to eat those ten lions.
When he ate, he realized that these ten lions were in fact ten stone lion corpses.
Try to explain this matter.

Aaron Posehn gives an explanation, including the full text in Chinese, here.

(Thanks, Brad.)

Borrowed Gold

Eunoia is a dictionary of more than 500 untranslatable (or obscurely useful) words:

tsundoku: acquiring reading materials but letting them pile up in one’s home without reading them (Japanese)
sankocha: the feeling of embarrassment due to receiving an inordinate or extravagant gift, making you feel as though you need to return a favor that you can’t (Kannada)
mudita: the pleasure that comes from delighting in other people’s well-being or happiness (Sanskrit)
Erbsenzähler: literally “pea counter”: a nitpicker (German)
jayus: a joke so unfunny that one has to laugh (Indonesian)
házisárkány: “indoor dragon”: a nagging, restless spouse (Hungarian)
tretår: a third cup of coffee (Swedish)
xiao xiao: the whistling and pattering of rain or wind (Chinese)

There’s a whole subreddit for these.

(Thanks, Sharon.)

Dear Sirs

Here’s a letter that might have been received by the Restormel County Council. What’s unusual about it?

Dear Sirs:

I shed no tears to learn that the hill in Mansion Road, close to most locals’ homesteads, is at last considered at least a minor threat to residents in the area. At times in the cold season the ice created on this road is a colossal attraction to the local children. Some slither and slide on the ice on sleds, tin sheets, etc, to their hearts’ content, and create concerns to motorists, and others in the area, in the colder months. It is nice to see that this matter is at last in hand, to note its consideration as an essential element in Restormel’s schemes to decrease the district’s road accidents.

A Contented Resident.

Click for Answer

Pangrammatic Loops

A marvelous variation on self-inventorying lists, from the inimitable Lee Sallows:

Recalling that a self-enumerating pangram corresponds to a closed loop of length 1, here follows a loop of length 2, which is to say, a pair of pangrams that enumerate each other. The pangrams are both minimal in the sense of containing none but essential letters with no “and”s or other devices openly or surreptitously added.

ONE A, ONE B, ONE C, ONE D, THIRTYONE E, FOUR F, ONE G, FIVE H, FIVE I, ONE J, ONE K, ONE L, ONE M, TWENTYTWO N, SEVENTEEN O, ONE P, ONE Q, SEVEN R, FOUR S, ELEVEN T, THREE U, FIVE V, FOUR W, ONE X, THREE Y, ONE Z.

ONE A, ONE B, ONE C, ONE D, THIRTYTWO E, SEVEN F, ONE G, FOUR H, FIVE I, ONE J, ONE K, TWO L, ONE M, TWENTY N, NINETEEN O, ONE P, ONE Q, SEVEN R, THREE S, NINE T, FOUR U, SEVEN V, THREE W, ONE X, THREE Y, ONE Z.

An alternative (non-minimal) pair includes plural s’s:

ONE A, ONE B, ONE C, ONE D, TWENTYSEVEN E’S, SIX F’S, ONE G, THREE H’S, SIX I’S, ONE L, TWENTY N’S, SIXTEEN O’S, ONE P, ONE Q, SIX R’S, NINETEEN S’S, TWELVE T’S, FOUR U’S, FOUR V’S, FIVE W’S, THREE X’S, FOUR Y’S, ONE Z.

ONE A, ONE B, ONE C, ONE D, TWENTYNINE E’S, FIVE F’S, ONE G, THREE H’S, SEVEN I’S, ONE J, ONE K, TWO L’S, ONE M, TWENTY N’S, SIXTEEN O’S, ONE P, ONE Q, SIX R’S, TWENTY S’S, TEN T’S, FOUR U’S, THREE V’S, FOUR W’S, FIVE X’S, THREE Y’S, ONE Z.

In similar vein, pangrammatic loops of length 3 follow, but now in shorthand, using arabic numerals to stand for number words, i.e. 1 = one, 2 = two, etc. The first list is enumerated by the second, the second by the third and the third by the first. The 1st loop contains minimal pangrams, the 2nd, pangrams with plural s’s:

A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z
1  1  1  1 31  5  1  5  9  1  1  1  1 20 16  1  1  5  5 11  1  4  3  4  2  1
1  1  1  1 28  7  1  3  8  1  1  2  1 20 18  1  1  5  2  8  3  6  3  2  3  1
1  1  1  1 31  2  5  9  7  1  1  1  1 16 15  1  1  5  3 16  1  3  6  2  3  1

A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z
1  1  1  1 32  5  2  3  7  1  1  1  1 22 18  1  1  3 19 14  2  6  7  2  3  1
1  1  1  1 32  3  2  6  6  1  1  1  1 20 18  1  1  6 19 16  2  4  7  2  3  1
1  1  1  1 27  2  2  5  8  1  1  1  1 19 17  1  1  5 21 14  2  2  6  5  3  1

Here also a minimal pangrammatic loop of length 4 (no equivalent using plural s’s exists):

A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z
1  1  1  1 25  4  2  4  7  1  1  2  1 16 18  1  1  5  5 11  3  4  5  4  2  1
1  1  1  1 28  9  2  3  7  1  1  2  1 16 18  1  1  6  3  9  5  7  5  2  2  1
1  1  1  1 30  3  3  5  9  1  1  1  1 20 15  1  1  3  5 12  1  5  6  3  2  1
1  1  1  1 30  6  1  6  8  1  1  2  1 17 14  1  1  6  2 12  1  5  4  2  3  1

“There exist no minimal pangrammatic loops of length 5 or longer until we reach lengths 10, 33, and 55 (no plural s’s) and lengths 15, 22, 23, 207 and 312 (with plural s’s),” he adds. “This completes what I believe to be an exhaustive survey of all self-enumerating minimal pangrammatic loops.”

(Thanks, Lee.)

Truth in Advertising

Another feat of self-reference — reader Hans Havermann devised these true sentences:

“The odds of randomly picking four letters from this statement and having them be F, O, U, and R, are two out of two hundred nineteen thousand six hundred eighty-seven.”

“The odds of randomly picking four letters from this statement and having them be F, O, U, and R, are three out of two hundred ninety-two thousand nine hundred sixteen.”

These two are in lowest terms. He has seven more.

(Thanks, Hans.)

A New Find

From Lee Sallows, a remarkable new self-inventorying list:

ONE A, ONE B, ONE C, ONE D, TWENTYEIGHT E, SEVEN F, FIVE G, FIVE H, EIGHT I, ONE J, ONE K, ONE L, ONE M, EIGHTEEN N, EIGHTEEN O, ONE P, ONE Q, FOUR R, TWO S, TEN T, FOUR U, FIVE V, FOUR W, ONE X, TWO Y, ONE Z

“I may be wrong, but I believe it to be the most concise self-descriptive (or ‘self-enumerating’) English pangram yet discovered, with as many as 12 of its 26 letters occurring just once.”

(Thanks, Lee!)

12/18/2019 UPDATE: We’ve learned that the same self-descriptive pangram had already been found in 1998 by Gilles Esposito-Farese, in collaboration with Éric Angelini and Nicolas Graner.