In a Word

adj. suitable for felling (as a tree)

Lumberjack argot, from L.G. Sorden and Jacque Vallier’s Lumberjack Lingo, 1986:

two streaks of rust: a logging railroad
cougar milk: Prohibition-era woods liquor
quinine jimmy: a camp doctor
bunch it: to quit work
kegging up: getting drunk
tree squeak: an imaginary bird to which the noise made by trees rubbing together was attributed
she’s a rainbow: What a day!
house of hesitation: a jail
traveling dandruff: lice
iron burner: the camp blacksmith
sawdust city: Eau Claire, Wisconsin

“It’s five a.m. and the gabriel blows. The bark eaters fall out of their muzzle loaders and head for the chuck house to bolt down a pile of stovelids with lots of blackstrap, some fried murphys or Johnny cake and maybe some logging berries. They dunk their rolling stock into their jerk water, growl at the hash slinger, pull up their galluses and head for the tall timber.”

In Brief

In 1906, when Teddy Roosevelt endorsed a plan to simplify the spelling of difficult words, Englishman Harry Graham offered a scheme of his own:

When Theo: Roos: unfurled his bann:
As Pres: of an immense Repub:
And sought to manufact: a plan
For saving people troub:
His mode of spelling (termed phonet:)
Affec: my brain like an emet:

And I evolved a scheme (pro tem.)
To simplify my mother-tongue,
That so in fame I might resem:
Upt: Sinc:, who wrote “The Jung:”
And rouse an interest enorm:
In conversational reform.

I grudge the time my fellows waste
Completing words that are so comm:
Wherever peop: of cult: and taste
Habitually predom:
‘Twould surely tend to simpli: life
Could they but be curtailed a trif:

For is not “Brev: the soul of Wit”?
(Inscribe this mott: upon your badge)
The sense will never suff: a bit,
If left to the imag:
Since any pers: can see what’s meant
By words so simp: as “husb:” or “gent:”

When at some meal (at dinn: for inst:)
You hand your unc: an empty plate,
Or ask your aunt (that charming spinst:)
To pass you the potat:,
They have too much sagac:, I trust,
To give you sug: or pepp: or must:

If you require a slice of mutt:
You’ll find the selfsame princ: hold good,
Nor get, instead of bread and butt:,
Some tapioca pudd:,
Nor vainly bid some boon-compan:
Replen: with Burg: his vacant can.

At golf, if your oppon: should ask
Why in a haz: your nib: is sunk,
And you explain your fav’rite Hask:
Lies buried in a bunk:,
He cannot very well misund:
That you (poor fooz:) have made a blund:

If this is prob: — nay, even cert: —
My scheme at once becomes attrac:
And I (pray pard: a litt: impert:)
A public benefac:
Who saves his fellow-man and neighb:
A deal of quite unnecess: lab:

Gent: Reader, if to me you’ll list:
And not be irritab: or peev:,
You’ll find it of tremend: assist:
This habit of abbrev:,
Which grows like some infec: disease,
Like chron: paral: or German meas:

And ev’ry living human bipe:
Will feel his heart grow grate: and warm
As he becomes the loy: discip:
Of my partic: reform,
(Which don’t confuse with that, I beg,
Of Brander Matth: or And: Carneg:)

“”T is not in mort: to comm: success,”
As Shakes: remarked; but if my meth:
Does something to dimin: or less:
The expend: of public breath,
My country, overcome with grat:,
Should in my hon: erect a stat:

My bust by Rod: (what matt: the cost?)
Shall be exhib:, devoid of charge,
With (in the Public Lib: at Bost:)
My full-length port: by Sarge:
That thous: from Pitts: or Wash: may swarm
To worsh: the Found: of this Reform.

Meanwhile I seek with some avid:
The fav: of your polite consid:

In a Word

adj. able to bark

There’s a word for you! Eileen Power’s The Wool Trade in English Medieval History (1941) quotes a 13th-century treatise on estate management:

It profiteth the lord to have discreet shepherds, watchful and kindly, so that the sheep be not tormented by their wrath, but crop their pasture in peace and joyfulness; for it is a token of the shepherd’s kindness if the sheep be not scattered abroad but browse around him in company. Let him provide himself with a good barkable dog and lie nightly with his sheep.

Bonus: hinnible means able to neigh or whinny.


When Frank Bunker Gilbreth needed a name for an elementary motion in the workplace, he called it a therblig — his own name (nearly) backward.

The jazz standard “Airegin,” composed by Sonny Rollins in 1954, is Nigeria spelled backward.

The utopia Erewhon in Samuel Butler’s novel of that name is (nearly) nowhere backward.

In 1963 the Beatles set up a merchandising company called Seltaeb.

A variation in gravitational lensing caused by Earth’s motion is called parallax. A change caused by motion of the source (for example, a binary star) is called xallarap.

The reciprocal of an ohm is a mho.

The reciprocal of a farad is a daraf.

The reciprocal of a henry is a yrneh.

The distant minor planet 20461 Dioretsa orbits the sun with a retrograde motion. Its name is asteroid spelled backward.


In 2011, after attorney Walter Maksym had filed the same complaint three times, federal judge Diane Sykes threw out the case, noting that “[e]ach iteration of the complaint was generally incomprehensible and riddled with errors, making it impossible for the defendants to know what wrongs they were accused of committing.” As an example she cited this passage — a single sentence of 345 words:

That pursuant to the RICO Act, Defendants extortive activities constituted a Pattern of Racketeering activity and conspiracy involving violations of 1956(a)(1)(B)(ii), and 18 U.S.C. § 1341 (wire fraud—the use of interstate mail or wire facilities, here telephone and facsimile transmissions), or the causing of any of those things promoting unlawful activity), and 18 U.S.C. § 1951 (interference with commerce and extortion by using and threatening to use legitimate governmental powers to obtain an illegitimate objectives under color of official right by wrongful plan, extortion, intimidation and threat of force and/or other unlawful consequence and through fear and misuse of there office to obstruct, hinder, interfere with, and/or affect commerce and the use and enjoyment of Plaintiffs’ property and obtaining, as uniformed public officials payment for unwanted services to which they were not entitled by law, attempting to conceal from the United States of America their true and correct income and the nature thereof so obtained from Plaintiffs in order to attempt to evade paying lawful taxes thereon in violation of 26 U.S. § 7201, et. seq., thereby using the governmental powers with which they have been entrusted to gain personal or illegitimate rewards and payments which they knew or should have known were made and/or obtained in return for the colorable official acts as aforesaid, and knowing that the property involved in a financial transaction represents the proceeds of some form of unlawful activity, conducts or attempts to conduct such a financial transaction which in fact involves the proceeds of specified unlawful activity with the intent to promote the carrying on of specified unlawful activity all in violation of RICO and the other laws set forth herein, inter alia, as well as acts chargeable under any of the following provisions of the laws of the State of Illinois 720 ILCS 5/33-3(d) (official misconduct); 720 ILCS 5/1211 (criminal home invasion); 720 ILCS 5/19-4 (criminal trespass to a residence) 720 ILCS 5/19-4); (theft 720 ILCS 5/16 (a)(1)&(2) by knowingly obtaining or exerting unauthorized and/or through threat control over Plaintiff’s property as aforesaid.

Sykes found 23 sentences of 100 words or more in Maksym’s complaint, and added that “much of the writing is little more than gibberish.” Maksym blamed the problems on his recent cancer treatment, saying that he had an “impeccable record.”

See Running On.

In a Word

n. an introduction to some branch of learning

In Umberto Eco’s Foucault’s Pendulum (1988), two publishers propose a School of Comparative Irrelevance that teaches “useless or impossible courses,” such as Urban Planning for Gypsies, Aztec Equitation, and Potio-section.

‘Potio-section, as everybody knows, of course, is the art of slicing soup. No, no,’ he said to Diotallevi. ‘It’s not a department, it’s a subject, like Mechanical Avunculogratulation or Pylocatabasis. They all fall under the heading of Tetrapyloctomy.’

‘What’s tetra …?’ I asked.

‘The art of splitting a hair four ways. This is the department of useless techniques. Mechanical Avunculogratulation, for example, is how to build machines for greeting uncles. We’re not sure, though, if Pylocatabasis belongs, since it’s the art of being saved by a hair. Somehow that doesn’t seem completely useless.’

Overall, the school’s aim is “to turn out scholars capable of endlessly increasing the number of unnecessary subjects.” “The Tetrapyloctomy department has a preparatory function; its purpose is to inculcate a sense of irrelevance. Another important department is Adynata, or Impossibilia. Like Urban Planning for Gypsies. The essence of the discipline is the comprehension of the underlying reasons for a thing’s absurdity. We have courses in Morse syntax, the history of antarctic agriculture, the history of Easter Island painting, contemporary Sumerian literature, Montessori grading, Assyrio-Babylonian philately, the technology of the wheel in pre-Columbian empires, and the phonetics of the silent film.”

(Thanks, Macari.)

For Short,_count_Bertrand_by_Paul_Delaroche.png

Henri Gatien Bertrand, Napoleon’s companion during his exile on Saint Helena, kept an impenetrable diary. The entry for January 20, 1821, reads:

N. so. le mat. en cal: il. déj. bi. se. trv. un peu fat; le so. il est f.g.

It’s not code, just extremely abbreviated French. Interpreter Paul Fleuriot de Langle referred to his work as “translating from French into French — the singular sport and strange pastime.” He rendered the passage above as:

Napoléon sort le matin en calèche. Il déjeune bien, se trouve un peu fatigué; le soir, il est fort gai

Or “Napoleon goes out in the morning in a carriage. He lunches well, finds himself a little tired; in the evening, he is very gay.” Not very incriminating — perhaps Bertrand was just trying to save paper.

(From David Kahn’s The Codebreakers, 1967.)

While You Were Out

A pleasing little philosophy puzzle:

If there’s a sentence that’s guaranteed to be false in any context, surely it’s this:

“I am not here now.”

But this very phrase is played on millions of answering machines and voicemail systems every day, and we all understand it to be true. I, here, and now are indexicals, words whose meanings change with the circumstances of their utterance. Here each seems to make a rather uncertain reference, and the resulting sentence on its face cannot be true, yet we all understand it readily. How?

(Jonathan Cohen, “Indexicality and the Puzzle of the Answering Machine,” Journal of Philosophy 110:1 [2013], 5-32.)

Will Power

If you cannot understand my argument, and declare ‘It’s Greek to me’, you are quoting Shakespeare; if you claim to be more sinned against than sinning, you are quoting Shakespeare; if you recall your salad days, you are quoting Shakespeare; if you act more in sorrow than in anger, if your wish is father to the thought, if your lost property has vanished into thin air, you are quoting Shakespeare; if you have ever refused to budge an inch or suffered from green-eyed jealousy, if you have played fast and loose, if you have been tongue-tied, a tower of strength, hoodwinked or in a pickle, if you have knitted your brows, made a virtue of necessity, insisted on fair play, slept not one wink, stood on ceremony, danced attendance (on your lord and master), laughed yourself into stitches, had short shrift, cold comfort or too much of a good thing, if you have seen better days or lived in a fool’s paradise — why, be that as it may, the more fool you, for it is a foregone conclusion that you are (as good luck would have it) quoting Shakespeare; if you think it is early days and clear out bag and baggage, if you think it is high time and that that is the long and short of it, if you believe that the game is up and that truth will out even if it involves your own flesh and blood, if you lie low till the crack of doom because you suspect foul play, if you have your teeth set on edge (at one fell swoop) without rhyme or reason, then — to give the devil his due — if the truth were known (for surely you have a tongue in your head) you are quoting Shakespeare; even if you bid me good riddance and send me packing, if you wish I was dead as a door-nail, if you think I am an eyesore, a laughing stock, the devil incarnate, a stony-hearted villain, bloody-minded or a blinking idiot, then — by Jove! O Lord! Tut, tut! for goodness’ sake! what the dickens! but me no buts — it is all one to me for you are quoting Shakespeare.

— Bernard Levin, Enthusiasms, 1983