Lonely Words


What is gopher wood? Noah used it to build his ark, but there’s no other reference to it in the Bible.

Similarly, no one’s quite sure what a kankedort is. It appears in one passage in Chaucer’s Troilus and Criseyde:

Was Troilus nought in a kankedort,
That lay, and myghte whisprynge of hem here,
And thoughte, “O Lord, right now renneth my sort
Fully to deye, or han anon comfort!”

The Oxford English Dictionary defines it helplessly as an awkward situation or affair and says it’s “of unascertained etymology.”

See Hapax Legomenon.

Got That?

There is no Pope John XX. In numbering its pontiffs, the church skipped directly from Pope John XIX to Pope John XXI because confusion in the records led Pope John XX to believe that Pope John XIV had been succeeded by a second Pope John XIV, but that Pope John XV to Pope John XIX had overlooked his existence. So Pope John XX ordered his designation changed to Pope John XXI so that Pope John XV to Pope John XIX could be renumbered Pope John XVI to Pope John XX. But there was no second Pope John XIV, so Pope John XV to Pope John XIX were correctly numbered and the new Pope John XXI should have remained Pope John XX.

Worse, Pope John XVI was a disputed claimant whose number should have been reused, moving all subsequent Popes John back a notch. That hasn’t happened either.

The bottom line is that there’s still time for you to be Pope John XX if you want to. You just need to be elected by the College of Cardinals.

The Sedgwick Pie

Image: Wikimedia Commons

Most graves in Massachusetts’ Stockbridge Cemetery are oriented with the feet facing east, so that on Resurrection Day the dead will rise facing Jerusalem.

Not so the Sedgwick family — patriarch Theodore Sedgwick ordered that his family’s graves form a circle with their feet toward the center. This way, on Judgment Day, Sedgwicks will see only other Sedgwicks.

It’s been called “the laughingstock of the entire Eastern seaboard.”

The Paradox of Omnipresence and Timelessness

It’s an essential attribute of God that he’s omnipresent, and Thomas Aquinas held that he also stands somehow outside of time and is not bound by temporal considerations. But, Richard La Croix argues,

if God is indeed omnipresent then it would appear that he must have been in the United Nations building yesterday as well as the day before yesterday. And if God was in the United Nations building both yesterday and the day before, then it would appear that he is in time and that temporal predicates do apply to him. So, it would appear that God is not a timeless being if he is omnipresent and that two doctrines crucial to the theology of Thomas Aquinas are logically incompatible.

Omniscience poses further problems: If God knows all things, then he knows what both man and he himself will do. So how is free will possible?

Right and Wrong

Brother Jacques Percher, “a very excellent man of the old time,” had a painting made for his chapel showing that good is the very opposite of evil. At one side was a picture of an angel, with the words “Read the right side and you will be saved.” Under that was this inscription:

Delicias fuge, ne frangaris crimine, verum
Coelica tu quaeras, ne male dispereas,
Respicias tua, non cujusvis quaerito gesta
Carpere, sed laudes, nec preme veridicos.
Judicio fore te praesentem conspice toto
Tempore, nec Christum, te rogo, despicias:
Salvificum pete, nec secteris daemonia; Christum
Dilige, nequaquam tu mala concupito.

Shun pleasures of the flesh, lest you be broken by crime; seek the things of heaven, lest your end be an evil one; consider your own deeds, and do not seek to slander someone else’s, but praise them, and do not suppress those who speak the truth; always realize that you must stand before a judgment; I beg you, do not despise Christ, seek him who gives salvation, and do not follow the devil; love Christ, and do not lust at all after evil.

At the other side was a picture of the devil with the words “Read the wrong side and you will be damned.” Here the first inscription was reversed word for word, producing an entirely different meaning:

Concupito mala tu, nequaquam dilige Christum,
Daemonia secteris, nec pete salvificum;
Despicias, rogo te, Christum, nec tempore toto
Conspice praesentem te fore judicio:
Veridicos preme, nec laudes, sed carpere gesta
Quaerito cujusvis, non tua respicias,
Dispereas male, nec quaeras tu coelica; verum
Crimine frangaris, ne fuge delicias.

Lust after evil, and do not at all love Christ; you follow the devil, do not seek him who gives salvation; despise Christ, I beg you, and realize that never will you stand before a judgment; suppress those who speak the truth, and do not praise the deeds of anyone, but seek to slander them; do not consider your own; let your end be an evil one, do not seek the things of heaven; let yourself be broken by crime, do not shun pleasures of the flesh.

“It must have taken the brother a long time to compose this,” writes George Wakeman, “but he probably did it with a holy purpose, and as a recreation from more onerous duties.”

See also A Bilingual Palindrome.

Three-Sided Story


Thomas Tresham spent 15 years in prison for his Catholicism, and when he got out in 1593 he had a bit of a chip on his shoulder. Rather than convert to Protestantism, he designed the Rushton Triangular Lodge to reflect his belief in the Holy Trinity.

Each of the three-sided building’s three walls is 33 feet long and sports three gables, three-sided windows, a trio of gargoyles, and a 33-letter Latin inscription. Even the chimney is triangular.

Lest anyone miss the point, Tresham had the front door inscribed Tres testimonium dant. It means “The number three bears witness.”

Satan’s Awful Majesty

Now the means usually employed by a witch to possess his victims with a devil is to offer them some sort of food; and I have remarked that he most often uses apples. In this Satan continually rehearses the means by which he tempted Adam and Eve in the earthly Paradise. And in this connection I cannot pass over what happened at Annecy in Savoy in the year 1585. On the edge of the Hasli Bridge there was seen for two hours an apple from which came so great and confused a noise that people were afraid to pass by there, although it was a much-used way. Everybody ran to see this thing, though no one dared to go near to it; until, as is always the case, at last one man more bold than the rest took a long stick and knocked the apple into the Thiou, a canal from the lake of Annecy which passes under the bridge; and after that nothing more was heard. It cannot be doubted that this apple was full of devils, and that a witch had been foiled in an attempt to give it to someone.

— Henry Boguet, Examen of Witches, 1590