In 1968, Australian psychologist Paul R. Wilson took a visiting Englishman around to five different groups of Sydney students. He introduced the man differently to each group, and when the visitor had left, Wilson asked the students to estimate his height. Results:

  • “Mr. England, a student from Cambridge”: 5 feet 9.8 inches
  • “Mr. England, demonstrator in psychology from Cambridge”: 5 feet 10.39 inches
  • “Mr. England, lecturer in psychology from Cambridge”: 5 feet 10.86 inches
  • “Dr. England, senior lecturer from Cambridge”: 5 feet 11.57 inches
  • “Professor England from Cambridge”: 6 feet 0.32 inches

That’s an increase of 2.5 inches. “Wilson’s experiment suggests that extra inches are available to anyone who achieves increasing degrees of success, on campus or off,” reported Time. “But apparently the success must be of considerable dimension. For even when he was Professor England, the visitor’s estimated height still fell more than half an inch short of his actual height (6 ft. 1 in.).”

“Franklin as a Bookseller”

The following story, told of Franklin’s mode of treating the animal, called in those days ‘lounger,’ is worth putting into practice occasionally, even in this age and generation:

One fine morning, when Franklin was busy preparing his newspaper for the press, a lounger stepped into the store, and spent an hour or more looking over the books, &c., and finally, taking one in his hand, asked the shop-boy the price.

‘One dollar,’ was the answer.

‘One dollar,’ said the lounger, ‘can’t you take less than that?’

‘No, indeed, one dollar is the price.’

Another hour had nearly passed, when the lounger asked, ‘Is Mr. Franklin at home?’

‘Yes, he is in the printing office.’

‘I want to see him,’ said the lounger.

The shop-boy immediately informed Mr. Franklin that a gentleman was in the store wanting to see him. Franklin was soon behind the counter, when the lounger, with book in hand, addressed him thus: ‘Mr. Franklin, what is the lowest you can take for this book?’

‘One dollar and a quarter,’ was the ready answer.

‘One dollar and a quarter? Why, your young man asked only a dollar.’

‘True,’ said Franklin, ‘and I could have better afforded to have taken a dollar then, than to have been taken out of the office.’

The lounger seemed surprised, and wishing to end the parley of his own making, said, ‘Come, Mr. Franklin, tell me what is the lowest you can take for it.’

‘One dollar and a half.’

‘One dollar and a half? Why, you offered it yourself for a dollar and a quarter.’

‘Yes,’ said Franklin, ‘and I had better have taken that price then, than a dollar and a half now.’

The lounger paid down the price, and went about his business–if he had any–and Franklin returned into the printing office.

Arthur’s Home Magazine, January 1854


If Brown hopes to throw a six in a game of dice and succeeds, we wouldn’t say he threw the six intentionally. If Brown puts his last cartridge into a six-chambered revolver, spins the chamber as he aims it at Smith, his archenemy, pulls the trigger, and kills Smith, we’d say he killed him intentionally. Does that make sense? In both cases Brown hoped for a certain result, in both cases the probability of that result was the same. If Brown didn’t intentionally throw a six, why did he intentionally shoot Smith?

— Leo Katz, Bad Acts and Guilty Minds, 1987

Youth Club

The same Dr. Webb was on one occasion counsel for Peter Mulligan, who made an application before the Recorder of Dublin for a license for a public-house. The applicant was only twenty-five years of age, and the police objected on account of his youth.

‘He is very young for so responsible a position,’ quoth the Recorder.

Dr. Webb instantly rose to the occasion:

‘My lord,’ he said, ‘Alexander the Great at twenty-two years of age had–had crushed the Illyrians and razed the city of Thebes to the ground, had crossed the Hellespont at the head of his army, had conquered Darius with a force of a million in the defiles of Issus and brought the great Persian Empire under his sway. At twenty-three René Descartes evolved a new system of philosophy. At twenty-four Pitt was Prime Minister of the British Empire, on whose dominions the sun never sets. At twenty-four Napoleon overthrew the enemies of the Republic with a whiff of grape-shot in the streets of Paris, and is it now to be judicially decided that at twenty-five my client, Peter Mulligan, is too young to manage a public-house in Capel Street?’

The license was hurriedly granted.

— Matthias M’Donnell Bodkin, Recollections of an Irish Judge, 1915

One Gloomy Evening

A schoolmaster gave a Latin grammar to the 10-year-old Winston Churchill and directed him to learn a series of words.

Churchill found it an “absolute rigmarole” but memorized the list and reeled it off when asked.

‘But,’ I repeated, ‘what does it mean?’

‘Mensa means a table,’ he answered.

‘Then why does mensa also mean O table,’ I enquired, ‘and what does O table mean?’

‘Mensa, O table, is the vocative case,’ he replied.

‘But why O table?’ I persisted in genuine curiosity.

‘O table,–you would use that in addressing a table, in invoking a table.’ And then seeing he was not carrying me with him, ‘You would use it in speaking to a table.’

‘But I never do!’ I blurted out in honest amazement.

“Such was my introduction,” he later wrote, “to the classics from which, I have been told, many of our cleverest men have derived so much solace and profit.”

Shadow Governments

In 1907 an anonymous turner produced a vase that threw a shadow of Queen Victoria.

Seventy years later, for the Silver Jubilee in 1977, a vase was produced that evoked the profiles of both Prince Philip and Elizabeth II.

Is this a tradition? It might lead us to see too much.

The Paradox of Non-Punishment

Suppose counterfeiting carried a mandatory life sentence. In the face of such a severe penalty, no one counterfeits, and thus the penalty is never imposed. This is a desirable outcome, and yet most of us would not wish to live in such a society. Why?

“A law can be unjust even if it is never applied,” writes Saul Smilansky. “But someone can hardly be a victim of unjust punishment when no punishment occurs!”


Overhearing a group of scientists praising financier E.H. Harriman during an 1899 expedition to Alaska, John Muir interrupted them.

“I don’t think Mr. Harriman is very rich,” he said. “He has not as much money as I have. I have all I want, and Mr. Harriman has not.”

“Spanish Etiquette”

Philip the Third was gravely seated by the fireside: the fire-maker of the court had kindled so great a quantity of wood, that the monarch was nearly suffocated with heat, and his grandeur would not suffer him to rise from the chair; the domestics could not presume to enter the apartment, because it was against the etiquette. At length the Marquis de Potat appeared, and king ordered him to damp the fires; but he excused himself; alleging that he was forbidden by the etiquette to perform such a function, for which the Duke D’Usseda ought to be called upon, as it was his business. The duke was gone out; the fire burnt fiercer; and the king endured it, rather than derogate from his dignity. But his blood was heated to such a degree, that erysipelas of the head appeared the next day, which, succeeded by a violent fever, carried him off in 1625, in the twenty-fourth year of his age.

— Isaac Disraeli, Curiosities of Literature, 1824

William Shepard Walsh tells of “two Englishmen who, after being shipwrecked on a desert island, refuse to speak to each other because they have not been introduced.”

“French for Americans”

Phrases most in demand by American visitors to Paris, compiled by Robert Benchley:


a = ong
e = ong
i = ong
o = ong
u = ong

Haven’t you got any griddle-cakes?
N’avez-vous pas des griddle-cakes?

What kind of a dump is this, anyhow?
Quelle espèce de dump is this, anyhow?

Do you call that coffee?
Appelez-vous cela coffee?

Where can I get a copy of the N.Y. Times?
Où est le N.Y. Times?

What’s the matter? Don’t you understand English?
What’s the matter? Don’t you understand English?

Of all the godam countries I ever saw.
De tous les pays godams que j’ai vu.

I haven’t seen a good-looking woman yet.
Je n’ai pas vu une belle femme jusqu’à présent.

Here is where we used to come when I was here during the War.
Ici est où nous used to come quand j’étais ici pendant la guerre.

Say, this is real beer all right!
Say, ceci est de la bière vrai!

Oh boy!
O boy!

Two weeks from tomorrow we sail for home.
Deux semaines from tomorrow nous sail for home.

Then when we land I’ll go straight to Childs and get a cup of coffee and a glass of ice-water.
Sogleich wir zu hause sind, geh ich zum Childs und eine tasse kaffee und ein glass eiswasser kaufen.

“Word you will have little use for”:

Vernisser — to varnish, glaze.
Nuque — nape (of the neck).
Egriser — to grind diamonds.
Dromer — to make one’s neck stiff from working at a sewing machine.
Rossignol — nightingale, picklock.
Ganache — lower jaw of a horse.
Serin — canary bird.
Pardon — I beg your pardon.