The Pull of Four

Think of any number and write it out in words. Count the number of letters and write that out in words. And so on:

  • SEVENTY-SEVEN (12 letters)
  • TWELVE (six letters)
  • SIX (three letters)
  • THREE (five letters)
  • FIVE (four letters)
  • FOUR (four letters)

If your spelling is good, you’ll always arrive at FOUR.

“Beware of People Who Dislike Cats”

Irish sayings:

  • “You’ve got to do your own growing, no matter how tall your grandfather was.”
  • “It is better to be a coward for a minute than dead for the rest of your life.”
  • “A good laugh and a long sleep are the two best cures.”
  • “You’ll never plow a field by turning it over in your mind.”
  • “Both your friend and your enemy think you will never die.”
  • “Don’t give cherries to pigs or advice to fools.”
  • “Anything will fit a naked man.”
  • “The only cure for love is marriage.”

And “He who gets a name for early rising can stay in bed until midday.”


In 1805, the French writer Émile Deschamps was treated to some plum pudding by a stranger, Monsieur de Fontgibu.

Ten years later, Deschamps ordered plum pudding at a Paris restaurant, but the waiter told him the last dish had already been served to another customer — to M. de Fontgibu, as it turned out.

Seventeen years after that, in 1832, Deschamps was once again offered plum pudding, and he told his friends about the strange coincidence. At that moment, M. de Fontgibu entered the room by mistake.

“Three times in my life have I eaten plum pudding, and three times have I seen M. de Fortgibu!” Deschamps exclaimed. “A fourth time I should feel capable of anything … or capable of nothing!”

Fast Living

When Captain Cook visited Tonga in 1777, he gave a tortoise to the royal family as a gift. They named it Tui Malila. Tongans must be good with tortoises, because Tui lived through the French Revolution, the Louisiana Purchase, the invention of the telegraph, the American Civil War, the first telephone, the opening of the Brooklyn Bridge, the dedication of the Statue of Liberty, X-rays, the Spanish-American War, McKinley’s assassination, the first zeppelin, Einstein’s relativity, the Model T, the sinking of the Titanic, World War I, the Russian Revolution, Lindbergh’s flight, the Great Depression, the Spanish Civil War, World War II, the founding of the United Nations, the breaking of the sound barrier, Gandhi’s assassination, the Korean War, the first nuclear submarine, I Love Lucy, Sputnik, the Bay of Pigs, the Cuban missile crisis, and Kennedy’s assassination, dying finally in 1965 at age 188.

Compare that to Timothy, pictured here, an English celebrity who led a dashing life: Found aboard a Portuguese privateer in 1854, Timothy served as a mascot on a series of Royal Navy vessels until 1892, when she retired. (“He” was discovered to be female at age 82.) She was taken in by the Earl of Devon, who etched his family motto on her underside: “Where have I fallen? What have I done?” She died in 2004 and was buried near the earl’s home, Powderham Castle, at age 160.

Moral: Live hard and you’ll die young.

Mary Sans S

A familiar nursery rhyme rewritten to omit the letter s:

Mary had a little lamb,
With fleece a pale white hue,
And everywhere that Mary went
The lamb kept in her view;
To academe he went with her,
Illegal, and quite rare;
It made the children laugh and play
To view a lamb in there.

— A. Ross Eckler


The mutiny on the Bounty is a landmark of sea law, but it also has a curious linguistic sequel. After setting Captain Bligh adrift, Fletcher Christian fled to Pitcairn Island in the South Pacific. With him were eight other crewmen, six Tahitian men, and 11 women. In order to understand each other, they developed a creole mix of English and Tahitian known as “Pitcairnese”:

English Pitkern
How are you? Whata way ye?
Where are you going? About ye gwen?
Are you going to cook dinner? You gwen whihi up suppa?
Would you like some food? Ye like-a sum whettles?
I don’t think so I nor believe
It doesn’t matter Do’ mine

The mutineers were a diverse lot, with origins from Scotland to the West Indies, so the mix is a linguistic hodgepodge. For instance, “whettles,” above, meaning food, is a throwback to the Old English victuals.