There was a brave girl of Connecticut
Who signaled the train with her pecticut,
Which the papers defined
As presence of mind
But deplorable absence of ecticut.

— Ogden Nash

Said a pupil of Einstein: “It’s rotten
To find I’d completely forgotten
That by living so fast
All my future’s my past,
And I’m buried before I’m begotten.”

— C.F. Best

A maiden at college called Breeze,
Weighed down by B.A.s and Litt.D.s,
Collapsed from the strain
Alas! It was plain
She was killing herself by degrees.

— Mrs. Warren

12/05/2023 UPDATE: Reader E. Norfolk-Ingway sent this — the author is unknown:

There was a young fellow named Cholmondeley,
Whose bride was so mellow and colmondeley
That the best man, Colquhoun,
An inane young bolqufoun,
Could only stand still and stare dolmondeley.

Brown Study

In 2016, after three months of study, a team of academics and market researchers determined that the most unattractive color in the world is this one, Pantone 448 C.

The project was seeking to design the most unappealing package possible for Australian cigarette packets. “We didn’t want to create attractive, aspirational packaging designed to win customers,” market researcher Victoria Parr told the Sydney Morning Herald. “Instead our role was to help our client reduce demand, with the ultimate aim to minimize use of the product.”

A thousand smokers decided that “drab dark brown” packages would have the poorest appeal, promising low-quality cigarettes that caused maximum harm. They associated the winning color with dirt, tar, and death, and assigned no positive adjectives.

In announcing the results, the Australian Department of Health referred to the color as “olive green” — until the olive industry objected.

For the Record

The most names ever held by a historical royal belonged to Don Alfonso de Borbón y Borbón (1866-1934), a great-great-grandson of Charles III of Spain, reflecting a trend favored by Spanish royalty in the 19th century.

His full name was Alfonso María Isabel Francisco Eugenio Gabriel Pedro Sebastián Pelayo Fernando Francisco de Paula Pío Miguel Rafael Juan José Joaquín Ana Zacarias Elisabeth Simeón Tereso Pedro Pablo Tadeo Santiago Simón Lucas Juan Mateo Andrés Bartolomé Ambrosio Geronimo Agustín Bernardo Candido Gerardo Luis-Gonzaga Filomeno Camilo Cayetano Andrés-Avelino Bruno Joaquín-Picolimini Felipe Luis-Rey-de-Francia Ricardo Esteban-Protomártir Genaro Nicolás Estanislao-de-Koska Lorenzo Vicente Crisostomo Cristano Darío Ignacio Francisco-Javier Francisco-de-Borja Higona Clemente Esteban-de-Hungría Ladislado Enrique Ildefonso Hermenegildo Carlos-Borromeo Eduardo Francisco-Régis Vicente-Ferrer Pascual Miguel-de-los-Santos Adriano Venancio Valentín Benito José-Oriol Domingo Florencio Alfacio Benére Domingo-de-Silos Ramón Isidro Manuel Antonio Todos-los-Santos de Borbón y Borbón.

The Female Stranger,_Alexandria,_Virginia_(8597808671).jpg
Image: Wikimedia Commons

This enigmatic headstone stands in in St. Paul’s Cemetery in Alexandria, Virginia, over the body of an unknown woman. Nothing definite seems to be known as to the woman’s identity, apart from the year of her death, but the poignant epitaph has fueled speculation for more than two centuries. One common suggestion is that she was Theodosia Burr Alston, a daughter of Aaron Burr who disappeared at sea in 1813, but this doesn’t account for Alston’s whereabouts in the three years before the mystery woman’s interment at Alexandria. It seems unlikely now that the inscription will ever be explained.

Second Thoughts,_Harvard_University,_Cambridge,_Mass_(73781).jpg

Pleasantly red-brick Georgian in aspect like most of the others, [Harvard dormitory] Dunster House celebrates the memory of Henry Dunster, the first fully designated president of Harvard. … According to legend, the intention had been to name the original seven houses for Harvard presidents in their order of succession, a design that faltered when it came to the notable Dr. Leonard Hoar, who came to this distinguished post in 1672. … Hoar House had an indelicacy of address that, even in the service of history, Harvard could not abide.

— John Kenneth Galbraith, A Tenured Professor, 1990

“Ideas Too Are a Life and a World”

More aphorisms from German physicist G.C. Lichtenberg (1742-1799):

  • “How much depends on the way things are presented in this world can be seen from the very fact that coffee drunk out of wine glasses is really miserable stuff, as is meat cut at the table with a pair of scissors. Worst of all, as I once actually saw, is butter spread on a piece of bread with an old though very clean razor.”
  • “A good metaphor is something even the police should keep an eye on.”
  • “There are two ways of extending life: firstly by moving the two points ‘born’ and ‘died’ farther away from one another … The other method is to go more slowly and leave the two points wherever God wills they should be, and this method is for the philosophers.”
  • “As the few adepts in such things well know, universal morality is to be found in little everyday penny-events just as much as in great ones. There is so much goodness and ingenuity in a raindrop that an apothecary wouldn’t let it go for less than half-a-crown.”
  • “One has to do something new in order to see something new.”
  • “People often become scholars for the same reason they become soldiers: simply because they are unfit for any other station. Their right hand has to earn them a livelihood; one might say they lie down like bears in winter and seek sustenance from their paws.”
  • “Nothing makes one old so quickly as the ever-present thought that one is growing older.”
  • “First we have to believe, and then we believe.”
  • “Of all the inventions of man I doubt whether any was more easily accomplished than that of a Heaven.”
  • “What most clearly characterizes true freedom and its true employment is its misemployment.”
  • “I have remarked very clearly that I am often of one opinion when I am lying down and of another when I am standing up.”
  • “It is certainly not a matter of indifference whether I learn something without effort or finally arrive at it myself through my system of thought. In the latter case everything has roots, in the former it is merely superficial.”
  • “A grave is still the best fortification against the storms of destiny.”

See The Sage of Göttingen, From the Notebooks, Diamonds and Pearls, and Insight.

Dressing Old Words New

Trained on 11,000 early modern texts in English, French, and Latin, MonadGPT is a chatbot with the language and style (and limited knowledge) of the 17th century:

User: What are the planets of the solar system?

Monad-GPT: The six Planets are, Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, and the Sun. The Moon is also a Planet; which being of so great Influence upon Earth, makes it to be most admired of all others by Astronomers.

User: Why has the Moon such an influence upon Earth?

Monad-GPT: But the Moon is so neer to us, as almost to be part of Earth; and therefore it much influences our Atmosphere. This Influence makes all that are in any way affected by Air, to be more under her influence than any other Planet. For if there were a little more or less Matter in the Air, than there is now, we should never have such Plants and Creatures as there are upon Earth: for every Plant and Creature hath its proper Temperature necessary for its Existence. If the Sun did not make up this shortage by his warmth from without, we should be destroyed.

User: Can you write a poem about the Moon?

Monad-GPT: O fairest Moon, that from the Heav’n dost shine, / In her own Lustre all the World does find: / As in thine Orb, where all is bright and clear, / The Sun himself is not more pure than thee.

User: How could we travel to the Moon? With a big canon?

Monad-GPT: But how to travel from Earth to the Moon, with our present Engines? A very hard Question: for we are like those that would go to Heaven in a Basket: We have no Wings, and God hath not given us any Angels to bear us up. Therefore I will leave this Enquiry to others; and end my Discourse of the Moon.

Via MetaFilter.

A Place for Everything

Letter to the Times, Jan. 3, 2002:

Sir, A friend had four trays labelled ‘In’, ‘Out’, ‘Pending’ and ‘Too Difficult’. The last was to store items which solved themselves if left long enough. They either became out of date and could be ignored, or were dealt with by some smart aleck trying to prove how clever he was.

I’ve tried it. It works.

Yours sincerely,

Edwin Entecott
Nuneaton, Warwickshire


Joining an Inuit hunting party in Greenland in 1910, Danish explorer Peter Freuchen was pleased to receive several hundred pounds of meat because he’d thrust a harpoon into a walrus. When he thanked the primary hunter, the man looked at him and said nothing. Back at camp he told Freuchen:

Up in our country we are human! And since we are human we help each other. We don’t like to hear anybody say thanks for that. If I get something today you may get it tomorrow. Some men never kill anything because they are seldom lucky or they may not be able to run or row as fast as others. Therefore they would feel unhappy to have to be thankful to their fellows all the time. And it would not be fun for the big hunter to feel that other men were constantly humbled by him. Then his pleasure would die. Up here we say that by gifts one makes slaves, and by whips one makes dogs.

Freuchen wrote, “I have come to understand the truth of his words. The polar Eskimos were a free people when we met them.”

(Peter Freuchen, Adventures in the Arctic, 1960.)