North Talk

While we’re at it … in 1973 attorney Mark M. Orkin compiled Canajan, Eh?, a lexicon of Canadian English, which he says is distinguished by “a nimiety of neologisms, an impudicity of pronunciation, a crapulence of grammar, a prurience of syntax, and a necrosis of Mare Canisms”:

ardic: the far north, home of the Esk Moze
beinck: a building where Canajans keep their money
dodder: a female child
fishle: duly authorized
gradge: a building for storing or repairing automobiles
hiss tree: study of past events
Knighted States: the Mare Can nation
Pam Sundy: the Sunday before Easter
quorpus: fifteen minutes past the hour
sign tist: person well-versed in a branch of signs
slong: the principal Canajan salutation on parting
Tronna: the cabbidal of Untario
worsh: to cleanse oneself or one’s clothing
zmarra fack: introductory verbal aid

In his introduction, Orkin writes that “forners need exercise no caution in using this text since all terms discussed will be understandable by somebody somewhere in Canada.” He published a companion volume, French Canajan, hé?, in 1975.

Also: Australian, Baltimorese, Texan.


In 1913, as festivities were planned for the wedding of Kaiser Wilhelm II’s daughter, Berlin’s Hotel Adlon had to move the Kaiser’s brother-in-law from the fourth floor to the second because the tsar could not ride the elevator:

Russian court protocol governed every step the tsar took and nowhere did it mention an elevator. Thus there were no instructions for how the tsar and his retinue were to behave in such a situation. Should he enter the cab first? Was he permitted to keep his hat on? Who should operate the elevator’s crank? and God knows what else.

The protocol had survived unchanged from the days of Catherine the Great. Catherine, of course, had never ridden an elevator for the simple reason that there weren’t any back then, and that’s why the protocol contained not one word about this means of vertical transportation. … At any rate, an apartment on the second floor was prepared for Duke Ernst Gunther zu Schleswig-Holstein.

From Andreas Bernard, Lifted: A Cultural History of the Elevator, 2014.

The Size of It

This just caught my eye — in Beyond Dance, her 2001 account of Hungarian choreographer Rudolf Laban’s late career in industrial consulting, Eden Davies quotes a “traditional Spanish proverb”:

High intelligence + high action = leaders of the world
High intelligence + low action = the academics
Low intelligence + low action = those needed to do humble jobs
Low intelligence + high action = these people menace world stability


Steiner blackboard drawing

Is this art? It’s a drawing made by Austrian scholar and mystic Rudolf Steiner, who traveled Europe between 1919 and 1924 giving more than 5,000 lectures on “spiritual science,” art, medicine, agriculture, and economics. During the lectures Steiner would draw on the blackboard, and in 1919 his colleague Emma Stolle, apparently realizing the drawings’ value, began placing sheets of black paper over the blackboards in order to capture them.

Steiner himself doesn’t seem to have intended the drawings as beautiful, only as vehicles to express his ideas. Here’s the point he was illustrating with the image above, from a lecture on Aug. 12, 1924:

You look at a plant and say to yourself: I am a being of which I see only a mirror image, an inessential reflection, while on Earth. The more I turn my gaze to the stars, the more I see the true being up there. Nature is revealed in its entirety only when I look up from the Earth to the stars, when I consider the Earth and the cosmos as one. Then I can look back to myself as a human being and say: that which in the plant reaches up to the heavens has been compressed (bunched together) into myself on Earth. As a human being, I carry the physical world, the soul world, and the spiritual world.

Piet Mondrian, Wassily Kandinsky, and Alexej von Jawlensky all attended Steiner’s lectures, though none of them left any written comment about the images he drew. But one museum director remarked that if Steiner’s drawings don’t fit within any current definition of art, then a definition must be devised to include them.

(Lawrence Rinder, ed., Knowledge of Higher Worlds: Rudolf Steiner’s Blackboard Drawings, 1997.)

Uneasy Crossing

Three photographers and three cannibals come to a river. The boat can carry only two people at a time. The cannibals will eat any group of photographers that they outnumber (on either side of the river). How can all six people safely cross the river?

Click for Answer

Pet Phrases

For his 2017 book Nabokov’s Favorite Word Is Mauve, statistician and journalist Ben Blatt ran thousands of books through a computer to analyze the particulars of the authors’ use of language. Among many other things, he found that each of these authors uses the indicated phrase in more than half their works:

  • Jane Austen: “with all my heart”
  • Ray Bradbury: “at long last”
  • Tom Clancy: “by a whisker”
  • William Faulkner: “sooner or later”
  • George R.R. Martin: “black as pitch”
  • Herman Melville: “through and through”
  • Salman Rushdie: “the last straw”
  • Tom Wolfe: “sinking feeling”

A few other interesting points:

  • Ernest Hemingway used -ly adverbs only 80 times in 10 novels. By contrast, E.L. James (Fifty Shades of Grey) used 155 instances in three books.
  • Elmore Leonard used 49 exclamation points per 100,000 words. James Joyce used 1,105.
  • Chuck Palahniuk uses the word suddenly twice per 100,000 words. J.R.R. Tolkien used it 78 times.
  • 45 percent of American Harry Potter fan fiction used the word brilliant more often than J.K Rowling.
  • 46 percent of Danielle Steele’s opening sentences mention weather. Joseph Conrad, Hemingway, Sinclair Lewis, Toni Morrison, Kurt Vonnegut, and Palahniuk never do this.

“The Correct Way to Speak Bristol”

In 1970 Dirk Robson offered Krek Waiter’s Peak Bristle, a pronouncing dictionary for visitors to England’s West Country:

Armchair: Question meaning “What do they cost?” As in: “Armchair yer eat napples, mister?”

Claps: Fall to pieces.

Door: Female child.

Hard tack: Cardiac failure.

Justice Swell: Expression of right and proper behaviour; as in: “No, we dingo way, we stay dome. Justice swell — trained all week.”

Rifle: Deserving.

Sill Sernt: Government employee.

Sunny’s Cool: Bible class for the young.

Yerp: The Continent.

Examples from the field:

News vendor: “Snow end twit! Miniature rout of yes-dees news, yore rupture rise into daze!”

Patron: “Sway lie fizz, knit?”


Woman at bus stop: “Fortify mince we bin stand near! Chews 2B bad, butts pasta joke now.”

Her companion: “Feud Dunce eye sedden walk tome, weed bin thereby now.”

Robson put out a companion volume, Son of Bristle, the following year, “with a special section on the famous Bristle ‘L.'” I’ll see if I can find that.

09/09/2023 UPDATE: Here’s the Bristol L:

(Thanks, Rob.)

Packing a Box

Suppose a 5 × 9 rectangle is partitioned into a set of 10 rectangles with integer dimensions. How can we prove that some two of these smaller rectangles are congruent?

Click for Answer

Pyrrho’s Pig

Pyrrho the philosopher being one day in a boat in a very great tempest, shewed to those he saw the most affrighted about him, and encouraged them, by the example of a hog that was there, nothing at all concerned at the storm. Shall we then dare to say that this advantage of reason, of which we so much boast, and upon the account of which we think ourselves masters and emperors over the rest of all creation, was given us for a torment? To what end serves the knowledge of things if it renders us more unmanly? if we thereby lose the tranquillity and repose we should enjoy without it? and if it put us into a worse condition than Pyrrho’s hog? Shall we employ the understanding that was conferred upon us for our greatest good to our own ruin; setting ourselves against the design of nature and the universal order of things, which intend that every one should make use of the faculties, members, and means he has to his own best advantage?

— Montaigne, “That the Relish for Good and Evil Depends in Great Measure Upon the Opinion We Have of Them,” 1580