Lingua Franca

In the 11th century, sailors in the Mediterranean developed a pidgin language to communicate with one another, a mix of Italian, Spanish, Catalan, Galician, Portuguese, Occitan, French, Latin, English, and other languages in which they could conduct trade and diplomacy. Known as Sabir, it appears briefly in Molière’s comedy Le Bourgeois gentilhomme when the Mufti sings:

Se ti sabir
Ti respondir
Se non sabir
Tazir, tazir

Mi star Mufti:
Ti qui star ti?
Non intendir:
Tazir, tazir.

This means:

If you know
You answer
If you do not know
Be silent, be silent

I am Mufti
Who are you?
If you do not understand,
Be silent, be silent

The language persisted into the 19th century, and traces of it can still be found in modern slang and in geographical names.


Is 94,271,013 the sum of 12 consecutive integers?

Click for Answer

In a Word

adj. smelling of insects

adj. smelling like a goat

adj. smelling sweet

adj. smelling like garlic or onions

adj. stinking

adj. having a well-developed sense of smell

Safe Tears

Why do we enjoy sad fiction? In 2009 Boston College psychologist Thalia Goldstein asked 59 subjects to rate the sadness and anxiety they felt in response to four film clips (two presented as fictional, two as factual) and to their own memory of a sad event they’d experienced personally. While they reported equivalent levels of sadness in response to all these things, their anxiety level was significantly higher when recalling their own experience.

“Apparently we do not mind experiencing intense sadness if that sadness is not tinged with anxiety,” Goldstein writes. Indeed, that might make it more cathartic. And because we know that we can walk away from a fictional sadness, we may feel safer suspending our disbelief to explore and understand our feelings deeply.

(Thalia R. Goldstein, “The Pleasure of Unadulterated Sadness: Experiencing Sorrow in Fiction, Nonfiction, and in Person,” Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts 3:4 [2009], 232.)

Image: Wikimedia Commons
  • Mr. Peanut’s full name is Bartholomew Richard Fitzgerald-Smythe.
  • Michael J. Fox is 10 days younger than Lea Thompson and 3 years older than Crispin Glover.
  • Nebraska’s state slogan is “Honestly, it’s not for everyone.”
  • Eight-letter words typed with eight fingers: BIPLANES, CAPTIONS, ELAPSING, JACKPOTS, LIFESPAN, PANELIST.
  • “Memory can restore to life everything except smells.” — Nabokov

Podcast Episode 267: The Murchison Murders

In 1929, detective novelist Arthur Upfield wanted to devise the perfect murder, so he started a discussion among his friends in Western Australia. He was pleased with their solution — until local workers began disappearing, as if the book were coming true. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll describe the Murchison murders, a disturbing case of life imitating art.

We’ll also incite a revolution and puzzle over a perplexing purchase.

See full show notes …

For Short

Dr. Dobbin, lecturing on physical education in Hull, England, condemned the practice of tight-lacing as injurious to the health and symmetry of the female sex, and jocularly proposed the formation of an ‘Anti-killing-young-women-by-a-lingering-death Society.’

This was gravely reproduced in other parts of England and on the Continent as a sober matter of fact, the Germans giving the hyphenated title thus: Jungefrauenzimmerdurchschwindsuchttodtungsgegenverein.

— Charles Carroll Bombaugh, The Book of Blunders, 1871

The Speech-to-Song Illusion

In 1995 UCSD psychologist Diana Deutsch was fine-tuning the spoken commentary on a CD when she noticed something odd. When the phrase “sometimes behave so strangely” was repeated on a loop, it came to sound as though it were being sung rather than spoken. When the full surrounding passage was then played in its entirety, this phrase still sounded as though it were being sung (you can hear this here).

The phenomenon is not completely understood, but “the present experiments show that for a phrase to be heard as spoken or as sung, it does not need to have a set of physical properties that are unique to speech, or a different set of physical properties that are unique to song,” the researchers write. “Rather, we must conclude that, assuming the neural circuitries underlying speech and song are at some point distinct and separate, they can accept the same input, but process the information in different ways so as to produce different outputs.”

(Via MetaFilter.)