In a Word


n. fear of one’s mother-in-law

Above: “My Wife and My Mother-in-Law,” from Puck, November 1915.

Asked what was the maximum punishment for bigamy, Lord Russell of Killowen said, “Two mothers-in-law.”

In a Word

n. a visible manifestation of Satan

Potassium chlorate brings out the worst in gummy bears.

In their 1996 manual Chemical Curiosities, H.W. Roesky and K. Möckel introduce this demonstration with an invocation from the Talmud: “He who ponders long over four things were better never to have been born: that which is above, that which is below, that which came before, and that which comes hereafter.”

(Please don’t try this yourself.)

In a Word

n. ignorance; lack of knowledge

n. the study of ignorance

In 1927, Hungarian physiologist Albert Szent-Györgyi isolated a substance in lemons and oranges that seemed to prevent scurvy.

He couldn’t identify it chemically, so he called it “ignose,” meaning “I do not know.”

When the editors of the Biochemical Journal asked for a different name, Szent-Györgyi suggested “godnose.” Finally they settled on “hexuronic acid.”

It turned out to be vitamin C.

In a Word

n. seasickness

After an unusually queasy Channel crossing in 1868, Henry Bessemer conceived a steamer whose cabin was mounted on gimbals. In heavy seas the hull could roll beneath the passengers without rippling their cognac.

Work began immediately; in 1872 constructor E.J. Reed promised, “Although she may not fulfil every random prophecy that has been printed respecting her, she will thoroughly fulfil the object which the travelling public desire — namely, that of enabling us to cross to and from the Continent with health, decency, and comfort.”

The 350-foot S.S. Bessemer undertook her first public voyage on May 8, 1875 — and inauspiciously crashed into the pier. She moved too slowly and would not answer the helm. Investors lost confidence and the ship was eventually sold for scrap, but Bessemer insisted to the last that his conception had not been fully realized: “My hydraulic controlling apparatus was never completed, was never tested at sea, and consequently never failed.”

In a Word

n. tallness

adj. having slender toes or fingers

adj. having a long, narrow nose

n. a thin, frail, or slender person

n. a tall, thin person