I wish I were a jelly fish
That cannot fall downstairs:
Of all the things I wish to wish
I wish I were a jelly fish
That hasn’t any cares,
And doesn’t even have to wish
“I wish I were a jelly fish
That cannot fall downstairs.”

— G.K. Chesterton

Deathbed Awkwardness

When you’re busy dying, it can be hard to think of a pithy exit line. Actual last words:

  • Pancho Villa: “Don’t let it end like this. Tell them I said something.”
  • Roman emperor Gaius Caligula: “I am still alive!”
  • Dominique Bouhours, French grammarian: “I am about to — or I am going to — die: either expression is correct.”
  • Henrik Ibsen, after his housekeeper told a guest he was feeling better: “On the contrary!”
  • Karl Marx, to his housekeeper, who had just asked whether he had any last words: “Go on, get out! Last words are for fools who haven’t said enough!”
  • British surgeon Joseph Henry Green, after checking his own pulse: “Stopped.”
  • Union general John Sedgwick, sizing up enemy sharpshooters: “They couldn’t hit an elephant at this dist–“

On her way to the guillotine, Marie Antoinette stepped on the executioner’s toe. Her last words were “Pardonez-moi, monsieur.”


Autological words describe themselves:

  • pentasyllabic
  • seventeen-lettered
  • descriptive
  • uninformative
  • English
  • pronounceable
  • confusionful
  • wee

Heterological words don’t:

  • abbreviated
  • adverb
  • purple
  • carcinogenic
  • plural
  • phonetic
  • misspelled

So is heterological a heterological word?

Rhinoceros Party of Canada

The Rhinoceros Party of Canada claimed to have an appropriate mascot, as politicians by nature are “thick-skinned, slow-moving, dim-witted, can move fast as hell when in danger, and have large, hairy horns growing out of the middle of their faces.” Platform planks:

  • repealing gravity
  • providing higher education by building taller schools
  • tearing down the Rocky Mountains so that Albertans could see the sun set
  • abolishing the environment “because it’s too hard to keep clean and it takes up so much space”
  • putting the national debt on Visa

Compare New Zealand’s McGillicuddy Serious Party, whose policies included “full unemployment” and the introduction of chocolate fish as legal tender. “If you want to waste your vote, vote for us.”


A kadigan is a placeholder for an unspecified word. You know: blivet, deelie-bob, device, dingus, doodad, doohickey, doofunny, doover, fnord, gadget, geemie, gizmo, hoochamajigger, kerjigger, oojah, oojamaflip, thingamajig, thingamabob, thingamadoodle, thingo, thingum, thingummy, thingy, thing-thing, whatchamacallit, whatchamajigger, whatsit, whosey, whoseywhatsit, whosis, widget, whatsitsname.

These are common words that do useful work, but they have no formal part of speech, falling somewhere between nouns and pronouns. “Speak properly, and in as few words as you can, but always plainly,” wrote William Penn, “for the end of speech is not ostentation, but to be understood.”

Mill Conditions, 1815

Excerpts, evidence of a female millhand to parliamentary commissioners during an inquiry into factory conditions, c. 1815:

What time did you begin work at the factory?
When I was six years old.

What were your hours of labor in that mill?
From 5 in the morning till 9 at night, when they were thronged.

For how long a time together have you worked that excessive length of time?
For about a year.

What were the usual hours of labour when you were not so thronged?
From six in the morning till 7 at night.

What time was allowed for meals?
Forty minutes at noon.

Had you any time to get your breakfast or drinking?
No, we had to get it as we could.

Explain what you had to do.
When the frames are full, they have to stop the frames, and take the flyers off, and take the full bobbins off, and carry them to the roller, and then put empty ones on, and set the frame going again.

Does that keep you constantly on your feet?
Yes, there are so many frames and they run so quick.

Your labour is very excessive?
Yes, you have not time for anything.

Suppose you flagged a little, or were late, what would they do?
Strap us.

Did you live far from the mill?
Yes, two miles.

Were you generally there in time?
Yes, my mother has been up at 4 o’clock in the morning, and at 2 o’clock in the morning; the colliers used to go to their work at 3 or 4 o’clock, and when she heard them stirring she has got up out of her warm bed, and gone out and asked them the time; and I have sometimes been at Hunslet Car at 2 o’clock in the morning, when it was streaming down with rain, and we have had to stay till the mill was opened.

You are considerably deformed in person as a consequence of this labour?
Yes I am.

Where are you now?
In the poorhouse.

State what you think as to the circumstances in which you have been placed during all this time of labour, and what you have considered about it as to the hardship and cruelty of it.

“The witness was too much affected to answer the question.”