Archive for March, 1997

m: A Roiling Mind Gathers Mnemosyne

Mnemosyne was the ancient Greek goddess of memory, the mother of the Muses. From a word related to her name we get the word "mnemonic" (a device for remembering something), one of the few English words starting with a silent 'm.' Mnemonics can be used to aid fallible human memory in recalling numbers, pronunciations, the […]

l: Mostly Anapestic

I've heard it said that there's no such thing as a good clean limerick. I would have to disagree; I like clean limericks. But then, most of the best clean limericks aren't really limericks at all. To be more precise, my favorite limericks are mostly the ones that play with or comment on the limerick […]

k: /’INglIS &z Si Iz spEld/

I should start by saying that this week's column has more to do with linguistics than with wordplay. I'm assuming readers have no formal background in linguistics; linguists in the audience can skim ahead. First off, a definition: the field of linguistics has to do with study of the structure of language in general, not […]

j: The Big Red Hen (Reader Comments)

Thida Cornes contributed a sad (but amusing) little poem she wrote in which all the words are three or fewer letters long. In retrospect, I think this restriction makes for better content than requiring all words to be exactly three letters long. Thida adds: "It contains 12 lines, because 12 is divisible by three." An […]

j: The Big Red Hen

One of those puzzles that keeps cropping up on the Net asks for the names of ten three-letter body parts. The trick is that there are nine fairly easy ones, but no obvious tenth. Of course, much depends on what you're willing to count as a body part. The Trigrammatic Anatomical Council (T.A.C.), headed by […]

i: Words Within Words (Reader Comments)

Dominus ("a careful user of constructions like `firefighter,' `letter carrier,' and `chairperson'") quite rightly points out that the "huperchild" joke has no basis in etymology; that is, the letters spelling "man" in "human" and the letters spelling "son" in "person" have no relation to the actual words "man" and "son." In other words, "human" and […]

i: Words Within Words

Gender-neutral language is a thorny topic, mined with pitfalls (to thoroughly mix metaphors)—and a topic I have no intention of addressing just yet. However, there's an old and somewhat tired joke about sexist language that nicely illustrates the actual topic at hand. The joke says that to avoid sexism, the "man" part of the word […]