rr: Tablespoons

"'It seems very pretty,' she said when she had finished it, 'but it's rather hard to understand!' (You see she didn't like to confess, even to herself, that she couldn't make it out at all.)" —Lewis Carroll I'm sure that people have been tempted to write directly on their computer screens for almost as long […]

qq: You Say Tomato…

Everyone's heard of Quetzalcoatl, the winged-snake god of the Toltecs and Aztecs. And many have heard of Popocatepetl, a volcano in Mexico. But not everyone knows that that funny-looking "tl" at the end of each of those words is the transliteration of a single letter of the Aztec language Nahuatl. (My dictionary says that's pronounced […]

pp: Cold Attractors

By now everyone is familiar with magnetic poetry kits, the craze that's hit half the refrigerators in America. There are dozens of specialized magnetic sets: computer terms, words from Shakespearean love poems, Shakespearean insults, Yiddish words, proverbs, and the International Phonetic Alphabet, among many others. When I was first given a magnetic poetry set, my […]

oo: Coming Down with Noun Syndrome

Sometime around seventh grade, my English teacher taught us a set of mnemonics for remembering the parts of speech. First she told us to visualize a gigantic capital N, made of solid gold: a noun. Next came a pair of Ps for pronouns (I've forgotten the mnemonic here, alas). The verb was represented by a […]

nn: Secret Identities

"'We name our fondlings in alphabetical order. The last was a S—Swubble, I named him. This was T—Twist, I named him. The next one as comes will be Unwin, and the next Vilkins. I have got names ready made to the end of the alphabet, and all the way through again when we come to […]

mm: A Nice Derangement

[Enter Virginia and Wesley.] Virginia: What's a malapropism? Wesley: It's when you accidentally replete a word with another word that sounds somewhat simian, often with comic effect. Virginia: And polarity ensues. Wesley: Something like that. It's best when the replacement word is somehow revenant to the situation. It's named after Mrs. Malaprop, from Sheridan's The […]

ll: Lyrical Lyrics

In a previous column, I discussed the Anglo-Saxon verse form in which each line has four or five stressed syllables, at least two of which start with the same consonant sound. The Anglo-Saxons used this form for verse as short as riddles or as long as Beowulf; presumably it aided in memorization, and Anglo-Saxon verse […]