Tuesday 31 August 2010


For the next month or so I shall be homeless and sleeping on other people's sofas, floors and jobs. There may well be interruptions to the Inky Fool's usual daily eruptions. I will also, of course, have no recourse to my books which are all packed up and going into storage. I shall do my best to keep things ticking over and tocking under, but will almost certainly be forced into occasional muteness.

For the moment you must content yourself with the lovely word anabasis. The original anabasis was Cyrus The Younger's advance into Asia, the word being coined by Xenophon. However, it is now a slightly frivolous term for any grand journey.

Monday 30 August 2010


The language is peppered and salted with sporting terms. Whether somebody is fielding questions, playing on a sticky wicket or hitting something for six, he is playing cricket.

Slightly more obscure is the feat of H.H. Stephenson in 1858. Stephenson was a fast bowler who took 303 wickets over the course of his career. He once took three wickets with consecutive balls. Nobody had done this before. Everybody was terribly impressed with Stephenson: he had taken a trick of three wickets (trick as in card games). They felt Stephenson should have an award, but they didn't know what to award him. So they made him a special hat.

That's why it's a hat trick.

Incidentally, a google was originally a kind of cricket delivery, a forerunner of the googly.

P.S. I was at the cricket yesterday and it has been scandalously unreported in the papers that when Amir was facing his first delivery somebody with a very loud voice shouted "No ball".

P.P.S. I can't work out exactly what a google was. Anybody know?

Sunday 29 August 2010

Richard Snary

In the eighteenth century dictionaries were referred to as Richard Snarys for reasons that should be obvious. There's a story that some chap asked his butler to fetch a dictionary and the confused servant set off round London enquiring after Mr Richard Snary, but it's probably nonsense.

Saturday 28 August 2010

A Preposterous Puzzle

The idea of the Internet is that it should bring people together. Perverts are a good example. In 1990 a haddock fetishist was a lonely fellow who thought that nobody else in all the world would ever understand him. Now, twenty years later, he has online forums, chatrooms, Wikipedia entries and pornographic, subaquatic films only a mouse's click away.

The same principle applies to paranoiacs, terrorists and knitting enthusiasts. Nobody is alone any more, except me. For nobody in all the world is quite as pointlessly interested in verse form as I am, or at least not that I've discovered.

Anyway, in the interests of locating someone as boring as me, here is a puzzle. I have taken a famous - but metrically fiendish - poem. I have transcribed it using "x" to denote a stressed syllable and "-" to denote a soft one.

I have also added in all the rhymes. But because many of the rhymes are internal I can't mark it up as simple ABAB. Instead I have replaced the "x" with another letter. I have also used capital letters for feminine rhymes, which therefore carry over to the following dash.

So can you guess the poem?

Can you be bothered to guess the poem?

Are you there my dull, dull brother?

Hypocrite lecteur, mon semblable, mon frere!

x - - x - - a
- B -
x - - x - - a
- - C - - - C -
- - x - - C -
- - d - d - - x - - d
- - e – x - - - f
- - g - - g - - x - - g
x - - e - - x - - B -
x - - x - - A
- B -
x - - x - - A

- - g - - g - - x - - g
- x – x - H -
- - x x - H -
- - x - - - x - - x
- - x - i
- - i
- - x - - j - - j
- - j - - K -
K -
K -
x - - - K -
l - - - l - - - a
- - a
- - x - x - - - f
x - - x - - a
- B -
x - - x - - a

- - m
- B -
- - m
x - - x - m
- x - - - x - - - m
- n
- - o - - o - o
- p
- - x - - p - - n
- n
- - q
- - x - - x - q

For all those who can't be arsed, you can get the answer (as well as a really weird recital) by following this link.

Friday 27 August 2010

Frankly, My Dear Frankfurter

Once upon a terribly long time ago, there was a tribe called the Franks. They invaded Gaul and Gaul became Franc[k]e.

They oppressed the native Gauls horribly, forcing them to eat garlic and listen to Johnny Hallyday records. Only the Franks were free. Thus they were enfranchised. They were able to speak freely, or frankly, and everybody else was disenfranchised and not able to approve things just by franking them.

How did the Franks get to France? Well, on the way they had to cross the river Main. This was easily done: they found a ford by which to ford it. The place became known as Frank-ford on the Main, or Frankfurt am Main.

Frankfurt is now best known as a financial centre, but also makes lots of low-rent sausages called Frankfurters. By the same token a hamburger comes from Hamburg* and involves no ham (or in the case of McDonalds no detectable meat at all). Also a berliner is a kind of doughnut from Berlin, which made JFK's famous remark - 'I am a Berliner' - a trifle amusing to German audiences (that is, until they elected Chancellor Cabbage).

In France the big export used to be incense, which therefore became known as frankincense, and at least one of the Franks managed to cross the Atlantic still bearing his name of "Son of the South freeborn landowner", which translates to Benjamin Franklin.


Thursday 26 August 2010

Cruel and Unusual

The Inky Fool doesn't usually get involved in politics. Why fall into a camp when you can stay in a hotel? However, the guards at Guantanamo have finally overstepped all bounds of human (or inhuman) decency. They are giving the inmates Dan Brown novels to read. It's true. There's an article about it in Time if you follow this link.

Oh the humanity.

Take this sample torture sentence from the first chapter of The Da Vinci Code:

These were the gardens in which Claude Monet had experimented with form and colour, and literally inspired the birth of the impressionist movement.

Now, aside from the fact that Claude Monet was part of the impressionist movement not an inspirer of it (as, say, Turner was); if you literally inspired a birth you would need to inhale a foetus.

The Da Vinci Code is also such a one trick pony of a novel: there's somebody chasing them so the traffic jam is meant to be exciting. There's somebody chasing them so visiting the library is meant to be exciting. There's somebody chasing them so...

Let them die.

To be fair to The Da Vinci Code, I didn't even make it halfway through. Perhaps somewhere midway it morphs into a better version of Shakespeare. I was forced to give up my reading by the demented tripe that passed for New Testament textual analysis. The only thing I learnt from the novel was that Dan Brown should probably be sent to Guantanamo.

Odd little thing, but did you know the song Guantanamera was originally about a girl from Guantanamo? You did? Oh well.

Moreover, I have just invented the greatest* cryptic crossword clue the world has ever known:

Darn Clue! (5,3,7)

A typical scene at Inky Fool Mansions

*Actual quality may vary. The manufacturer cannot accept responsibility for words uttered in whimsical excitement.

Wednesday 25 August 2010


Frangible is a lovely word meaning breakable. It is best applied to hearts.

What makes frangible so much superior to breakable is that when you say the word aloud it sounds delicate. Frangible falls apart on the tongue, like frangipani chocolate.

Tuesday 24 August 2010


I never take much notice of publishers. I don't go into a bookshop, stride up to the counter and ask, 'Do you have anything published by Penguin?' They've always seemed to be ghost brands, like film studios or record companies. Of course there are occasional exceptions - Arden Shakespeares and Longman editions of poetry - and there's a certain kudos to making it onto the Penguin Classics list. But on the whole I neither know nor care.

However, I am moving house, and in order to move house I have to pack all my books (it turns out I have several), and in order to pack my books I thought it would be efficient to arrange them in order of size, and in order to do that I have just begun pulling them off the shelves by publisher.

I was working on the basis that publishers would print all their books in a standard size which isn't quite true, but almost is. And thus I have discovered that there is a difference between brands. Picadors are all high-brow and foreign. Routledge is a scholarly fellow and Vintage seem to do the bestsellers. But the great discovery is Flamingo. I own only six Flamingos but they include Antic Hay by Aldous Huxley and Et Tu, Babe by Mark Leyner which are just about my two favourite novels. They've even got The Third Policeman, which is pretty damned high up the list.

That's rather impressive, I thought. Maybe I ought to go into a bookshop, stride up to the counter and ask, 'Do you have anything published by Flamingo?'

In fact, I thought, why don't I just Google them and order the entire bloody back catalogue?

Turns out Flamingo was an imprint of HarperCollins and is now, so far as I can descry, defunct.

Oh well.

Pretty, isn't it? Unfortunately that's only the tip of the cliché.

Monday 23 August 2010

Batman, Batman, Batmania!

Batman is, of course, the name for a military officer's servant. The term derives from the old word bat meaning a packsaddle. In America, where they're far more logical about such things, the equivalent position is referred to as a dog-robber.

Batman is, of course, a unit of measurement found in Asia. Batman has varied wildly in value over the centuries and was finally redefined as 10kg when Turkey basted itself with the metric system.

Batmania is, of course, the original name of the Australian city of Melbourne. John Batman, a syphilitic farmer from Sydney, persuaded some of the natives to lease some land to him for an annual rent of two hundred handkerchiefs, a hundred knives, a hundred pounds of flour, fifty scissors,  forty blankets, thirty mirrors, thirty axes and six shirts. He then named the new settlement after himself: Batmania.

The rent was clearly exorbitant and the governor cancelled it a few years later, shot anyone who disagreed, and renamed the town Melbourne after the Viscount Melbourne who was prime minister at the time.

Batmania isn't as mad as it sounds to our surprised ears. After all, Tasmania is named after Abel Tasman.

There are no other known meanings of the word batman.

John Batman
Became a hat-man.
He said, "It's rainier
In Batmania."

Sunday 22 August 2010


Imbosk means to hide, usually in a wood. As Milton put it:

They seek the dark, the bushy, the tangled forest, they would imbosk.

A sibling word is bosky, as in bosky glades.

Saturday 21 August 2010

In My End is My Beginning

Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May

Wrote Shakespeare and the result was an unending TV series and Catherine Zeta Jones. I fear that many people may read Shakespeare's line and imagine that there are rough winds during May shaking the buds. I'm pretty sure that that is not the case. The point of the line is that the flowers that were buds are being shaken by the rough winds of Autumn. Thus:

Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
And summer's lease hath all too short a date.

There's something lovely about the end being seen in the beginning and the beginning being seen in the end. Auden wrote:

Time and beauty burn away
Individual beauty from
Thoughtful children and the grave
Proves the child ephemeral.

Which does approximately the same thing. As Pozzo says in Waiting for Godot:

They give birth astride of a grave, the light gleams an instant, then it's night once more. 

Which Vladimir elaborates thus:

Astride of a grave and a difficult birth. Down in the hole, lingeringly, the grave digger puts on the forceps. We have time to grow old. The air is full of our cries. (He listens) But habit is a great deadener.

Thus, in writing, we can all be tomorrow's corpses and yesterday's babies, trees are overgrown seeds, buildings rubble, and champagne is grapes and urine. Rhetorically the trick is called prolepsis, or at least that's when you refer to something by its future state (You're a dead man). I don't know if the backward looking trope has a name.

The point is that words can do what dull reality cannot. They can see the beginning and the end simultaneously. Centuries collapse in clauses. As Bob Dylan put it:

I waited for you on the running boards, 
Near the cypress trees, while the springtime turned
Slowly into Autumn.

Friday 20 August 2010

Spangled Drinking Songs

A spangle is, of course, a little spang: a spang being a small, glittering ornament. To be spangled is to be covered in small spangs, a fate that befalls the best of us at times.

I came across spangled in a work by Thomas Moore - not the famous one, you understand, but the nineteenth century Irish poetaster. He wrote:

   As late I sought the spangled bowers
   To cull a wreath of matin flowers,

It was one of his translations from the Greek poet Anacreon. Anacreon was an ancient boozer and lover and lyric poet. His poems (anacreontics) are about getting drunk and making lyrical, Attic love (by which I mean Greek love, not sex in a garret*). Anacreon was therefore a Good Thing.

Anacreon was, indeed, such a good thing that in the eighteenth century an English gentleman's club was founded in his memory. It was called the Anacreontic Society and was devoted to "wit, harmony and the god of wine". It was a very musical affair and two members wrote a society drinking song called "To Anacreon in Heaven". John Stafford Smith wrote the tune and the society's president, Ralph Tomlinson wrote the words. The first verse went thuslyly:

To Anacreon in Heav'n, where he sat in full glee
A few sons of harmony sent a petition,
That he their inspirer and patron would be
When this answer arrived from the jolly old Grecian
"Voice, fiddle, and flute,
No longer be mute,
I'll lend you my name and inspire you to boot,
And, besides, I'll instruct you like me to intwine
The myrtle of Venus with Bacchus's vine."

Bacchus's vine is, of course, booze. It was a good song and became rather popular. Because it was hard to sing, it became an ad hoc test of drunkenness used by the Enlightenment police. If you could sing To Anacreon in Heaven in tune you were sober and free to go. This is, if you think about it, an odd fate for a drinking song.
Unfortunately it was so popular that it was usurped and stolen by a chap called Francis Scott Key who wrote new words that weren't about drink but about being able to see a flag flying after a bombardment. His words went:

O say can you see by the dawn's early light
What so proudly we hailed at the twilight's last gleaming,
Whose broad stripes and bright stars through the perilous fight,
O'er the ramparts we watched were so gallantly streaming.
And the rockets' red glare,
The bombs bursting in air.
Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there;
O, say does that star-spangled banner yet wave,
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave?

And the new title that he gave to an old drinking song takes us straight back to Small Spangs.

*There was a young man from Peru
Who had nothing whatever to do:
So he ran to the garret
And buggered the parrot,
And sent the result to a zoo.

Thursday 19 August 2010


The other day I came across the word necrocracy in an article about Little Venice. Necrocracy is not in the OED, although it's easy to work out that it means government by the dead (a bit like G.K. Chesterton's dictum that 'tradition is the democracy of the dead').

Though there's no necrocracy, there are an awful lot of necro-words in the dictionary. My favourite is necropolitan, which relates to necropolis as metropolitan relates to metropolis. A necropolis is a city of the dead, or in other words: a large graveyard.

This makes more sense if you live in a country that's keen on tombs. Père Lachaise cemetery in Paris (pictured) looks and feels like a neat little town. Once expects to see a postman.

So necropolitan means graveyardish. The word is, of course, preposterously periphrastic, but sesquipedalianism can be charming. Consider the first recorded use of the word:

If, when he was first struck with the necropolitan tone of his cough, he had given some time to the study of health, he might possibly have lived to preach many sermons too good to be popular.

It wasn't the cough
That carried him off,
But the coffin they carried him off in.

Wednesday 18 August 2010

Uncouth Kith and Kin

Your kin is, of course, your family. Your kith is everybody you know. Indeed, kith originally meant knowledge. Those who are not your kith are unkith, and therefore uncouth, which originally meant unknown.

Uncouth comes, it seems, from cuð, which gave the Old English wīfcȳþþe, which meant woman-knowledge, which meant rumpy-pumpy. But now uncouth survives as a fossil word like gormless, feckless, ruthless and reckless, on which I have already blogged.

However, according to the dictionary, couth has survived in Scotland (although I don't see why anything would want to do that). In those cold, hyperborean, whisky-sodden glens couth's meaning has moved from known to familiar to snug and cosy.

Tuesday 17 August 2010

Languages in America

There is a myth that German nearly became the official language of the United States of America. This is not true, but the USA still has no official language and an awful lot of immigrants. Until about 1920 the majority of Americans had not been born in the country. Anyway, the map below interested me. That's probably because I like language and like maps. I am a foolish cartographer.

Click to enlarge.

Last year I went on holiday to New Mexico, to do which I had to complete the near impossible task of spelling Albuquerque. I had been given to understand (strange phrase) that the predominant language would be Spanish, but never actually heard anybody speaking it.

N.B. A tip of the blogger's bowler to Walk in the Words.

Monday 16 August 2010


In 1984 Western civilisation reached its apogee with the release of I Want To Know What Love Is by Foreigner. Glancing through the OED I found the answer:

love, noun, Any one of a set of transverse beams supporting the spits in a smokehouse for curing herring.

There are two nouns called love. There are also two verbs. To love can simply be a dialect synonym for to offer something for sale.

I fear that all the love I've ever received may have been based on a misunderstanding.

Well, look in the bloody dictionary, then.

Sunday 15 August 2010

The Most Quoted Lines of Poetry: Now With Added Graphs!

This post originally went up back in February, but it deserves another outing because the Antipodean has very kindly gone through and added some explanatory graphs, which are now attached at the bottom.

The idea of the post is simple. When you type a phrase into Google, Google tells you how many hits that phrase gets on the Internet, or how many pages contained that exact line. 

It should be stated before we begin that Google is, for a computer program, often strangely illogical and inconsistent, but it's the best we've got. The number of hits is listed after the line. Click on the author's name for the full poem. 

Counting down from number fifty...

50. The mind is its own place, and in itself/[Can make a Heav'n of Hell, a Hell of Heav'n] 403,000 Milton
49. Full fathom five thy father lies 438,000 Shakespeare
48. If you can keep your head when all about you 447,000Kipling
47. How do I love thee? Let me count the ways 467,000Elizabeth Barrett Browning
46. If music be the food of love, play on 507,000 Shakespeare 
45. We few, we happy few, we band of brothers 521,000Shakespeare
44. What is this life if, full of care,/We have no time to stand and stare 528,000 W.H. Davies
43. The moving finger writes; and, having writ,/Moves on571,000 Edward Fitzgerald
42. They also serve who only stand and wait 584,000 Milton
41. The quality of mercy is not strained 589,000 Shakespeare
40. In Xanadu did Kubla Khan 594,000 Coleridge
39. Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears 615,000Shakespeare
38. Shall I compare thee to a summers day 638,000 Shakespeare
37. Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness 641,000 Keats
36. A thing of beauty is a joy forever 649,000 Keats
35. Do not go gentle into that good night 665,000 Dylan Thomas
34. Busy old fool, unruly sun 675,000 John Donne
33. Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone 741,000 Auden
32. Human kind/Cannot bear very much reality 891,000 T.S. Eliot
31. O Romeo, Romeo; wherefore art thou Romeo 912,000Shakespeare
30. The lady doth protest too much, methinks 929,000Shakespeare
29. The old lie: Dulce et Decorum Est 990,000 Wilfred Owen
28. Rose is a rose is a rose is a rose 1,050,000 Gertrude Stein
27. When I am an old woman I shall wear purple 1,060,000Jenny Joseph
26. I think that I shall never see/A poem lovely as a tree. 1,080,000 Joyce Kilmer
25. Hope springs eternal in the human breast 1,080,000 Alexander Pope
24. When in disgrace with fortune and men's eyes 1,100,000Shakespeare
23. I grow old... I grow old.../I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled 1,140,000 T.S. Eliot
22. 'The time has come', the Walrus said,/'To talk of many things'1,300,000 Lewis Carroll
21. A narrow fellow in the grass 1,310,000 Emily Dickinson
20. Beauty is truth, truth beauty; that is all 1,470,000 Keats
19. To be or not to be: that is the question 1,640,000 Shakespeare
18. In Flanders fields the poppies blow 1,640,000 John McCrae
17. The proper study of mankind is man 1,770,000 Alexander Pope
16. A little learning is a dangerous thing 1,860,000 Alexander Pope
15. But at my back I always hear 2,010,000 Marvell
14. Candy/Is dandy/But liquor/Is quicker 2,150,000 Ogden Nash
13. My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun 2,230,000Shakespeare
12. Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold 2,330,000W.B.Yeats
11. Because I could not stop for death/He kindly stopped for me 2,360,000 Emily Dickinson
10. Tis better to have loved and lost/Than never to have loved at all 2,400,000 Tennyson
9. Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair 3,080,000 Shelley
8. To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield 3,140,000 Tennyson
7. Tread softly because you tread on my dreams 4,860,000 W.B. Yeats 
6. Not with a bang but a whimper 5,280,000 T.S. Eliot
5. And miles to go before I sleep 5,350,000 Robert Frost
4. I wandered lonely as a cloud 8,000,000 Wordsworth
3. The child is father of the man 9,420,000 Wordsworth
2. I am the master of my fate 14,700,000 William Ernest Henley
1. To err is human; to forgive, divine 14,800,000 Alexander Pope

Shakespeare doesn't make the top ten and Gertrude Stein is more quoted than Byron. Bet you didn't see that coming.

And many, many thanks to the Antipodean for these (click to enlarge):

Our rules were that:
1) it had to be a 
whole line of poetry (minimum 8 syllables) that
2) hadn't become famous as a title (e.g. Eternal sunshine of the spotless mind)
3) or as a song (e.g. And did those feet in ancient time)
4) or is pretty exclusively for children (e.g. I do not like green eggs and ham).
5) The phrases were googled in "inverted commas", which gives you only pages with the precise phrase.
6) No more than one line per medium sized poem.
Originally I didn't allow tetrameters, or at least required a couplet, however "The child is father of the man" changed our minds as it's the second place on its own and nowhere when linked with the adjacent lines. These rules have been broken a few times at our discretion.
P.S. Google is sometimes eccentric on the number of hits, which can vary by clicking refresh. This is because it keeps adjusting to deal with spam and people trying to fool Google in to high rankings for their page. So sometimes it does odd things with line-breaks or even gives more results when there are more words in the search, which is utterly illogical. They also seem to vary slightly by country. Robert Frost's lines dipped slightly (or I noted them down incorrectly). The final arbiter has to be what pops up on my screen when I try the line in inverted commas.