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Typewriters We Have Loved

Ahoy, listeners!

In this past weekend’s show we talked about how reports that it’s the end of the line for the typewriter have been greatly exaggerated, about “founder” versus “flounder,” about names for winds, and we debunked that old lie about the origin of the expression “rule of thumb.”


Friday the 2007 “word of the year” season wrapped up with the granddaddy of all “word of the year” announcements when the American Dialect Society voted “subprime” as its word of the year. Read more here:


You can also hear Grant talking about it on “Weekend America” alongside linguist Steven Pinker:


And that’s that for for words of the year for another 11 months!

We’ll leave you with a riddle forwarded to us by a listener. This version, called “Lord Macaulay’s Last Lines,” is from “The Little Gleaner,” volume XXI, edited by Septimus Sears and published in 1874 in London. Lord Macaulay was Thomas Babington Macaulay, 1800-59, though his authorship of the riddle is uncertain.

Come let us look at it quite closely,

‘Tis a very ugly word,

And one that makes us shudder,

Whenever it is heard.

It mayn’t be always wicked,–

It must be always bad;

And speaks of sin and suffering

Enough to make one mad.

They say it is a compound word,

And that is very true;

And then they decompose it,

Which of course they are free to do.

If of the dozen letters

We take off the first three,

We have the nine remaining

As sad as they can be.

For though it seems to make it less,

In fact it makes it more;

For it takes the brute creation in,

Which was left out before.

Let’s try if we can’t mend it;

‘Tis possible we may,

If only we divide it

In some new-fashioned way.

Instead of three and nine,

Let’s make it four and eight:

You’ll say it makes no difference,–

At least not very great.

But only see the consequence:

That’s all that need be done

To change this mass of sadness

To unmitigated fun.

It clears off swords and pistols,

Revolvers, bowie knives,

And all the horrid weapons

By which men lose their lives.

It awakens sweeter voices;

And now joyfully is heard

The native sound of gladness

Compressed into one word.

Yes, four and eight, my friends,

Let that be yours and mine,

Though the whole host of demons

Delight in three and nine.

What is the word? We’ll have the answer in next week’s newsletter.


Martha Barnette and Grant Barrett

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