Friday, October 17, 2008


Number 297


Typewriter OCD

The dexterous yet not sinister Rich Lederer, the Verbivore, wrote:

Here's my little disquisition on "typewriter words" ...

When we seek to find the longest word that can be typed on a single horizontal row of a standard typewriter keyboard, we naturally place our fingers on the top row of letters ~ qwertyuiop ~ because five of the seven vowels reside there. From that single row we can type but a handful of ten-letter words: repertoire, proprietor, perpetuity, pepperroot, peppertree, pepperwort, and ~ ta da! ~ typewriter.

The longest middle-row words are flagfalls (nine letters) and alfalfas (eight letters). Stewardesses, aftereffects, desegregated, and reverberated, all twelve letters, are the longest words than can be typed with just the left hand, while johnny-jump-up (twelve letters, a variety of pansy) is the longest right hand word. The thirteen-letter dismantlement and the ten-letter skepticism sinisterly and dexterously alternate hands.

By the way, I recently discovered that one of my students has a laptop computer from France and the French have a different keyboard layout. However, according to Wikipedia, the French Canadian keyboard is the same as the standard English qwerty layout.

No Paint No Gain

Someone else’s typo is our gain: paintstakingly: how you should paint.


Mike Sykes wrote about Thomas Edison, “I'd respect him even more if his goal was to invent a product that people wanted to buy. But then he did, didn't he?” Yes, he did. Too bad Nicola Tesla didn’t have his sales acumen. Then maybe we’d be getting free electricity right out of the ground. Or something. I never did understand it but it just goes to show that it’s not enough to have a great idea.

The Former Wizard

Our neighbor John Neal sent a poem that Fred and I like very much, being former wizards ourselves:

Who is You? Who is Me?

I am not the Wizard

That I used to be

I have to relearn everything

From a flower to a tree

It's really getting tough

Being what I used to be

When I can't remember

Who is You? Who is Me?

Make It So

Can words make it so? Can you be a Christian and a Muslim simultaneously, as Seattle Episcopalian priest Ann Holmes Redding says she is, though they have some decidedly contradictory theology?

Can you have a baby and be a real man, like Thomas Beatie, a female who wasn’t really cut out (pun intended) to be convincingly Y-chromosome?

Can you be a practicing conservative, as Christopher Buckley says he is, and vote for Obama?

If all these things are possible, I’ve been way too restrained in my speech all these years. (“I am rich!” I’ll let you know if it works.)

Dave DaBee tipped me off to the article about Chris Buckley, William Buckley’s son, who says he is voting for Obama. CB’s writing reveals some of his father’s style (e.g. Latin tags), yet not quite-quite ("whatever"); and he certainly doesn’t have the same substance (secular prayers).

Brave Sir Robin Meets The Black Knight

I only lost one reader after the 10 Top Reasons to Vote for Anyone But Obama. (Hey, I could have made a longer list, and maybe I will.) Although he didn’t tell me his reason for unsubscribing, I have a solid hunch, and now I can talk behind his back. I knew this person years ago in graduate school, and he used to occasionally send rather lengthy, interesting, and witty contributions to PO. But a few years ago he wrote to me that he was extremely angry that his alma mater had invited George W. Bush to speak at commencement, and I think I wrote back that after all, the man was elected. I never heard from my old classmate after that except when he told me our favorite professor had died. I wish my old friend had stayed to fight it out.

By the way, one of my students, who’s from Mali but was educated in France, brought up the subject that he’s noticed that people here who are voting Republican are afraid to say so.

And my Chinese student became noticeably nervous when we were talking about a qigong master I know of (Dr. Yan Xin) who seems to have disappeared from view since the followers of falun gong began to be persecuted, imprisoned, tortured, and killed. Falun gong was taught by a very different sort of qigong master, Li Hongzi, but I think the government distrust of him rubbed off on other taoist masters. I haven’t found any updates on web pages relating to Dr. Yan Xin (not to be confused with a man of the same name who teaches martial arts, though Dr. Yan Xin is also a martial arts master) since around 2001. My student was so clearly uncomfortable with conversation about his government that I changed the subject.

Will Edit for Cash

Why graphic designers must have editorial restraints: The current issue of Men’s Journal has a photo of a man on the cover that bleeds over the title so what you read is “Men’s urnal” which looks way too much like “Men’s urinal”. If you look at some of the past covers, you’ll see that this seems to be a habit with them, although one cover with a photo of Harrison Ford laid the title over his forehead. The ways of the designer are inscrutable.

Grab Bag

-|- Rob Kyff has a column called The Word Guy that’s worth catching. His column “Cool Off with a Babbling Book” has some good suggestions for books about language.

-|- Fred turned me on to, an English dictionary with a multi-lingual search.

-|- My friend Sonny Robertson has a great new CD out. Buy it at:, and listen to the two interviews with Sonny at The songs are variously funky, funny, or moody, and there are a couple of witty songs about high-tech communication, “Text Me Before You Sex Me” and “Blues 2000”.

-|- I picked up The Herblock Book at a yard sale, inscribed “LG & Fern H Nichols at Christmas 1952, A gift from us to us.” I paid a quarter but you can pick up a used copy for anything from 94 cents to $50+ on Amazon. Herb Block was a political cartoonist and writer, and while I don’t know much about most of the issues assembled in this book, it all sounds familiar more than half a century later. Block quoted Winston Churchill’s remark that elections are always bad and the only thing worse would be not having them.

Font of Wisdom

Guy: Yeah, that date movie was dumb.

Girl: Oh, you saw it?

Guy: No, but I could tell by the font it would be dumb. It was the same font as Scary Movie and Not Another Teen Movie. I really hated those movies.

Girl: Ahhh, impact.

Guy: What?

Girl: The font. It's called "impact."

There is a type font called Impact. I selected it here but will it survive e-mail and blogging?

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