Flirtation Codes of the early 20th Century

What a chore flirtation must have been back then if you had to memorize all these codes.

Philadelphia Inquirer - Oct 8, 1916

Posted By: Alex - Sun Jan 16, 2022 - Comments (5)
Category: Languages, 1910s, Love & Romance

Scott Perky’s Bi-Directional Text

Henry Perky invented shredded wheat. His son, Scott, was also an inventor, though not as famous. He invented and patented a bi-directional, symmetrical font which could be read from left-to-right or right-to-left.

Perky's idea was that this would allow one to read a line of text from left to right, and then read the next line right to left, without having to move the eye back to the beginning of the line. This, he claimed, would reduce "brain fag":

The invention consists in certain means of printing alternate lines, whereby the reading can be done from left to right and from right to left in a continuous manner, and the skipping from the end of one line to the opposite end of the next is avoided.

It is hardly necessary to allude to the strain upon the eyes and brain, which results from much reading. To students, researchers and others whose lives are cast among books, any device which promises to facilitate reading in such wise as to lessen fatigue of the optical tract, and consequent headache and brain fag, will appear of unusual importance.

Randy Ludacer of Beach Packaging Design took the time to set the first three lines of Perky's patent in the bi-directional font, so you can experience what it would be like to read it:

Posted By: Alex - Fri Oct 08, 2021 - Comments (5)
Category: Inventions, Languages, 1900s

Underworld Lingo, 1930

Some of these look pretty dubious.


Posted By: Paul - Thu Oct 07, 2021 - Comments (1)
Category: Crime, Languages, Slang, 1930s

240 different ways to spell the word Scissors

The author of this pamphlet, published in England in 1829, noted that he could expand the list to 480 variant spellings if he were to substitute 'z' for 's' at the end of the word. On this basis, he claimed that "The word Scissars appears capable of more variations in the spelling than any other."

He seemed to prefer the spelling 'scissars' to 'scissors'.

He also seemed to think that the publication of this list offered some kind of moral lesson. But, despite his explanation, I still can't figure out what that lesson might be:

If any person should feel a longing desire to be an author; instead of lighting the fire of contention, and abusing his neighbours to his own detriment, let him try his hand at Scissars.

If engaged in writing for the amusement of the Public and cannot refrain from introducing subjects which may be prejudicial to the morals of the rising generation, had he not much better write nothing but Scissers...

If any other subject engage his attention, it will always be a very safe and adviseable plan to consider if at any future more serious moment he might not be inclined to wish he had written nothing but Scissurs.

Click to enlarge. Source: The Picture Magazine - 1895

Posted By: Alex - Mon Apr 26, 2021 - Comments (0)
Category: Languages, Puns and Other Wordplay, Nineteenth Century

Morse Code for Drivers

In 1960, the Automobile Legal Association proposed that all drivers should learn a code that would allow them to communicate with each other on the road via honks.

One short honk would mean, 'Left blinker going'. Three short honks would mean, 'A light burned out'. One long honk would mean, 'Get over in the right lane.' And so on.

The Terre Haute Star - Sep 17, 1960

Although the honking code never caught on, the idea of allowing drivers to communicate with each other has persisted. The 21st-century spin on it are the various phone apps (such as, Driver Talk, or PL8chat) that allow you to send messages to other cars by entering their license plate number. Of course, both drivers have to be signed up with the app for this to work. Which means these apps have, for now, very limited practical use.

Posted By: Alex - Mon Feb 15, 2021 - Comments (3)
Category: Languages, Cars

Dyr bul shchyl

The Russian artist Alexei Kruchenykh invented the Zaum language in 1913. He described it as "a language which does not have any definite meaning." From what I can gather, it was gibberish sounds strung together.

Dyr bul shchyl, also written by Kruchenykh, was the first (but not last) poem written in Zaum.

Dyr bul shchyl
vy so bu
r l ez

You can hear Kruchenykh reading the poem aloud in the first clip. There's a more modern interpretation of it below.

Knowing Russian, or any other language, won't help you understand the poem. But according to Russian language expert Lucas Stratton, "critics have interpreted Dyr bul shchyl as an arrangement of sounds associated with a coming storm."

Posted By: Alex - Sun Nov 29, 2020 - Comments (0)
Category: Languages, Poetry, 1910s, Cacophony, Dissonance, White Noise and Other Sonic Assaults

The Language of Deseret

I was unaware that Brigham Young created a new alphabet for his followers. "However, the alphabet failed to gain wide acceptance and was not actively promoted after 1869."

Here is a page at the official Mormon site that tells of it.

Here is an encyclopedia entry with the full alphabet.

Posted By: Paul - Sun Nov 29, 2020 - Comments (5)
Category: Eccentrics, Inventions, Languages, Religion, Nineteenth Century

A Horse with No Name in Latin

Posted By: Paul - Tue Oct 27, 2020 - Comments (2)
Category: Animals, Humor, Parody, Languages, Music, 1970s

Unicorn Hunters

In 1976, a group at Lake Superior State University, calling itself the 'Unicorn Hunters,' released a "banished word list" that cataloged words they felt should be banished from the English language "for Misuse, Overuse and General Uselessness." Every year since then this group has released an updated new list. Words and phrases for 2020 include 'Quid pro quo,' 'Artisanal,' and 'Mouthfeel'.

'Unicorn Hunters' is an odd name, and as far as I can tell, the origin of the name had nothing to do with the banished word list. It was invented by Wilmer T. Rabe, the public relations director at LSSU, who felt the school needed to let people know it was about more than just engineering. (It was best known, at the time, as a feeder school for Michigan Technical University). More info from the Des Moines Tribune (Aug 2, 1976):

To emphasize the college's non-engineering aspects, Rabe proposed a 'poet's fortnight.' Professor Peter Thomas, Lake Superior's poet in residence, embellished the Rabe proposal and 'Unicorn Hunters' — later refined into Unicorns Ltd., Conglomerate — was born.
"From there," says Rabe, "it kind of just grew and began to embrace more and more things."
Loosely put, unicornism — Lake Superior State style — is an abstraction seemingly devoted to the pursuit of joy.
Conglomerate stationery explains: "The Hunters are dedicated to the proposition that every man has a unicorn which he is predestined to hunt. It is not necessary that he actually find or slay this unicorn, merely that he diligently seek it."

To this day, you can still download a Unicorn Hunting License from the school's website. The Banished Word List was one of the ideas created by this group.

The irony is that, in recent years, the term 'Unicorn Hunters' has come to acquire a very different meaning. Googling the term now brings up this definition:

"Unicorn hunting" is where a male/female couple look to find one person who they can permanently invite into their relationship. They form a "triad" with the couple and the three people have group sex.

Maybe it's time for LSSU to add 'Unicorn Hunters' to its banished word list.

Posted By: Alex - Fri Oct 23, 2020 - Comments (2)
Category: Languages, 1970s

Pronouncing the Scientific Names of Seashells of North America

You can download the MP3 files here. Note: clicking the link does not initiate the download. You choose to do so at the new page.

R. Tucker Abbott begins with a statement sure to dissuade us from listening further. "Actually, there are no official correct pronunciations of these Latin names..."


Posted By: Paul - Tue Jul 28, 2020 - Comments (2)
Category: Boredom, Languages, Nature, Oceans and Maritime Pursuits, 1960s

Page 1 of 6 pages  1 2 3 >  Last ›

weird universe thumbnail
Who We Are
Alex Boese
Alex is the creator and curator of the Museum of Hoaxes. He's also the author of various weird, non-fiction, science-themed books such as Elephants on Acid and Psychedelic Apes.

Paul Di Filippo
Paul has been paid to put weird ideas into fictional form for over thirty years, in his career as a noted science fiction writer. He has recently begun blogging on many curious topics with three fellow writers at The Inferior 4+1.

Contact Us
Monthly Archives
January 2022

December 2021 •  November 2021 •  October 2021 •  September 2021 •  August 2021 •  July 2021 •  June 2021 •  May 2021 •  April 2021 •  March 2021 •  February 2021 •  January 2021

December 2020 •  November 2020 •  October 2020 •  September 2020 •  August 2020 •  July 2020 •  June 2020 •  May 2020 •  April 2020 •  March 2020 •  February 2020 •  January 2020

December 2019 •  November 2019 •  October 2019 •  September 2019 •  August 2019 •  July 2019 •  June 2019 •  May 2019 •  April 2019 •  March 2019 •  February 2019 •  January 2019

December 2018 •  November 2018 •  October 2018 •  September 2018 •  August 2018 •  July 2018 •  June 2018 •  May 2018 •  April 2018 •  March 2018 •  February 2018 •  January 2018

December 2017 •  November 2017 •  October 2017 •  September 2017 •  August 2017 •  July 2017 •  June 2017 •  May 2017 •  April 2017 •  March 2017 •  February 2017 •  January 2017

December 2016 •  November 2016 •  October 2016 •  September 2016 •  August 2016 •  July 2016 •  June 2016 •  May 2016 •  April 2016 •  March 2016 •  February 2016 •  January 2016

December 2015 •  November 2015 •  October 2015 •  September 2015 •  August 2015 •  July 2015 •  June 2015 •  May 2015 •  April 2015 •  March 2015 •  February 2015 •  January 2015

December 2014 •  November 2014 •  October 2014 •  September 2014 •  August 2014 •  July 2014 •  June 2014 •  May 2014 •  April 2014 •  March 2014 •  February 2014 •  January 2014

December 2013 •  November 2013 •  October 2013 •  September 2013 •  August 2013 •  July 2013 •  June 2013 •  May 2013 •  April 2013 •  March 2013 •  February 2013 •  January 2013

December 2012 •  November 2012 •  October 2012 •  September 2012 •  August 2012 •  July 2012 •  June 2012 •  May 2012 •  April 2012 •  March 2012 •  February 2012 •  January 2012

December 2011 •  November 2011 •  October 2011 •  September 2011 •  August 2011 •  July 2011 •  June 2011 •  May 2011 •  April 2011 •  March 2011 •  February 2011 •  January 2011

December 2010 •  November 2010 •  October 2010 •  September 2010 •  August 2010 •  July 2010 •  June 2010 •  May 2010 •  April 2010 •  March 2010 •  February 2010 •  January 2010

December 2009 •  November 2009 •  October 2009 •  September 2009 •  August 2009 •  July 2009 •  June 2009 •  May 2009 •  April 2009 •  March 2009 •  February 2009 •  January 2009

December 2008 •  November 2008 •  October 2008 •  September 2008 •  August 2008 •  July 2008 •