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 bump.com, 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.
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.
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.
To trepan means to perforate the skull with a drill. Which makes the title of this old folk song from Norwich extremely odd.
However, the song itself isn't actually about parents drilling a hole in the skull of their child, despite the title. Turns out, 'trepan' has another, archaic meaning, which is to trap or ensnare, and that's how it's used here.
But even though it isn't about pediatric brain surgery, it's still quite a dark and violent song.
It's performed below by Jon Wilks. He starts singing the song about halfway through the clip.
Oh, it was my cruel parents that first did me trepan;
They married me to an old man for the sake of money and land.
If they'd married me to a young man without a penny at all,
He'd have took me in his arms and have loved me all the more.
Oh, it's, "Hush, my dearest Nancy, oh, wait 'til we go to town,
I'll buy you a lady's bonney, likewise a mus-e-lin gown;
There is no lady in the land your beauty can compare,
And I'll buy you a little lapdog to follow you everywhere."
"I want none of your little lapdogs nor none of your gentle care;
It's a pity that such an old man my beauty you should snare.
I am not sixteen years of age and scarcely in my bloom;
Oh, you are my cruel torment, both morning, night and noon."
When he comes to bed at night he's as cold as any clay:
His feet are as cold at midnight as corpse, I've heard them say;
His pipes are out of order and his old flute's never in tune:
Oh, I wish that he was dead and a young man in the room.
[Now some they do persuade me to drown him in a well,
And others do persuade me to grind him in a mill.
I'd rather take my own advice and tie him to a stake,]
Oh I'll get a big stick and labour him well, until his bones I break.
By using the appropriate international Signal flag or combination of international signal flags, different meanings can be communicated depending on the intentions of the wearer. For example, and individual could be wearing a covering garment (e.g. a jacket or Sweatshirt or the like) that prominently displays the international Signal flag "X-Ray', communicating the message "Stop carrying out your intentions and watch for my signals'. When the wearer sees someone with whom he or she would like to communicate with, the covering garment could be removed, revealing another article of apparel (e.g. a Swimsuit) displaying a Second international Signal flag "Kilo', communicating the message "I wish to communicate with you'.
The possible messages one could send seemed limitless, but they were never granted a patent. Perhaps the idea of messages on clothing was deemed too obvious.
There's also the limitation that only people conversant with maritime signal flags could decode the messages, which would make the various 'stay away' messages somewhat pointless.
Augmented Roman was one of the periodic attempts to improve and rationalize the English alphabet. Introduced in the 1960s by Sir James Pitman, the idea was to expand the alphabet from 26 letters to 43, and to have each letter represent a single, distinct sound. Unlike the current alphabet in which letters can have different sounds depending on context.
Proponents of Augmented Roman imagined teaching children to read using this improved alphabet, and then having the kids switch over to the standard alphabet later. And that's where the plan ran aground, because most people figured that if kids have to learn the standard alphabet anyway, just teach them that from the beginning.
As defined by Wikipedia, "Flappers were a generation of young Western women in the 1920s who wore skirts, bobbed their hair, listened to jazz, and flaunted their disdain for what was then considered acceptable behavior. Flappers were seen as brash for wearing excessive makeup, drinking, smoking cigarettes, driving automobiles, treating sex in a casual manner, and otherwise flouting social and sexual norms."
A "Flapper Dictionary" appeared in various newspapers and magazines in 1922. Selections below. Even more flapper terms can be found at Book Flaps and Click Americana.
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.