Many years ago the favourite phrase (for, though but a monosyllable, it was a phrase in itself) was Quoz. This odd word took the fancy of the multitude in an extraordinary degree, and very soon acquired an almost boundless meaning. When vulgar wit wished to mark its incredulity, and raise a laugh at the same time, there was no resource so sure as this popular piece of slang. When a man was asked a favour which he did not choose to grant, he marked his sense of the suitor's unparalleled presumption by exclaiming Quoz! When a mischievous urchin wished to annoy a passenger, and create mirth for his comrades, he looked him in the face, and cried out Quoz! and the exclamation never failed in its object. When a disputant was desirous of throwing a doubt upon the veracity of his opponent, and getting summarily rid of an argument which he could not overturn, he uttered the word Quoz, with a contemptuous curl of his lip and an impatient shrug of his shoulders. The universal monosyllable conveyed all his meaning, and not only told his opponent that he lied, but that he erred egregiously if he thought that any one was such a nincompoop as to believe him. Every alehouse resounded with Quoz; every street-corner was noisy with it, and every wall for miles around was chalked with it.
But, like all other earthly things, Quoz had its season, and passed away as suddenly as it arose, never again to be the pet and the idol of the populace.
Between the 1930s and 1970s, employees at Merriam-Webster created a massive "backward index." It was a card catalog, containing all the words in its dictionary typed backwards. It eventually included around 315,000 index cards.
The reason for creating this thing was to allow the company to find words with similar endings. Such as all words ending in 'ological'. It also helped them create a rhyming dictionary.
Computers made the backward index obsolete, but it still sits in the basement of the company's headquarters.
February 1953: The Georgia House of Representatives voted to make "andor" a legal word and directed that it should henceforth be used in place of the phrase "and/or." The House defined "andor" to mean, "either, or, both, and, and or or, and and or."
However, the Georgia Senate voted against the bill.
In October 1969, the U.S. Command in Vietnam issued a directive titled "Let's Say it Right" to the American Forces Vietnam Network (AFVN). The directive forbid military press officers from using certain terms and provided a list of acceptable terms in their place.
For instance, instead of referring to "free firing zones" in which anything that moved was considered enemy and could be fired at, officers were supposed to say "pre-cleared firing zones." And instead of "lull" they were supposed to refer to "light and scattered action."
A military spokesman said that the directive was actually just a "style sheet" whose purpose was to "get everyone using similar words."
Some more of the "no-no" words (as AFVN officers described them) were listed in this NY Times piece:
A classic example of "officialese," which came to light in 1951. Text from a Royal Navy instruction manual on the proper storage of torpedo warheads:
It is necessary for technical reasons that these warheads should be stored with the top at the bottom, and the bottom at the top. In order that there may be no doubt as to which is the bottom and which is the top for storage purposes, it will be seen that the bottom of each warhead has been labeled with the word TOP.
While on a lecture tour of the United States in 1990, Raymond Fullager, an expert on the British royal family, revealed the existence of a royal handbag code. According to him, the Queen of England used her purse to communicate secret signals to her staff.
Fullager claimed to have identified 23 different signals she used. For instance, if she moved her purse from her right to her left arm it meant that she was bored and needed to be rescued. A lady-in-waiting would then approach and say, "I'm afraid, ma'am, that you are running 10 minutes behind schedule."
If the handbag was securely gripped on her left arm, it meant that all was well.
Fullager refused to reveal all 23 signals, insisting that they needed to be kept a royal secret. But he did share some of the Queen's other body-language code. For instance, if she rubbed the middle finger on her left hand, it meant that a spectator was getting too close.
However, other royal experts were skeptical of Fullager's handbag-code theory. Gossip columnist Nigel Dempster declared that the code theory was "silly" and "just rubbish."
Andrew Morton said, "Frankly, you've got to wonder if anyone can actually do 23 different things with a handbag."
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.