Put your vocabulary to the test with these Logophile Language Puzzlers from the November/December 2017 issue of The Saturday Evening Post. Answers and explanations are below.
1. The captain spilled his milk when a sudden, large wave caused the boat to ______ to starboard.
2. Which person is more sanguine?
- When the experiment failed, Jeremy slumped dejectedly in his chair.
- Priya got angry; she had been certain the experiment would succeed.
- Carol was optimistic about what they could learn from the failed attempt.
3. Which number, written out, can be inserted in the blank to create a true statement: This sentence contains exactly ______ letters.
Answers and Explanations
1. a. careen
The words careen, career, and carom are often confused for one another:
- To careen is to lurch or to sway from side to side. In nautical jargon, it specifically means to cause a boat to heel over to one side, either intentionally or not; this is exactly the type of thing a boat might do when hit by a large wave.
- To career is to speed along a course. Racecar drivers career around the track, hoping not to careen into the wall.
- To carom is to collide and then rebound. An unfortunate racecar driver might find his or her car caroming off the wall and back into high-speed traffic.
2. c. Carol, the optimist.
The ancient Greek physician Hippocrates (he of the Hippocratic Oath) believed that the human body consisted of four basic fluids, or humors — yellow bile, black bile, phlegm, and blood. In a healthy person, the four humors were balanced, but shortages or excesses of particular humors caused changes in one’s physical and emotional state.
Though the concept of humors predated Hippocrates, he was the first to record a medical theory based on the belief, and it was widely accepted for centuries. The theory of humors also left its mark on the English language.
- Having too much yellow bile (cholera in Latin) made a person choleric — hot-tempered or easy to anger.
- An abundance of black bile (melancholia) made a person melancholy — depressed or irritable.
- Excessive phlegm caused a person to be either calm and collected or unemotional; phlegmatic today usually indicates the latter.
- A person whose body contained too much blood (sanguis in Latin) would become sanguine, happy or optimistic.
3. This sentence contains exactly forty-two letters.
This answer is a tautology — a statement that is true by virtue of its own logical structure, independent of any outside factors. Because tautological statements reveal no truths of the universe beyond themselves, they are generally considered useless, but creating them can be a fun exercise.
With a little thought (and some counting), you can create any number of tautologies. Here are a few to get you started:
- There are six spaces in this sentence.
- This sentence contains four Es and four Os.
- Fifty-two is one less than the number of letters in this sentence.
Come up with some nifty tautologies of your own and share them in the comments below.
This article is featured in the September/October 2017 issue of The Saturday Evening Post. Subscribe to the magazine for more art, inspiring stories, fiction, humor, and features from our archives.