Flother is another word for a snowflake. It appears only once, in a 1275 CE book. The poison that killed Hamlet’s father in Shakespeare’s play, hebenon, is mentioned nowhere else. These are the hapax legomena, the lonely words.
Existential and spiritual crises seem to appear in the middle of the night – at least, according to various Catholic saints, poets, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Sparklehorse and Danger Mouse they do.
Fleas are not an obvious topic for poetry. And yet it is the core of both the shortest poem in the English language and the dodgiest erotic poem ever written by a cleric of the Church of England.
Batman lives in Gotham City. Where did the name come from? Its history follows a circuitous route via the 19th century equivalent of Mad magazine, smart idiots who hated public infrastructure, goats, and Robin Hood’s King John.
“That that is is that that is not is not is that it it is” – add punctuation, and this sentence transforms from babble to sense. But, depending on which punctuation you add, it can make four different sentences.
In the early 1970s, Frede Møller-Kristensen stole US$50 million worth of rare books from Denmark’s Royal Library – it was one of the most expensive book thefts in history. He was eventually caught, but only because he died.
Some of the most inspired cartoonists of the 21st century all started off in a single studio space in Brooklyn: Pizza Island.
Is modern thought more advanced than the Greeks and Romans? Most people fall on the side of “duh, of course,” but in 16th century France the debate between the Ancients and the Moderns was fierce.
Poggio Bracciolini was a key instigator of the Italian Renaissance: he recovered or rediscovered many of the Latin texts that would inspire that storied revival. Also, he loved a good fart joke.
Geoffrey Chaucer is best known as the author of The Canterbury Tales, one of the most important works of early English literature. I guess that didn’t pay the bills, because he also wrote one of the first English technical manuals.