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Lonely words

Snowflake

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.

Flea poetry

Flea

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.

Gotham origin story

Gotham

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.

The great book theft

Propalladia

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.

Chaucer’s astrolabe

Astrolabe

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.