If people ask, ‘Where do you find these amazing stories?’ please feel free to mention the column, For Fact’s Sake, but make sure you pronounce it clearly.

Incontinent vowels

Last week, a bit of a rumpus broke out among contestants during the annual Overstrand Koeksisters by Kerslig Kompetisie held in a huge marquee overlooking the Old Harbour.

It all started with the answer to the above question. Pansy Visser, Captain of the Bredasdorp Bakkers was ‘misheard’ when she slightly dramatised the name For Fact’s Sake to her teammates (quite loudly in her quaint platteland accent, apparently), without paying too much attention to her vowel sounds.

Suster Julie Joubert from the parish next door was passing by their display table and froze in her tracks. “She shouted the f-word!” yelled the horrified Julie, spinning round and staring daggers at Pansy. Being the Bakkers’ captain though, Pansy wasn’t the type to back down, and still somewhat loose with her vowels, she launched off pompously:

“Well, factually…”

“Whaaat?” exploded the dagger-starer. “How do you know my name’s Julie?”

Then things got ugly. Curses, koeksisters and crockery flew about as tempers flared, but once the tables were overturned and chairs took to the air, the police had to be called. 720 koeksisters were lost in the fire.

So apart from minding your Peas and Queues, please mind your Ays and Yous. But moving on…

Palindromes

Some people spend their lives pursuing the strangest of topics. Words, from their diverse origins to their continuous evolution, have always interested me, but I wouldn’t spend years researching and fine-tuning just one specific aspect of the subject for fun. Not so with Peter Norvig though…

As we know, a palindrome is a word, phrase or number that reads the same backwards – ignoring capitals, spaces, punctuations etc. (from the Greek word meaning ‘back/again run’).

Single words are pretty common, like racecar, madam or level. But intrepid word nerds like our Peter feel compelled to create the longest palindrome their grey-matter and computers can conjure up – not only words, but phrases too. Out of morbid interest, the longest recorded, real, single-word palindrome is the Finnish for a soapstone vendor, and it deserves a plug – all 19 letters of it: saippuakivikauppias. This keeps Pete enthralled for hours.

Some better-known phrases are: A man, a plan, a canal – Panama, or Eva, can I stab bats in a cave? And also A Santa lived as a devil at NASA, or maybe sit on a potato pan, Otis. Fascinating stuff nè? As for numbers, the second of February this year was a once-off palindrome: 02/02/2020, but no one was injured.

Anyway, Peter isn’t satisfied with only unearthing new palindromes, he creates Apps for the various versions of his Word Palindrome computers, which can store up to 21 000 usable word/combinations. So, thanks to Pete, this is ideal for a rainy Sunday afternoon when you suddenly feel the urge to palin your drome. Can’t wait.

Physician, heal thyself

Devices of dubious medical worth, and without any real research were designed to solve all sorts of physical or mental ailments during the last few centuries.

The Psycograph for example, which was plonked onto the patient’s head, can only be described as a colander with 32 prong-like sensors sticking in and out of it. By adjusting the prongs, the ‘quack’ could determine the undulation of natural bumps/grooves on the patient’s cranium, and by calculating their amount and height, he would furnish a comprehensive diagnostic analysis of the patient’s personality – for job applications.

Then there’s the ‘therapy chair’. The patient was strapped into an electrically powered dentist’s chair which would judder and shake violently at sporadic intervals. This was claimed to cure constipation.

Some USA shoe shops in the 1950s boasted foot X-ray machines which showed shoppers images of their feet inside the shoes for accurate sizing, but all the while leaking serious radiation. They were only banned in the 1970sMore contraptions, similarly weird, are displayed in the Minnesota Museum of Questionable Medical Devices, if you’re passing by.

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