Word Ways


A. Ross Eckler


Starting in the 1920s, the column "Believe It Or Not" by Robert Ripley appeared in more than one hundred newspapers by 1930. Reading this as a boy, I was fascinated by oddities such as the English lad who died of old age before his seventh birthday, the Hindu who hung head downward for three hours at a stretch, and the girl born with a single eye in the middle of her forehead. I was also beguiled by the 210-letter word coined by monastic writers in the Middle Ages to enumerate the varieties of divination using birds, oracles, the Bible, ghosts, crystal-gazing etc., ending with wine and shoulder blades. (The word is reproduced in full in the August 1978 Word Ways.)