By Margaret Lucke
I enjoy doing research for my books I'm writing and for classes I'm teaching because it leads me to all kinds of fun facts I wouldn't otherwise know. Once I get started, one interesting fact leads to another, and to another. Join me in meandering down a road of fun facts about words, writers, and literature.
>> Do you know the longest word in the English-language dictionary? It is pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanokoniosis, which is a lung disease contracted from inhaling volcanic particles. It contains 45 letters (I counted so you wouldn't have to). But its primacy is challenged by the chemical name of a giant protein known as titin, which has 189,819 letters and, it is estimated, would fill around 57 if printed in a typical book. A YouTube video of a man pronouncing the word runs almost as long as the film Gone with the Wind.
>> That long p-word disease isn't much of a problem for writers, who are more likely to be afflicted with colygraphia, which sounds serious enough to earn us plenty of tea and sympathy. Most of us call this problem by its more common name -- writer's block.
>> After you recover from your colygraphia, it's time to get back to work. Before you know it, you may find yourself complaining about mogigraphia, or writer's cramp.
>> Someone who probably suffered from mogigraphia was Peter Bales, who earned fame in Elizabethan England for his skill as a scribe and calligrapher. In 1590 Bales transcribed a complete copy of the Bible so tiny it could fit inside a walnut shell.
>> Although Bales was known to engage in contests and rivalries, I don't know if he produced his Bible to win a wager. But some have taken pen in hand in order to win a bet. For instance:
* Editor and publisher Bennett Cerf bet Dr. Seuss $50 that he couldn't write a book using only 50 words. Seuss responded by writing Green Eggs and Ham.
* Ernest Hemingway famously won a bar bet when his drinking buddies each put $10 in the pot and challenged him to write a story using only six words. Hemingway scribbled these words on a napkin -- "For sale: baby shoes, never worn" -- and collected the cash. This has led to an entire genre of six-word stories, some of which can be found at www.sixwordstories.net.
* Agatha Christie wrote her first book, The Mysterious Affair at Styles, after her older sister bet her that she couldn't write a mystery novel in which the reader couldn't guess the murder even though given the same clues as the detective -- who in this case is Hercule Poirot.
>> Christie's other famous sleuth is Miss Jane Marple. But Miss M. was from the first female detective. That honor may belong to the heroine of a novella by E.T.A Hoffman that was published in 1819, more than a century before Miss Marple made her appearance. Both the sleuth and the novella are named Mademoiselle de Scudéri. That's the same E.T.A. Hoffman, by the way, who wrote The Nutcracker and the Mouse King, which formed the basis of Tchaikovsky's Christmastime ballet.
Who knew all these cool bits of trivia? Well, I know them, thanks to my research journey and the stops I made along the way. And now so do you.