Recently, I chanced upon a page in Wikipedia entitled “At sign”. It contains a long list of the names which @ has in various languages. It is quite amazing that one sign can have been interpreted in so many different ways. Here is a selection (some of the names listed are not reported as the most common ones):
In Finnish it is a cat’s tail, kissanhäntä, or a miaow-miaow, miukumauku.
Russians prefer calling it a dog, собака (sobaka).
In Kyrgyz it’s a doggy, собачка (sobachka).
In Armenian a puppy, shnik. One of various names for it in Ukrainian is little dog, песик (pesyk). And in Kazakh it is sometimes a dog’s head, ит басы.
In Greek it is a duckling,παπάκι (papaki),
Another name for it in Ukrainian it is an ear, вухо (vukho).
In Kazakh the official name (dog’s head is unofficial) is the beautiful айқұлақ moon’s ear.
In Denmark, Sweden and sometimes in Norway it is snabel-A (elephant trunk A). In Faroese the same but written snápil-a. Read more…
In his book on Australia, Down Under, (entitled In a Sunburned Country in the USA and Canada), there is a moment when Bill Bryson is trying to find something to listen to on the radio while driving towards, if I recall properly, Adelaide. Nothing seems to be on the air. But, eventually, he comes across coverage of a cricket match. This gives him an opportunity to unleash a hilarious parody of cricket terminology and commentary styles. If you don’t know anything about cricket and can’t tell a square leg from a silly point or a third slip, have a look at the map of real fielding positions above, which may help you to understand what he is making fun of.
Eventually the radio dial presented only an uninterrupted cat’s hiss of static but for one clear spot near the end of the dial. At first I thought that’s all it was — just an empty clear spot — but then I realized I could hear the faint shiftings and stirrings of seated people, and after quite a pause, a voice, calm and reflective, said:
“Pilchard begins his long run in from short stump. He bowls and . . . oh, he’s out! Yes, he’s got him. Longwilley is caught legbefore in middle slops by Grattan. Well, now what do you make of that, Neville?”
“That’s definitely one for the books, Bruce. I don’t think I’ve seen offside medium-slow fast-pace bowling to match it since Badel-Powell took Rangachangabanga for a maiden ovary at Bangalore in 1948.”
I had stumbled into the surreal and rewarding world of cricket on the radio.
If you have watched any royal ceremonies involving the Queen of England, you may have noticed that she is the only person who doesn’t join in when “God Save the Queen” is sung. She can’t, of course. It would make no sense.
But I am sure that there have been times when she has sung it in private. How could one resist it? When she’s really worked up about something or, almost unthinkingly, in the shower. She would still need to change the words, though. This is what I think she sings:
“God save my gracious Me, Long live my noble Me, Go-od save Me!”
And, perhaps, people would enjoy it more if they too could sing those words instead of the standard version. In this selfie-littered age of self-display and ceaseless selling, this should, really, become everybody’s personal anthem.
Recently, I came across an article published in 1945 in the New Yorker entitled “Return to Place Pigalle”, where Joseph Wechsberg, originally from Czechoslovakia, describes returning to Paris as a US soldier and meeting the musicians he used to play with there in the 1920’s.
The musicians describe the experience of playing in Nazi-occupied Paris and leds to a discussion of a violinist-cellist called Maurice, who is remembered for the following:
After 2 A.M., by which hour many of the German customers, not having been brought up on Pommery and Veuve Clicquot, were under the tables, Maurice’s favorite sport was to get up and announce in German that the orchestra would play “Deutschland, Deutschland über Alles.” (Maurice had been born in Alsace and spoke German fluently.) The plastered Germans would crawl out from under the tables, make an effort to stand at attention and fall flat on their faces. The French customers would start laughing, and in the end an S.S. man who wasn’t quite drunk would call in the nearest patrol and have the drunken Germans arrested.
I think that this would make a marvellous sequence in a film. In fact, it would be even better if the gag was repeated two or three times in a row. Of course, there is no need for the soldiers to be Germans. I think that Russians would be a good alternative, simply on musical grounds, since the Russian anthem has a swaying quality to it which would well accompany the efforts of drunk soldiers to stand up straight. Even better perhaps, Chinese soldiers, once you know that the Chinese national anthem begins with the call qǐ lái (起来) – Arise! or Stand Up!
After a moment, I heard Baron Pips laugh quietly and asked why. He said : ” You sound just like Count Sternberg.” He was ancient and rather simple-minded Austrian nobleman, he explained. When he was on his death-bed his confessor said the time had come to make a general confession. The Count, after racking his brains for a while, said he couldn’t remember anything to confess. “Come, come, Count!” the priest said, “you must have committed some sins in your life. Do think again.” After a long and bewildered silence, the Count said, rather reluctantly, “Habe Hasen geschossen”—”I’ve shot hares”—and expired.
(After the meal in Oaxtepec/the owner of the restaurant/tells us with an/ irritating manner/that all his meat/is from Texas./I find that all this hormonality/is somewhat an abnormality./In Mexico everywhere/one finds traces of/Olmecs, Toltecs,/Aztecs, Mixtecs,/but whatever happened to/your Beefxstecs?)
(This poem is included in my book The Observation Car which is available from