Those Wacky Germans

One of my favorite leisure activities is watching the Scripps National Spelling Bee, which admittedly aired like two weeks ago but in my defense I've been getting married and moving and weeping vociferously re. the United States national soccer team's loss to the Czeck Republic.

At any rate, any serious speller (and I myself was third runner up in the Audubon Park Elementary School spelling bee as a fourth grader) knows that the German is the Everest of languages. This year, for instance, both the winning word (ursprache) and the word misspelled by the adorably Canadian Finola Hackett (weltschmerz) were German. In a related story, they are fantastic words. Those wacky Germans have a word for everything.
Ursprache, for instance, means "the lost language of Paradise."

Weltschmerz, which is in the running to be my all-time favorite word ever, means "depression caused by comparison of the actual state of the world with an ideal state."

Other personal favorites from the world of German include "sitzpinkler," a word that plays a sizable role in my new novel and literally means "a man who sits to pee." How we have survived so long in the English speaking world without the word sitzpinkler is one of the great human mysteries; hopefully together we can bring it into the common lexicon so that one day young spellers in Washington, D.C. will stumble all over it.

For a great collection of German words in English, visit here--but keep your pop-up blocker on.

A Very Brief History of Chamber Pots

Some of the oldest chamber pots found by archeologists have been discovered in ancient Greece, but portable toilets have come a long way since then. Whether referred to as "the Jordan" (possibly a reference to the river), "Oliver's Skull" (maybe a nod to Oliver Cromwell's perambulating cranium), or "the Looking Glass" (because doctors would examine urine for diagnosis), they were an essential fact of life in houses and on the road for centuries. In this video from the Wellcome Collection, Visitor Experience Assistant Rob Bidder discusses two 19th century chamber pots in the museum while offering a brief survey of the use of chamber pots in Britain (including why they were particularly useful in wartime).

A Tour of the New York Academy of Medicine's Rare Book Room

The Rare Book Room at the New York Academy of Medicine documents the evolution of our medical knowledge. Its books and artifacts are as bizarre as they are fascinating. Read more here.


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