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11 Inscriptions on Buildings That Tell It Like It Is

January 16, 2014
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People have carved inscriptions onto buildings since ancient times. They usually contain wise advice or admonitions. The Temple of Apollo at Delphi says "Know Thyself," and legend has it that an inscription above the door of Plato's school read "Let no one ignorant of geometry enter here." The practice carried over to humbler buildings, like personal dwellings and shops, and got a boost in popularity with the classical revival of the Middle Ages. Most inscriptions favor fancy Latin proverbs and religious scripture but sometimes they get a little more creative. Here are 11 inscriptions on (mostly) old buildings that tell it like it is.

1. Plaza Entrance in Amsterdam

Homo sapiens non urinat in ventum

This quote, which you can see in the photo above, translates to "A wise man doesn’t piss into the wind." Built in the 1990s, so not exactly an old building yet, but advice for the ages.

2. On a house in Norfolk, UK

Nec mihi glis servus, nec hospes hirudo

This inscription—"No doormouse as servant for me, neither a horse leech for a guest"—was no doubt inspired by an overstayed welcome. Stay away mooches!

3. Almshouse in Herefordshire, UK

Leominster History

"He that gives away all before he's dead, Let 'em take this hatchet and knock him on the head."

Illustrated with the figure of man holding an axe, naked but for his hat, shoes, and a strategically placed knot of fabric. One story (of many) says it refers to the man who founded the almshouse and got into so much debt from building expenses, he ended up spending the rest of his days as a resident.

4. Doorway in Essex on Hilly Road

"The dumb animals' humble petition
Rest, drivers rest, on this steep hill,
Dumb beasts, pray use with all good will.
Goad not, scourge not, with thonged whips;
Let not one curse escape your lips.
'God sees and hears.'"

Someone on that hill got sick of hearing all the shouting and abuse.

5. Under the Coat of Arms, Knowsley Hall in Lancashire

Wikimedia Commons

“James, Earl of Derby, Lord of the Man and the Isles, grandson of James, Earl of Derby, and of Charlotte, daughter of Claude, Duke de la Tremouille, whose husband James was beheaded at Bolton, 15th October, 1652, for strenuously adhering to Charles II, who refused a bill passed unanimously by both Houses of Parliament, for restoring to the family the estates lost by his loyalty to him, 1732."

The politics are complicated, but it means something like, "I'm putting this here as the grandson of the guy that got beheaded defending Charles II, that jerk who when he got back into power couldn't be bothered to pass a bill that would have given my grandfather's estate back to us. But look, we got it back anyway."

6. Houses in Buckinghamshire

"Peace on Earth, Good Will Toward Women."
"An Obedient Wife Governs Her Husband."

Among the inscriptions on the 31 houses of Harleyford village are some that are pretty forward-thinking for the 17th century. Must have been a nice neighborhood.

7. Adare Manor House, co. Limerick, Ireland

Sceptre Tours

"This goodly house was erected by Wyndam Henry, Earl of Dunraven, and Caroline his countess, without borrowing, selling, or leaving a debt, A.D. 1850"

Well, good for you, but you don't have to brag about it. Unfortunately for their descendants, the house proved too expensive to maintain and it was sold to an American businessman in 1984. It's now a lovely hotel.

8. On the Town Gate in Galway, Ireland

"From the ferocious O'Flaherty's, Good Lord deliver us!"

The gate is no more, but legend has it the citizens of Galway erected one in the 1500s with this inscription on it. Another account, unsupported by the historical record, has it that the gates at the other entrance-points to the city read as follows: "From the devlish O'Dalys, Good Lord, defend us!"; "From the cut-throat O'Kellys, Good Lord save and keep us!"; "From the murderous O'Maddens, Good Lord, preserve us!"

9. House in Baumkirchen, Austria

Dies Hause gehört mich nein,
Der nach mir kommt auch nicht sein;
Man trug auch den Dritten, hinaus:
Ach Gott! wem gehört dieses Haus?

"This house belongs not to me,
Neither to him who comes after me;
They carried out the third also (to burial):
Ah God, to whom belongs this house?"

In other words, "Yeah, I guess this is my house, but not really, because nothing actually belongs to us anyway, 'cause we're all gonna die."

10. Various Places in Bavaria, Germany

Extra Bavariam nulla vita, et si vita, non est ita.

This inscription reads, "There's no life outside Bavaria, and if there is, it isn't life at all." And you thought Texas had state pride.

11. A Sundial on a House in Northhamptonshire.

"We shall die all."

Pretty gloomy. Like, "look at the clock, and be reminded how little time you have left." But it sounds less gloomy when you realize it's a pun on "dial." Get it? Sundial? Die all? Feel your gloom being replaced by annoyance?

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This Week's Best Amazon Deals You Can Still Get
April 30, 2017
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As a recurring feature, we share some amazing Amazon deals we’ve turned up. These items were the ones that were the most popular with our readers this week, and they’re still available.

Mental Floss has affiliate relationships with certain retailers (including Amazon) and may receive a small percentage of any sale. But we only get commission on items you buy and don’t return, so we’re only happy if you’re happy. Good luck deal hunting!

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Rubbermaid 17.3 Cup FreshWorks Produce Saver Food Storage Container, Large, Green for $11.24 (list price $16.99)

ISSIKI JAPAN Professional 8 Inch Chef's Knife, High Carbon Stainless Steel, Sharp Cutlery, Ergonomic Handlefor $29.99 (list price $125.00)

OXO Good Grips Nylon Potato Masher for Non-Stick Cookware for $6.99 (list price $9.59)

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Bellemain Stainless Steel Measuring Cup Set, 6 Piece for $18.95 (list price $24.95)

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Prepworks by Progressive Berry Keeper for $7.99 (list price $9.49)

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Oster TSSTTRJBG1 Jelly Bean 2-Slice Toaster, Grey for $29.99 (list price $34.99)

Prepworks by Progressive Lettuce Keeper - 4.7 Quart for $11.99 (list price $12.99)

Norpro Stainless Steel Commercial Potato Ricer for $27.84 (list price $43.99)

Stainless Steel Kitchen Funnel with Removable Strainer/Filter for Essential/Cooking Oils, Flask Funnel for Transferring of Liquid, Fluid, Dry Ingredients & Powder, 5- Inch,Silver - HOXHA for $9.98 (list price $23.68)

POPCO Silicone Microwave Popcorn Popper with Handles for $9.99 (list price $34.99)

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Adjustable Heavy Duty Bed Sheet Grippers Holders Cover Suspenders (Set of 4) for $8.99 (list price $11.99)

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Warner Bros., IStock
History
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When the FBI Went After Mad Magazine
April 29, 2017
Original image
Warner Bros., IStock

In a memo dated November 30, 1957, an agent with the Federal Bureau of Investigation identified as “A. Jones” raised an issue of critical importance: "Several complaints to the Bureau have been made concerning the 'Mad' comic book [sic], which at one time presented the horror of war to readers."

Attached to the document were pages taken from a recent issue of Mad that featured a tongue-in-cheek game about draft dodging. Players who earned such status were advised to write to FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover and request a membership card certifying themselves as a “full-fledged draft dodger.” At least three readers, the agent reported, did exactly that.

Mad, of course, was the wildly popular satirical magazine that was reaching upwards of a million readers every other month. Published by William Gaines, who had already gotten into some trouble with Congress when he was called to testify about his gruesome horror comics in 1954, Mad lampooned everyone and everything. But in name-checking the notoriously humorless Hoover, Gaines had invited the wrong kind of attention.

The memo got several facts incorrect: Mad had switched from a comic book to a magazine format in 1955, and it was Gaines’ E.C. Comics that had “presented the horror of war” in other titles. Despite getting these crucial pieces of information wrong, Jones didn’t hesitate to editorialize: "It is also of interest to note that…it is rather unfunny.”

The agent recommended the Bureau’s New York offices “make contact” with Mad’s headquarters to “advise them of our displeasure” and to make sure “that there be no repetition of such misuse of the Director’s name.”

Less than a week later, the Feds entered the hallowed hallways patrolled by Alfred E. Neuman. Their New York office would later report to Hoover directly that they had met with John Putnam, the magazine’s art director. (Conveniently, Gaines was not in that day.) Putnam told the agents he regretted the magazine using Hoover’s name and that nothing malicious was intended:

Putnam said that the use of the membership card and the name and address of the Director at the end of the game was referred to in their business as a 'gag' or 'kicker' in the same way that a comedian like Bob Hope or Milton Berle might use it.

Putnam swore that Mad would never again take Hoover’s name in vain; Gaines sent off a letter of sincere apology to the Director.

The Smoking Gun

Just two years later, in January 1960, Agent A. Jones was forced to file a second notice about the shenanigans at Mad. A recent issue had made not one, but two derogatory mentions of Hoover, including one in which he is blatantly and disrespectfully portrayed as being associated with a vacuum cleaner, “The Honorable J. Edgar Electrolux”:  

Obviously, Gaines was insincere in this promise…and has again placed the Director in a position of ridicule…it is felt we should contact Gaines…and firmly and severely admonish them concerning our displeasure…

It was by now clear Mad was not only polluting young minds, but that Gaines had absolutely no regard for the honorable Hoover’s position.

In June 1961, the FBI’s worst fears had been realized. Detailing an investigation into a Seattle-area extortion attempt led to the following:

Investigation … resulted in gaining admissions from the victim’s 12-year-old son and an 11-year-old companion that they had gotten the idea of preparing an extortion letter after reading the June issue of 'Mad' magazine.   

Working in concert with the Buffalo field office, the FBI determined another letter had been sent by a young boy demanding money in the style of a recent issue’s extortion advice. And there was a third under review that was sent to the agent of some professional wrestlers.

Mad was quickly becoming the scourge of the federal government. The FBI suggested the magazine be brought to the attention of the Attorney General for “instructing [readers] to deliberately violate the Federal Law.” They tried reaching out to Gaines, who was on vacation. (Time and again, Gaines simply not being in the office when called upon seemed to confound the FBI.)

Agent A. Jones, having exhausted all attempts to reason with these irresponsible anarchists, filed one last memo:

Despite assurances, they have continued to publish slurring remarks about the Bureau. In view of this situation, it was deemed useless to protest all such irresponsible remarks to a magazine of this poor judgment and capriciousness … we will have to wait and see if our action will result in increased discretion by this publication.

Poor A. Jones was unable to put an end to Mad’s reign of terror. But the magazine redeemed itself somewhat. In the 1970s, when the Bureau was trying to suppress the influence of the Ku Klux Klan, an agent suggested they copy and distribute a sticker from the magazine that read, “Support Mental Illness—Join the Klan!”

Hoover said no.

Additional Sources:
The Smoking Gun.

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