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Completely Useless Information

Below are lists containing facts and figures of things that are sometimes exotic, esoteric, on rare occasions erotic, but always worthless.

According to the Guinness Book of World Records (1985 edition), it's this:


It's the only surviving word/sentence from Khazar, a Turkic language. It means 'I have read [it]'. However, farther up in the citation Guinness says that Lemnian only survives in a 10-line inscription, making the second smallest literature, I guess.

My vote for the second smallest would be from Old Low West Franconian (spoken in Flanders and Brabant):

Hebban olla vogala nestas hagunnan hinase hi[c] [e]nda thu. W[at] [u]nbidan [w]e nu?

'All the birds have begun nests except for me and you. What are we waiting for?'

This was found in the binding of a Latin manuscript according to Orrin W. Robinson in his Old English and Its Closest Relatives.

Now think of what you have accomplished today: You've read the entire literature of two languages in the original and in translation. Wake up the kids and call the neighbors! 

I Just Can't Think of the Word
Here are some words that aren't—but should be.

  • kermish - I first came across this word from the Donny & Marie show. Yes, Donny and Marie (as in Osmond). They did a little comedy skit in which Donny would make up a word and then Marie had to guess what it was supposed to mean. I don't remember any of the other words, but this one means 'the dried out ketchup crud that collects at the top of a ketchup bottle'. I think it's a very useful word. And I have been known to use it. But, not surprisingly, it's never caught on. It was a portmanteau (as were the other words in the skit). The ke- was 'ketchup', but I don't remember what the -rmish stood for. I'm amazed I remember this.
  • inclimate - This is a word I made up because I don't know English. This is the way I used to spell inclement—as in inclement weather, which is basically the way it's always used. It also can mean 'not kind or merciful', according to my Randomhouse Webster's College Dictionary. Actually, I really do like mine better. The meaning I had in my mind was 'not of the climate' or 'weather contrary to the normal climate one would expect'. So, cold rainy weather in July is "inclimate" in Ohio. And you would have to make other plans if you were planning a reunion on that day. (This all came up in a letter sent to relatives when planning a family reunion.) It can also mean hot 70º weather in December in Ohio. So there—a very nice, useful word.
  • defunked - This is the way I actually spelled defunct (in a newspaper article no less). Luckily, my editor caught it. Still, I think it would be useful. It could mean 'losing ones funk' or 'having had funk removed'. He had the funk beaten out of him. He was defunked. I guess it's tantamount to losing ones mojo. Or, how about losing a funky smell: He finally took a shower. He's now defunked. Or: My kid wouldn't clean his stinking room. I had to give it a defunking. Unfortunately, I had to be the defunker. I suppose defunkable and defunkably would exist, too. Or, it could mean getting someone out of a funk when they're in one: He was in a funk, but I told him a joke and he laughed, so now he's been defunked.
  • snirt - Apparently this word does actually exist. I just heard it on Live with Regis and Kelly. Though Kelly had never heard of the word, it is known among snowboarders. It's the dirty, slushy snow on the ground that happens not long after a snowfall (snow + dirt).

Easiest Languages for English Speakers to Learn

A language gets on this list if it has a lot of speakers, is grammatically simple (pretty subjective, I know), can be fairly easily typed or used on the Internet, and textbooks and other learning materials can be found easily)

1st Spanish - a world language with a surprisingly uniform grammar given the number and diversity of its speakers

2nd Esperanto - hard to use letters (especially on a typewriter): ĉ, ĝ, ĥ, and so on; few speakers

3rd Portuguese and Italian (tie) - fairly simple if you have a background in Spanish

5th French

6th Norwegian

7th Dutch, Swedish, Danish, Greek, German

Some that really aren't all that difficult that may surprise you: Tajik and Panjabi.

The most difficult: Georgian.  You have to fight it every step of the way. And I mean every step. The alphabet is used only for Georgian (and a handful of related languages).You need special downloads and typewriters to use it.

I'm convinced that the ejective consonants are physically impossible to pronounce. These sounds exist only in Georgian and a few other places (native languages of the northwestern United States and western Canada).

Besides all this there are consonant clusters that really, really are impossible to pronounce: mc'vrteli 'trainer', gvprckvni 'you peel us'. Here's a Georgian tongue twister: Baq'aq'i mq'aq'e c'q'alši q'iq'inebs. 'The frog is croaking in the stagnant water'. The q' is a glottalized k-sound pronounced very far in the back of the throat. After you try to pronounce it, you'll croak.

The noun could be worse, I suppose, but the verb is linguistic crime against humanity. It conjugates for the subject, object and indirect object through a series of prefixes, suffixes, and circumfixes. There are all sorts of conjugational subtypes and irregularities. The subject of the verb can be in various cases and sometimes changes depending on which tense the verb is in or its meaning. Georgian was Stalin's mother tongue. Is anyone really surprised by that? Actually, I do enjoy studying it sometimes - especially when I'm feeling a little masochistic.

Welsh, Maltese, and Estonian also come to mind when thinking of difficult languages. With all three of these the difficulty comes in forming the plural of the noun. (And in Estonian some case forms are also difficult.) Each of these language has several dozen ways to form a plural (or to find the stem to form a plural).

There are some languages that are hard to learn, not so much because they are gramatically difficult, but because it's difficult to find (in English at least) reference materials and textbooks despite their having millions of speakers: Malagasy, Marathi, Malayalam, Chinese (non-Mandarin and non-Cantonese varieties), Burmese, Kazakh.

Buy One, Get One (or Two or Three) Free

If you're lazy like I am, you will be happy to know that there are languages you can learn that are so closely related to other languages that you essentially have learned one or two others in the process of learning the first one. The languages below are basically dialects of one another. Or, they are closely enough related that learning the other(s) wouldn't be that difficult at all.
  • Norwegian-Danish-Swedish
  • Irish-Gaelic-Manx
  • Tajik-Farsi-Dari
  • Spanish-Portuguese(-Italian)
  • Finnish-Estonian (Apparently, it's the northern dialect of Estonian that's easiest for Finns. Even southern Estonian can get complicated for other Estonians.)
  • Seneca-Cayuga (I think. But I think that all of the northern Iroquois tribes formed a kind of dialect chain in which each tribe could understand the neighboring tribe, but not necessarily the language two tribes over. German and Arabic [non-standard varieties] are the same.)
  • Czech-Slovak
  • Serbian-Croatian-Bosnian-Montenegrin
  • Macedonian-Bulgarian (Some Bulgarian linguists consider Macedonian a dialect of Bulgarian. Some dialects of Serbian [Torlakian] could be considered in this group.)
  • Russian-Belarusian-Ukrainian (Actually, all Slavic languages can more or less be lumped together if only basic forms of the languages are considered and/or they are neighboring languages like Polish and Slovak. More complex topics get to be kind of complicated.)
  • English-Gullah-Jamaican Creole
  • English-Scots
  • Latvian-Latgalian

Amazing Examples of Language Survival

1. Atures - This language was last spoken by a parrot. The parrot was found living with the Maypures of Venezuela by the scientist Alexander von Humboldt in the beginning of the nineteenth century. The parrot was a pet of the last Atures and it learned some of their language. The Atures died either of disease or were killed off by the Carib. The Maypures somehow ended up with the bird and they apparently told von Humboldt that they didn't understand what it was saying but they knew it was in the Atures language. A little bit more information can be found in Mark Abley's Spoken Here: Travels Among Threatened Languages.
2. Karankawa - The Karankawa lived on the Texas coast. They more or less died out by the 1850s. What few survivors there were might have moved to Mexico and were killed there by other Indians. (Though what white settlers, Comanche, and other Indians did to them in Texas would be considered genocide today.) What's kind of strange is that Alice W. Oliver was the last known speaker of the language. Oliver was a white woman who lived in Massachusetts. So how could this be? Oliver's father owned a ranch where the last speakers of Karankawa lived. He let them live on his land and let his daughter live with them. In a sense they acted as a babysitter for him. Apparently, she learned the language fairly well and she was one of the best sources (almost the only source) of information on the language and culture of the Karankawa. The linguist Albert S. Gatchet found Oliver in the 1880s.
3. Beothuk - The Beothuk lived in Newfoundland. They were also hunted to extinction. The last person that spoke Beothuk fluently as her first language was probably Shanawdithit who died in 1829. But there was a woman named Santu (Santu Toney), living in Boston as I remember the story, who made and sold baskets. Her mother was Micmac and Santu was a Micmac speaker. But her father was Beothuk and when she was small he taught her a Beothuk lullaby. In 1910 Frank Speck found Santu and she recorded the song for him on wax cylinder. Santu herself didn't know what the words meant and it's not entirely clear that it was actually a lullaby. But here we have a recording of a Beothuk song nearly a century after the last speaker died.

So what's the difference?

Over the years I've wondered about the difference between certain words that seem to mean the same thing but are apparently different or else there wouldn't be different names for these things. Take a look below to see what I mean.
  • Rabbit and hare—The main difference seems to be that rabbits give birth to and raise their young in burrows and hares don't. There are some other differences. Some confusion comes from some species of rabbit being called hares when they aren't. I guess.
  • Pigeon and dove—Strictly speaking, there really isn't any diffrence. "Pigeon" tends to be used for the larger of some 300 species of near passerines, and "dove" is used for the smaller ones.
  • Porpoise and dolphin—The differences are the shapes of the their beaks and of their teeth. I suppose to the general public it doesn't make a difference, but it does to biologists. The confusion comes from people calling small dolphins (or small dolphin species) porpoises. There are only six species of true porpoises. Further confusing things is that there are several dolphin species called whales, when they are not (killer whales).
  • Woodchuck and groundhog—These are words for the exact same species. It just depends on which part of the country you live in. Around here they are groundhogs. And they have nothing to do with hogs.
  • Pork, swine, pig, hog, and boar—Pork is the meat you eat. Thus we have "pork producers." Swine, pigs, and hogs are all the same thing. It just depends on what part of the country you live in. "Pig" just edges out "hog" here, I think, but "hogging" something (like the TV remote control) isn't unknown here at all (neither the term nor the annoying action). And the barn at our local county fair is the swine barn, not the pig or hog barn. And boars are just wild pigs.
  • quilt and comforter—To me, a comforter is just a simpler type of quilt, but I would be hard pressed to tell you, dear readers, what the real difference is. The local church ladies make something that has patchwork, is knotted, and sometimes has some limited quilting or appliqué (a name, a date, or a saying). They have always called these comforters. Wikipedia calls comforters a type of blanket, but it calls quits, well, quilts. The difference seems be that the layers of fabric are knotted as opposed to being quilted together, since they both have patchwork.
The World's Worst Spelling Systems

1st Thai - Well, where do we begin? The Thai spelling system comes originally from Sanskrit (an Indo-European language), through Khmer (an Austroasiatic language), to Thai (a Tai language). That's like using a system for Latin, modifying it for Arabic, and using the result for Guaraní! It was invented before 1283 and, not surprisingly, Thai has undergone some changes since then.

One change is a major tone shift. The Thai spelling system still reflects the old tones but they're not pronounced that way today. I should probably mention that Sanskrit and Khmer are not tonal, so the system had somehow to accommodate tones in the first place. It wouldn't have been that messed up if it weren't for the tone shift probably, but now it's really a mess. There are five tones in Thai today: high, mid, low, rising, and falling. To mark the tones, Thai does have tone marks, but there is an elaborate way of marking tones using certain formulas. The Thais use a system of tone marks and consonants designated as "high," "mid," or "low" consonants. For instance, you would think that a high consonant would mark a high or rising tone. It may have originally, but now a high consonant with a low tone mark is a low tone. A mid consonant with a low tone mark may mean a low tone or a falling tone. A low consonant with no tone mark is a mid tone. It's pretty complex but not all combinations occur. There are no words (apparently) with a low consonant and a rising mark for example.

Consonant letters are a mess in and of themselves. To a certain extent, things work: a kh-letter generally has a kh-sound, for instance, but to mark tone you have five(!) kh-letters to pick from. In Thai, to accommodate the tones, there are many letters for each sound - kind of like English c, k, q, and ck, but on steroids. There are only about twenty consonant sounds but forty-four letters for consonants. Yet the system is not symmetrical: There are two high kh's, three low, and no mid. There are six th's - two high and four low. There is only one b. On top of all of this, what sound a consonant has at the beginning of a syllable sometimes is not what it has at the end. Some initial s's are t's finally. Some initial r's and l's are n's when final. Some consonants are only found initially and can't be used finally. What's more an n-sound is sometimes "understood" to exist in some words but isn't even written!

To add to the confusion even more, if the syllable ends in a short vowel, or p, t, or k, no tone marks are used (probably because there are only three tones that can occur in this situation).

And there are irregular words that just don't follow the system, such as it is. And a couple of letters are obsolete and a few more are used in very few words. And there are silent consonants and "silenced" consonants. That sounds ominous, doesn't it? Actually, it's probably like gh in English. The sound no longer occurs in the word but is kept because historically it was there.

Sometimes, in two-syllable words in which the first vowel is an a-sound, the tone of the second syllable is determined by the first consonant in the first syllable.

The vowels are written above, below, and/or around the consonants. This is normal in Sanskrit and other Indic languages and this system works, but Thai has 38(!) vowels and diphthongs. No one should be surprised that there are silent vowels.

To complete the misery, Thais write all the words in a sentence as one word.

2. Faroese - Faroese (also "Faeroese" or "Færoese") has a nasty habit of keeping old spellings of words after the sounds shifted to other sounds centuries ago. Or the way they would have been spelled. The weird thing is that the words were never spelled that way because Modern Faroese was only written down in the 1800s. The Faroes are controlled by Denmark and all official writing was done in Danish.

The most glaring example of the craziness is the use of ð. It would have been pronounced like the th in this. It is almost always silent now. In a few words it's pronounced like a g but never th! In fact, the actual th-sound doesn't exist in Modern Faroese! The letter is there only to show where it would have been.

Each letter representing a vowel can be pronounced in at least three, and as many as five, different ways depending on which phonetic environment it is in. Diphthongs and triphthongs are not unusual but they are often repesented by only one letter. Consonants usually have two or three different pronunciations, too, depending on the phonetic environment. But never mind that Eingilskmaður 'Englishman' is pronounced something like Añdzilsmeavor or that (the relative pronoun) is pronounced something like . Any resurrected Viking could read it and that's what counts — if you could resurrect him and if he could read, that is.

The only advantage to this system is that written Icelandic is understandable to the Faroese to a certain extent, but the spoken language is completely incomprehensible to them. Many languages do this sort of thing - the deliberate use of historic old spellings - like Icelandic, French, and English, but few do it to the extent that Faroese does.

3. Urdu - (actually any non-Arabic language using the Arabic alphabet like Farsi, though Urdu and Sindhi are probably the worst offenders) The main problem is that Urdu has many more sounds than Arabic has – like retroflex and aspirated consonants. Arabic does not have these but does have emphatic consonants and, unfortunately, the emphatic letters made it into Urdu. This means the writers of Urdu had to scramble to find ways to write 'dh' and 'jh' but were stuck with two s's and two z's. There are also many more vowels in Urdu than Arabic. And Arabic doesn't write the short ones. Neither does Urdu and that just adds to the confusion. The system is such a mess that the Ottoman Turks gave up on it and Turkish now uses the Latin alphabet. Other (usually Turkic) languages in the Soviet Union were switched to first a Latin, then a Cyrillic, alphabet. Some went back to a Latin alphabet after they became independent like Azeri/Azerbaijani. (There are some who want to go back to the Arabic but these people are mainly religious nuts, I think. The Arabic system is just too much of a mess for these languages. By the way, there are different schemes for Farsi to switch over to a Latin system, but none of these have taken hold.)

4. Manx - Actually, Manx may qualify as the third or even second worst system. This is what I think after taking a look at (the very nice grammar) Practical Manx by Jennifer Kewley Draskau. I always knew Manx spelling was something of a wreck, but you really see how much it is in this book. For example, the diphthong [ei] can be spelled -aaie, -aie, -eih, -eiy, -oih, -oie, -eïe, -uy, and -eoaie! This is an extreme example, but it seems all vowel sounds can be spelled at least three or four ways. And each spelling may have two or three sounds. It doesn't get any better with the consonants. Palatalization isn't well represented in Manx spelling. And then there are the intrusive consonants. Bane 'white' may be pronounced [bedn], for example. Basically, you have to find every word in a dictionary to know how to pronounce it. And that ain't easy. Remember, there are only about 2,000 speakers of Manx so there isn't a lot out there. In fact, I'm surprised by the amount there is.

5. English - One of the main culprits is the loss of the gh-sound and the changes that that made to preceding vowels. The other one is the Great Vowel Shift. A few other consonant losses like the k in kn- and so on didn't help, nor did the transliteration system used for words borrowed from Greek (like ph and g in phlegm and ch as in chemistry). Latinates brought into English are fairly stable and regularly spelled but that system is at odds with the native English system. For instance, a ti before a vowel in a Latin derived word (like nation) is pronounced sh, but English already has sh for the sh-sound. The Greek system is fairly regularly spelled, too, but it's yet another layer of weird spellings for which perfectly good native English spellings could be used.

6. Irish and Gaelic - Irish and Gaelic have palatal and non-palatal consonants. On the surface, marking these consonants palatal is simple: A palatalized consonant is followed or preceded by an e or an i. A non-palatalized consonant is preceded or followed by an a, o, or u. But here is the problem: This system usually means that you have two or three vowels together. One will mark (non-)palatization, the other is the one you pronounce. But which one? So, for example, the 'Dáil' is the name of the Irish parliament. Is this word pronounced dal (with the d non-palatal and the l palatalized), or is it dil? In this case, it's dal, but only because the a is long. And a long vowel is the one pronounced. Most the time you don't have a clue because the vowel is short. And what in the world do you do with diphthongs? The consonant spellings are much more sensible and regular, though unusual for English readers (bh or dh, or mb at the beginning of a word).

7. Danish - Danish has changed but its spelling system has not. A phonetic feature called the stød (glottal stop) has arisen, but it's not reflected in the spelling. There are a lot of silent consonants too. There have been some successful spelling reforms, but the spelling still doesn't match pronunciation as well as Norwegian or Swedish.

8. Armenian - Armenian is generally easy to read but there are some issues. One of them was a consonant shift that merged some stop and affricate consonants. Reading isn't so much a problem but spelling a word is. Thus, in Western Armenian, there are two different letters for ts' (and two different letters for a lot of other consonant sounds). If you see it, you know how to pronounce it. But if you hear it, then you would have to have memorized it to spell it. It's maybe a little like licence/license—they're pronounced the same but you have to know how to spell it. Or maybe it's like picking c (before a, o, or u) or k in English. Some vowel letters are pronounced one way at the beginning of a word, but differently in the middle. But wherever they are in a word, they tend to be fairly regular pronounced. Thus one letter is always ye- at the beginning of a word, but always e in the middle. The biggest headache is the letter for the schwa-sound. It's sometimes written, but most of the time it's not. There are rules on when to pronounced or not and when to write it or not, but they are very complex and there are exceptions and irregularities.

9. Vietnamese - Vietnamese was first written in Latin letters in the 1600s. The system isn't horrible, but there are strange things it does that it wouldn't have to. The consonants are needlessly complicated though they're regularly pronounced. So, there is a ph for an f-sound, put no f. They have i and y with the same sound. Why not just use one or the other? The same is true with c and k. There has been some spelling reform, but it needs to go further. Some of this can be attributed to the language changing a little over the centuries and dialect differences, but some of the complications were written into the system from the beginning. The vowels are regularly pronounced but they are very overloaded—you have to mark them for tone (Vietnamese has six of them) and for quality, for lack of a better term. So, there is an unrounded u-sound and a rounded one, and each of these can be pronounced in six tones. Thus vowels with two accent marks are not unusual. A Vietnamese keyboard would be very slow to use.

10. French - It's not that French is spelled so irregularly, so much as it's very complex. Much of it has to do with keeping historical spellings. These can help in identifying which Latin word the French word comes from, but much of it is unnecessary, I think. The French have attempted some minor spelling reforms (some uses of the circumfix, for example), but these changes have been unpopular.

11. Bengali - There are three ways to represent the æ-sound, and it's not very clear on when to pronounce the inherent vowel. (If you know an Indic language, you know what I mean by inherent vowel.)

Unusual Words
Just some strange words I've come across.

  • Polish and polish - The pronunciation changes just because the first letter is capitalized. I don't think I've ever seen this is any other language.
  • resume and résumé - This kind of thing happens in a lot of languages.
  • Mann and (Isle of) Man - I think the British are more strict about this, but they actually change the spelling of the word depending on how it's used. Let's say you write: I'm flying to Mann on Tuesday. That's OK. But if you write Isle of before it, then Mann is changed to Man: I'm flying to the Isle of Man on Tuesday.
  • Schifffahrt - It's German for 'shipping'. Before the German spelling reform, one of the f's would have been dropped. Now you can have three of the same letter in a row.
  • šěsćašěsćdźesat - This is the most accent marks I've ever seen in one word. It's Upper Sorbian for 'sixty-six'. There are a couple of Czech words that have four accented letters right in a row, but I forgot to write them down when I was in Prague this summer. Maybe I'll find them again. Yes, I actually make notes in my head over such things!
  • -esniuosiuose - Well, this is really a suffix in Lithuanian. It's the longest affix I have ever found. It is the masculine locative plural comparative form of the pronominal (a.k.a. the definite or long) form of the adjective. So the word geras 'good' (masculine nominative singular) has the form geresniuosiuose.
  • leckererer—German for 'delicious' in the strong comparative masculine singular form of lecker

Famous Alsatian-Americans

Some of these are found in Norman Laybourn's L'Emigration des alsaciens et des lorrains du XVIIIe au XXe ciècle. Some I found on the very useful Ethnicelebs(.com). The problem in trying to find these is that many Alsatian-Americans call themselves German-Americans. My own grandfather did!

  • Barack Obama—is the President of the United States (duh!). He is a descendant of Hanß Gutknecht and his wife Anna Barbara Kieffer, and Johann Michael Grünholtz and his wife Magdalena Mitscher. They were all from Bischweiler. He's also a descendant of Johann Philipp Straub (wife Barbara) and Ulrich Stehle (wife Anna). The village they're from is unknown. President Obama is also a distant cousin of mine but through a different set of ancestors.
  • Harry S Truman—U.S. President. He is also a descendant of Hanß Gutknecht and his wife Anna Barbara Kieffer, and Johann Michael Grünholtz and his wife Magdalena Mitscher. As well, he's a descendant of the Straubs and Stehles. Thus, Obama and Truman are cousins.
  • Hillary Clinton—well, maybe. She has an ancestor named Antoine Martin who was from "France, possibly Alsace." That's all I can find on the Internet. Most of her ancestry is English, Welsh, and French-Canadian.
  • Tom Cruise—Tom has mostly Irish and German ancestry. Of his German ancestors, George Ramser was from Alsace.
  • Meryl Streep—If ancestor Lena Huber (born 1886) is the same Magdalena Huber (born 1886) that I found, then Meryl (actually Mary Louise) has several Alsatian ancestors, one of whom is from Aschbach.
  • Dwight D. Eisenhower—U.S. President. He's a descendant of Diebold Matter and Margaretha Küffer of Eckendorf, Alsace, and a descendant of Hans Keiser (village unknown), and Jacob Viet and his wife Maria Spachler from Altdorf. Eisenhower is a very distant cousin but through some Swiss Mennonite ancestors, not Alsatians.
  • Herbert Hoover—U.S. President. He's a descendant of George Yount (Jundt) of Niederbronn, Alsace.
  • Jack Nicklaus—golfer. Probably a descendant of Peter Nicklaus and Sophia Schwinderman from Bourscheid, France. The only problem is is that the only Bourscheid I've found is in Lorraine!
  • Harvey Firestone—tire manufacturer, descendant of Hans Nickolas Feuerstein
  • William Wyler (a.k.a. Wilhelm Weiller) - won Oscars for best director of Mrs. Miniver, The Best Years of Our Lives, and Ben Hur
  • Eugene Meyer, Jr.—owned the Washington Post.
  • Russell Louis Schweickart—astronaut of the Apollo-Saturn 9 rocket (March 3-March 13, 1969) which was the first piloted flight of a lunar space module.
  • Gen. John J. Pershing—of World War I (descendant of Frédéric Pfirsching)
  • Bob Newhart—actor, comedian. Probably he isn't Alsatian-American, although he has ancestors from near the border. However, for what it's worth, in one of his later series—the one in which he owns an inn in Vermont—the father of the inn's maid, who is very rich, responds to something outrageous that his daughter wants to do by saying, "But, darling, we're Alsatian!" The problem is I can't remember the name of the character or what she was asking to do!
  • Hans Albrecht Bethe—1967 Nobel Prize winner in physics
  • The Marx Brothers—Their father Samuel Marx (originally Simon Marx) was from Merzweiler.
  • Jeff Probst—host of Survivor. I'm not sure about this one. I have Probst ancestors who were from Alsace and earler from Switzerland, but I'm having problems trying to find Jeff Probst's ancestry.
  • Frank James Sensenbrenner, Jr.—representative of Wisconsin's ninth district
  • Eugene Victor Debs—presidential candidate of the Socialist Party in the 1920s. He ran from prison and got over a million votes. He is a descendant of Jean Daniel Debs.
  • Keith Olbermann—formerly of ESPN and currently Countdown. In the February 2008 edition of Men's Journal he said his ancestors were from Alsace-Lorraine.
  • The Statue of Liberty—was designed by Frederic Auguste Bartholdi who was from Colmar, Alsace. Statue's face was modeled on Bartholdi's mother's face. His mother's name was Charlotte Beysser.
  • Oberlin College—I don't know if you can really count this one. Oberlin College was named after pastor and philanthropist John Frederic(k) Oberlin who was from Strasbourg. Oberlin was Alsatian but was not Alsatian-American.
  • Léon Schlienger (a.k.a. Noël Regney) - He wrote the Christmas carol "Do You Hear What I Hear?" He also wrote "Goodbye Cruel World" which was sung by James Darren and became a number three hit in 1961. He wrote the English lyrics to the movie The Singing Nun which starred Debbie Reynolds as Dominique. Schlienger/Regney was born in Strasbourg. Schlienger was part of the Malgré-nous but managed to get into the French Resistance.
  • Frithjof Schuon—Schuon (1907-1998) was a philosopher and practitioner of Sufism who wrote about the underlying unity of religion. He was actually born in Switzerland, but his mother was Alsatian. His father was from southern Germany. After his father died young, the family moved to Alsace (Mulhouse). He has lived in various places but ended up in the United States in 1980.
  • Hubert Keller—Keller is a chef who owns a couple of restaurants called the Fleur de Lys in San Francisco and Las Vegas. He's written cookbooks and has been on TV in several series, including one on PBS.
  • Jean-Georges Vongerichten — Vongerichten is another chef who has several ventures and has written or cowritten several cookbooks. He is seen on The Kimchi Chronicles on PBS. The show is his wife's. His wife is Marja Allen who is Korean-African-American. It's a very interesting show, but honestly I'm even less into Korean food (and Japanese and Chinese) after watching it. There are just too many weird ingredients. I'm not nearly that adventurous.
  • Stephen Colbert—He's famous mostly for his political commentary, but take a look at his wiki for all the other stuff he's done. He is a descendant of Peter Ledermann (Leatherman) and Anna Maria Engel of Mattstall, Langensoultzbach, or Lembach. These are neighboring villages in Alsace.
  • Amelia Earhart—Ancestors on her father's side were from Herbitzheim.
  • Fred Astaire (Frederick Austerlitz)—His mother Johanna Geilus was born in the United States but some of her ancestors were from Alsace.
  • David Letterman—His ancestor Barbara Valerie Haberbusch was born in Alsace in 1846.
  • Matt Lauer—has an ancestor named Charles Stice/Carl Steiss from Alsace-Lorraine on his mother's side.
  • Michael Biehn—is an actor who's been in Logan's Run, The Terminator, Aliens, and other movies. He's a descendant of Johan/Jean Biehn of Riedseltz.
  • Tom Arnold—is an actor and comedian once married to Roseanne Barr. He's a descendant of Jacob/Jacques Arnold and Elisabeth Pfaltzgraff from Alsace, possibly the village of Rothbach.
  • Alan Arkin—is an actor with an ancestor named Selina Brunswick who emigrated from Alsace-Lorraine.
  • Ryan Phillippe—is an actor and ex-husband of Reese Witherspoon. He is a descendant of Johannes Adam Phillippi of Volksberg.
  • Fergie—(Stacy Ann Ferguson, Fergie Duhamel) is a singer with The Black Eyed Peas and an actor. Her ancestor is Jakob Gabel of Drunsenheim.
  • Jamie Lee Curtis—One of her ancestors is a George Reeb (1831-1913) from Zutzendorf.
  • Rob and Chad Lowe—They have various German ancestors. One of them was Eva Catherine Feuerstein from Berg und Thal, Alsace, though the source at World Connect may mean Berg, Alsace. Another ancestor is John Larrick (John La Roque), simply listed as originating from Alsace-Lorraine.
  • Mark Harmon—Harmon's surname was originally Hermann. He is a descendant of Jean Baptiste Hermann of Lützelhausen/Lutzelhouse.
  • Julia Louis-Dreyfus—is known from Saturday Night Live, Seinfeld, and Veep. Her great-great-grandfather was Léopold Louis-Dreyfus from Sierentz. He is famous was well. He founded the Louis Dreyfus Group. The company deals with agricultural commodity trading.
  • Julianne Moore (Julie Anne Smith, origially)—is an acress. Her Alsatian ancestors are Friedrich Lincks from Niederbetschdorf and Margaretha Saloma Haushalter from Oberbetschdorf.
  • Michael Pence—Vice-President of the United States. He has an ancestor named Johann Heinrich Frey from Lembach.
  • Jean-Joseph de Bart—was born in Hagenau. According to his wiki, he "was an Alsatian member of the French National Assembly, counselor to Louis XVI of France, and préteur royal and bailiff of Munster, who led the 'French 500' fleeing the French Revolution to America's Ohio Valley, where they founded Gallipolis on the Scioto River in 1790."
  • John Baptiste de Barth Walbach—was the son of Jean-Joseph above. He also has a wiki. John Baptiste was "an Alsatian baron who fought in the French Revolutionary Wars, was one of the few foreign-born senior officers in the US Army prior to the Civil War. On coming to join his father in America, he became an aide to Alexander Hamilton, rising to Adjutant General of the United States during the War of 1812. A career Army officer who served for over 57 years, he remained in active duty until his death at the age of 90, making him the oldest acting officer in U.S. history. During his long career he commanded most forts on the eastern seacoast: Fort Constitution, Fort Trumbull, Fort Severn, Fort Monroe, Frankford Arsenal, Fort McHenry, and Fort Pickens. His long career left behind many American place names." He was born in Münster.
  • Joseph Sittler—"an American Lutheran minister and theologian who taught at the Divinity School of the University of Chicago and the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago. He was also active in the Christian ecumenical movement, working with World Council of Churches and the National Council of Churches." This information comes from his wiki. His nephew is Walter Sittler, an actor in Germany. Walter Sittler holds dual American and German citizenship. His parents and siblings moved back to Germany in 1958. His wiki is auf Deutsch. Walter may be best known for his role in Der Kommissar und das Meer. Joseph and Walter's most recent ancestor from Alsace is an Eva Groshans (1856-1942) from Sundhausen.

Famous Manx-Americans

Not surprisingly, there aren't many of them.
  • Matthew Gray Goobler—An actor most known for his role on Criminal Minds.
  • Katy Perry
  • Danforth Quayle

Things That People Say or Write Which Are Not Grammatically Correct and Which Drive Me Crazy

First of all, I am NOT generally a person who is a grammatical stickler but for some reason these just set me off. Readers will find any number of grammatical and spelling errors on these pages. And I like the diversity of English non-standard dialects but for some reason...
  • Adding -wise to words where they really don't belong: travelwise, weatherwise.
  • People who don't know the difference between amount of and number of: a large amount of bread (bread - not countable), a small number of people - not amount of people - people are countable. I've seen people with PHDs screw that up. The same is true with less and few(er). But for some odd reason, messing these last two words up doesn't aggrevate me so much. I don't know why.
  • Using as far as as a preposition not a conjunction
  • Using which for and or simply for emphasis
  • Using 's for plurals - I may do murder if I see that too many more times.
  • Lousy spelling in basic words which are really not that difficult to spell. There is some complicated spelling in English. I'm talking about getting the simple stuff wrong.
  • Using past participles for past tense forms or vice versa.
  • Pronouncing especially as expecially. The same is true for escape and probably a few others.
  • Using he/she/it don't
English is expecially complicated spellingwise, which it is, but as far as some word's, well, a large ammount of people should know. They've all went to school, haven't they? Well, I guess they figure it don't matter.

Lyrical Misunderstandings

Here are the lyrics to songs I thought were the real words but, alas, were not. It's things like this that convince me I would be lousy at linguistic fieldwork.
1. Two places in Jesus Christ Superstar: In the theme song (I guess) it's, "Jesus Christ Superstar, do you think you're who they say you are?" I always thought it was, "Jesus Christ Superstar, who in the hell do you think you are?" I always thought this is why the musical was so controversial. I still think my version is a lot easier to sing.
The other place is Mary Magdalan's song (I like this one) to the sleeping Jesus. She says, "I've been changed, yes, really changed." I thought is was, "I've been changed, yes, rearranged." Well, yes, rearranged ... wink, wink, nudge, nudge, say no more, as the Monty Python folks would put it. This is why I always hated literature classes. I'd go one direction and the class would go in a completely different one because they could actually follow the damn book! I was always reading a completely different book (but with the same title).
2. In the overplayed "Hotel California," I think it's really, "one smell of the leaked gas rising up through the air" not one smell of "kalees cat" or "kaleeskat". I had no idea what kaleeskat was but I thought it might be related to something from the African civet, which apparently is used in perfumes (really - from a gland they have or something). I don't know why my mind made that jump. But it did. So in my mind he ran over a civet or something and had to stop for the night. African civets don't live in California (surprisingly), though some species of civet are called cats ("civet cat") even though they are not.
3. Mairzy Doats — This song I just learned was not even meant to make sense. I'm relieved to hear it. I'm not as far gone as I thought. There's a wiki which will explain more.
4. Jingle Bells — There is a phrase that has always sounded to me like "one horse, soap, and sleigh." That made some sense to me when I was very young because you could put wax or maybe soap on a sled to make it go faster. When I was much older, it then sounded like "one whore, soap, and sleigh." Well, that had me completely confused. I mean, I can see what you would do with a whore in a sleigh, but where does the soap come in exactly? Of course, it's actually "one horse, open sleigh."

Names So Nice You Have to Say Them Twice (Though Some of These People Have Been Very Naughty and Not So Nice)
    I don't know if these people had parents who had a sense of humor or just weren't very imaginative.

  • Boutros Boutros-Ghali - of the United Nations
  • Khader Khader - acting director at the Jerusalem Media and Communications Center in East Jerusalem. Here's a picture of him.
  • Dennis Dennis - a psychologist/jobs advisor person whom I saw on a TV special about ebay. Actually, I just found more about him - he's more of a confict resolution/human resources person.
  • Mahna Mahna (maybe better: Mahná Mahná) - I don't know if this is the name of the song or the name of the Muppet. Maybe both. You know what Mahna Mahna is. You've heard it a thousand times. Here is a clip on YouTube with Mahna Mahna singing Mahna Mahna with what I thought were two lovely pink cows but which are apparently snowths (whatever they are). Sadly, you will not be able to get it out of your head for the rest of the day. Sorry.
  • Lisa Lisa and Cult Jam - music group from the 1980s. Lisa Lisa's real name is Lisa Velez.
  • Duran Duran - 1980s English rock band
  • Jeannie Jeannie (or maybe Jeannie Genie) - what Jeannie on I Dream of Jeannie said her name was on first meeting Dr. Bellows. Why on God's earth do I remember this?
  • Ntuk Ntuk - a bodybuilder from Nigeria
  • Sidi Solimon Melli Melli - a Tunisian representative during the Barbary War(s)
  • Professor Steve Steve - the name of the stuffed panda at The Panda's Thumb. The Panda's Thumb is an anti-creationist website.
  • Bam Bam - Barney Rubble's son on the Flintstones
  • Abdullah Abdullah - was/is the foreign minister of Afghanistan and is/was running for president of Afghanistan
  • Sirhan Sirhan - Robert Kennedy murderer
  • José José - a singer I saw on Univisión
  • Ahmed Ahmed - actor/comedian who has been on Roseanne and The View
  • Ahmed Ahmed (No. 2) - a terrorist somehow involved in the bombings in Kenya and Tanzania. Apparently, there's another terrorist called Ahmed Khalfan Ahmed!
  • Elamawy Ahmed Ahmed - was/is the Minister of Manpower and Emigration in Egypt
  • Ahmed Dini Ahmed - (I don't know if this really counts because of the "Dini") former prime minister of Djibouti
  • Omawali Omawali—connected to UNICEF and the famine in North Korea
  • Dawson Dawson-Watson—a painter who died a few decades back. I happened to come across his name when a painting of his was on a recent Antiques Roadshow.
  • Sule Sule - or Sule Ya'u Sule and...
  • Jafar Jafar - These two are officials in Nigeria. They had some sort of confrontation. More information is here.
  • Thae Thae - a linguistics student at Purdue. She is Burmese. I found her name and the next two while trying to keep up on events in Burma.
  • Wai Moet Moet - another potential student at Purdue.
  • Ma Moe Moe - the wife of Burmese actor Dway, who recently died at a young age (41) and who apparently goes by only one name
  • Severino P. Severino—was a writer for Cleveland News. He covered the Sam Sheppard case in Cleveland in the 1950s. Severino was the only reporter that Sheppard allowed into his prison cell, as a relative of Mr. Severino's has pointed out.
  • Lola Lola - the name of the character Marlene Dietrich played in The Blue Angel (Der blaue Engel)
  • Pedro Gonzalez-Gonzalez - a character actor found mostly in John Wayne movies and other westerns as the comic relief. He was born Ramiro Gonzalez-Gonzalez and died in 2006. His grandson is Clifton Collins who played Perry Smith in the movie Capote. Collins has also been credited as Clifton Gonzalez-Gonzalez.
  • John St. John - a governor of Kansas and the Prohibitionist Party presidential candidate in the election of 1884
  • Rev. Thomas Thomas - a preacher who served the Welsh-American community in and around Knoxville, Tennessee, in the late 1800s
  • Breyten Breytenbach - a South African anti-apartheid writer. Does this count because of the -bach?
  • Hán Hán - China's most popular blogger and a rally car driver
  • Blarrfengarrr Blarrfengarrr - This is the way Betty White pronounced the name of a character she played on her recent appearance on Saturday Night Live. The name is actually spelled L-e-e S-m-i-t-h.
  • Láng Lǎng - A Chinese pianist with lots of YouTube videos. There is also a town in the state of Victoria, Australia, called Lang Lang. But the pianist has two different tones in his name so I don't know if you can count this one. They're really two different words.
  • Ahmad Ahmad - An Iraqi-born bodybuilder who lives in Sweden.
  • William Williams—a signer of the Declaration of Independence.
  • Gorilla gorilla - O.K., I suppose I really can't use this one. It's the scientific name of the western gorilla. A double name like this is not terribly unusual. Triple names are even possible: The western lowland gorilla, a subspecies of the western gorilla, is gorilla gorilla gorilla. Actually, humans are homo sapiens sapiens, if you use the subspecies name. All humans belong to homo sapiens sapiens. There was another subspecies of humans called homo sapiens idaltu.
  • Bona Bol Bol—made money selling sports utility vehicles to the Sudan People's Liberation Movement. He was featured in a recent Christian Science Monitor article. He is from the new country of South Sudan.
  • Anthony Anthony—compiler/artist/author of the Anthony Roll, the only complete illustrated inventory of the Tudor navy.
  • Francisco Félix-Félix and Guadalupe Félix-Félix—are a couple of cousins in the news in Cleveland for alleged possession of drugs.
  • Roberto Mamani-Mamani—is an Aymara artist from Bolivia. A short interview of him was shown on one of the local PBS channels.
  • Ài Wèiwèi—Sometimes seen as Ài Wèi Wèi. He is a famous Chinese artist and government critic.
  • Lǐ Bīngbīng—A Chinese actress who appears in American films. There is also a Fàn Bīngbīng.
  • Martin Martin—wrote the book A Description of the Western Isles of Scotland in 1703. He was a Gaelic speaker. His name in Gaelic was Màrtainn MacGilleMhàrtainn.
  • Griffith J. Griffith—Griffith Park in Los Angeles was named after him. He donated the land.
  • Nakoula Basseley Nakoula—Idiot who funded(?) the movie that may have played a role in the demonstrations in Libya (and other countries) that got an ambassador killed.
  • Carmelo Delgado Delgado—Puerto Rican who fought in the Abraham Lincoln Brigade. The brigade fought against Franco in Spain in the late 1930s.
  • Sir Isaac IsaacsAustralian politician
  • Yahya Yahya—Mayor of Beni Ansar, Morocco. He stormed one of the rocks on the Moroccan coast that Spain claims.
  • Ratu Udre Udre—The Guinness Book of World Records lists him as the world's most prolific cannibal.
  • Morton Morton—was a descendant of some of the Swedes who settled New Sweden in the 17th century. His house is an historical landmark.
  • Milos Milos—(maybe better: Miloš Miloš [originally Miloš Milošević]) was an actor in the Esperanto movie Incubus and The Russians Are Coming, the Russians Are Coming. He had an interesting life and death.
  • Víctor Víctor—His full name is Víctor José Víctor Rojas. He is a singer from the Dominican Republic.
  • Monier Monier-Williams—The second Boden Professor of Sanskrit at Oxford. His name was just originally Monier Williams but he changed it for some reason.

Countries I've Been To

In no particular order

  • United States—born here. States I've been to:
    • Ohio (born here)
    • Indiana
    • Illinois (only have seen Chicago O'Hare Airport)
    • Kentucky
    • Tennessee
    • Georgia
    • Florida
    • South Carolina
    • North Carolina
    • Virginia
    • District of Columbia
    • West Virginia
    • Pennsylvania
    • Maryland
    • New Jersey (OK, all I've seen is Newark Airport and an Econolodge in Carlstadt, but I've been there.)
    • New York
    • Massachusetts
    • California
    • Hawai'i
    • Washington* (I saw Point Roberts from Grouse Mountain, where the 2010 Olympics were later held, but I haven't actually been there.)
  • Canada-been there ten times (I think). Provinces I've been to:
    • Ontario
    • Québec
    • Nova Scotia
    • British Columbia
  • Mexico
  • Costa Rica
  • New Zealand
  • United Kingdom (England)
  • Isle of Man (not part of the United Kingdom)
  • France (all I've seen is Alsace really)
  • Belgium
  • Netherlands
  • Luxembourg
  • Germany
  • Switzerland
  • Austria (OK, I've only been inside Austria by about two feet, but I was in it.)
  • Liechtenstein (Never again. I would go to any country again—even Belarus—but not this one.)
  • Italy
  • San Marino
  • Czech Republic
  • Poland
  • Belarus (saw most of it in the back of police car)
  • Lithuania
  • Latvia
  • Estonia (very underrated—I'd love to go back)
  • Finland
  • Sweden
  • Denmark
  • Georgia (yes, the country and the state)
  • Greenland* (another one of those places I've seen but not actually been to—I flew over it)
  • Tunisia
  • Vatican City

Unfortunate Surnames
    These are real surnames I've come across. Now, don't say that I'm picking on people. I've had to go through this some myself. With a name like Franks I became "Frankie, the Keener Weiner" in second grade. We also had a dog named Oscar Meyer. I refused to call him that. I thought it was animal abuse. I guess in July in Ohio he was a hot dog...literally. And, yes, my emotional development stopped at the age of fourteen.

  • Fagg
  • Butt, Butts - While looking through some county histories I came across a Louise Butt who married someone named Fagg, so, if she wanted to keep her maiden name, she would be Louise Butt Fagg of Clay County, Indiana.
  • Schitz—found while doing genealogy. It's often Americanized to "Sheets."
  • Cock—also found while doing genealogy. It's Swedish. There are other spellings: Kock, Kok
  • Hooker
  • Loser
  • Waddle—I know a Fannie Waddle. Really!
  • Weiner—This name has to do with Wein or "wine." Wiener is also found. The two names are often mixed up. In German Vienna is Wien. Someone from Vienna is a Wiener like someone from Hamburg is a Hamburger and someone from Frankfurt is a Frankfurter.
  • Dick—It means "fat, thick" in German.
  • Hollowpeter
  • Everhard—This guy and the one above were in the same class.
  • Head
  • Hogg—Big Jim Hogg, a former governor of Texas, had a daughter named Ima. Soooo, she was Ima Hogg. She hated the name. She had a very interesting life. She did not have a sister Ura.
  • Pigg—The announcer on Kelly and Michael is Tony Pigg.
  • Looney—A Manx surname
  • Belcher
  • Cuntz
  • Fux—There is also German Fuchs (Fox). I'm not sure Fux and Fuchs are etymologically related.
  • Hurlbut
  • Smallwood
  • Poo—Chinese surname. Pu or Bu in Pinyin?
  • Wang—Chinese surname
  • Dong—Chinese surname
  • Kook—From German Kuch?
  • Nutter
  • Philpott
  • Titcombe
  • Glasscock
  • Pecker