When I was in high school -- so, many years ago (how many is left as an exercise for the reader) -- my English teacher, Ms. Reinhardt, gave us a set of puzzles: familiar sayings, aphorisms, and clichés in unfamiliar guise. Amazingly enough, I kept my copy all these years, and just ran across it this evening while searching for something else.
1. A lithoid form, whose onward course
Is shaped by gravitational force
Can scarce enjoy the consolation
Of bryophytic aggregation.
2. To carry haulm of cereal growth
The tylopod is nothing loath;
But just one haulm too many means
That dorsal fracture supervenes.
3. When, nimbus-free, Sol marches by
Across the circumambient sky,
To graminiferous meads repair --
Your instant task awaits you there!
4. There is no use in exhortation
To practice equine flagellation,
If vital forces did depart
And still the breath, and cease the heart.
5. That unit of the avian tribe
Whose movements one can circumscribe
In manu, as a pair will rate
6. For none who claims to represent
The Homo species sapient,
Will loiter Einstein's fourth dimension
Or sea's quotidian declension.
7. Faced with material esculent
As source of liquid nourishment
Avoid excess; 'twill but displease
Of culinary expertise.
8. Conducting to the watering place
A quadruped of equine race
Is simple; but he may not care
To practice imbibition there.
9. The coroner observed: "Perpend,
The death of this, our feline friend,
Reflects preoccupation shown
With business other than his own."
10. Of little value his compunctions
Who executes clavigerous functions,
When once from circumambient pen
Is snatched its equine denizen.
London in the nineteenth century was a seriously disgusting place to live, especially for the lower classes. Sewage was dumped into gutters along the street; it then ran down into the ground -- the same ground from which residents pumped their drinking water. The smell can only be imagined, but the prevalence of infectious water-borne diseases is a matter of record.
In 1854 there was a horrible epidemic of cholera hit central London, ultimately killing over six hundred people. Because the most obvious unsanitary thing about the place was the smell, the leading thinkers of the time thought that cholera came from bad air -- the "miasmal model" of contagion. But a doctor named John Snow thought it was water-borne, and through his tireless work, he was able to trace the entire epidemic to one hand-pumped well. Finally, after weeks and months of argument, the city planners agreed to remove the handle of the well, and the epidemic ended only a few days afterward.
The work of John Snow led to a complete change in attitude toward sanitation, sewers, and safe drinking water, and in only a few years completely changed the face of the city of London. Snow, and the epidemic he halted, are the subject of the fantastic book The Ghost Map: The Story of London's Most Terrifying Epidemic -- and How It Changed Cities, Science, and the Modern World, by science historian Steven Johnson. The detective work Snow undertook, and his tireless efforts to save the London poor from a horrible disease, make for fascinating reading, and shine a vivid light on what cities were like back when life for all but the wealthy was "solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short" (to swipe Edmund Burke's trenchant turn of phrase).
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