What does a narcissistic flying reptile that loves the taste of crispy dwarves have in common with a beetle that shoots hot, caustic liquid from its butt? More than you think.
Smaug breathes fire like a bloated Bombardier Beetle with flinted teeth, Kyle Hill explains in an article in Scientific American.
Unlike other aspects of the Hobbit book and film that are wholly magic, Smaug’s burning breath is actually one of the least magical, and can be wrangled into plausibility. Doing so involves looking inside a beetle’s butt, a Boy Scout’s satchel, and a bird’s throat.
Have you ever heard of Naomi Mitchison?
Though most of her books are out of print now, Naomi Mitchison had a vibrant career in which she wrote dozens of works, some bestsellers, ranging from science fiction to history.
She was a friend of J.R.R. Tolkien, lived to be 101, and watched the entire twentieth century unfold, embracing the idea of space travel, female sexual liberation, and the importance of Middle Eastern cultures in the modern world.
20 Embarrassingly Bad Book Covers for Classic Novels
“This week, we spotted a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad book cover for Stephen King’s The Shining over at the Guardian,” Emily Temple writes at Flavor Wire.
“It seems especially unfair for such a modern classic to be saddled with such an ugly cover, and so we were inspired to search the Internet for the worst covers to ever sully the faces of great books.”
38 Wonderful Foreign Words We Could Use in English
Sometimes we must turn to other languages to find le mot juste, Mental Floss tells us. Here are a whole bunch of foreign words with no direct English equivalent.
One of my favorites:
L’esprit de l’escalier (French)
Literally, stairwell wit—a too-late retort thought of only after departure.
Or, as a wit once put it:
Turn backward, turn backward
Oh time in thy flight,
I’ve thought of the comeback
I needed last night.
And speaking of comebacks…
History’s Greatest Replies
“Any attempt to compile history’s greatest replies—or history’s greatest anything, for that matter—is fraught with difficulty, so it might be more accurate to refer to the replies that follow as simply my all-time favorites,” Dr. Mardy Grothe writes at his web site. “All of them—along with many, many hundreds more—appear in my Viva la Repartee book.”
Primarily remembered today for his paintings, James McNeill Whistler also became a successful author with the publication of his 1890 book “The Gentle Art of Making Enemies.” An exceedingly witty man, he was one of the few people who could hold his own with the incomparable Oscar Wilde. In one legendary exchange, after Whistler had offered a particularly clever observation, Wilde said admiringly, “I wish I had said that.”
Whistler seized the moment, replying:
“You will, Oscar, you will.”
Perhaps the most celebrated retort in the history of wit occurred in a famous exchange between two 18th century political rivals, John Montagu, also known as the Earl of Sandwich, and the reformist politician, John Wilkes. During a heated argument, Montagu scowled at Wilkes and said derisively,
“Upon my soul, Wilkes, I don’t know whether you’ll die upon the gallows, or of syphilis.”*
Unfazed, Wilkes replied:
“That will depend, my Lord, on whether I embrace your principles, or your mistress.”
(some versions of the story say “a vile disease” and others “the pox”).
Quote of the Day
There are two novels that can change a bookish fourteen-year old’s life: The Lord of the Rings and Atlas Shrugged. One is a childish fantasy that often engenders a lifelong obsession with its unbelievable heroes, leading to an emotionally stunted, socially crippled adulthood, unable to deal with the real world.
The other, of course, involves orcs.
~ (Variously ascribed)