Did you know that the English alphabet once had 27 characters? It used to be:

a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z &

Raise your hand if you have just read the last characters as “X, Y, Z, ampersand!” 🙂 If you did, you’ve just once again propagated a mistake made centuries ago.

In the early 1800s, school children often ended their alphabet recitations with “ex, why, zed, and per se and.” Per se means by itself in Latin, so and per se and means and ‘and’ by itself. Over time, the words and per se and became clumped together and, like a bad (or really good) game of telephone, the words became ampersand.*

The history of the ampersand is quite interesting in and of itself (an interesting history per se?), but its story is merely here to introduce the concept of a mondegreen: the mishearing and misinterpretation of something due to some mistake in pronunciation or sound perception.

The term mondegreen came from Sylvia Wright, an early 20th-century American writer. At a young age, Wright had read a 17th-century ballet called The Bonny Earl O’Moray. In it, the pivotal lines are:

Ye Highlands and ye Lowlands,
Oh, where hae ye been?
They hae slain the Earl O’ Moray,
And laid him on the green.

Except, when read aloud, Wright had misheard the last line as:

And Lady Mondegreen.

This, of course, had produced an effect that the writer probably did not at all intend.

Wright admitted that she had perceived that someone had slain the bonny Earl AND Lady Mondegreen and that the two of them lay dying together. In truth, there was never a woman mentioned in the four lines – and, thus, was born the word mondegreen.**

As a side story: my discovery of this word, in turn, led me to look up a related word “game” called a holorime (or holorhyme).*** This is a type of verse where a rhyme maintains itself across an entire line or phrase. For example:

Poor old Dali loped with an amazin’ raging cyst, as
poor Roald Dahl eloped with Anna-May’s enraging sisters.

— Steven F. Smith

Not that anyone of us will go out and immediately start rhyming whole sentences; nevertheless, it’s still interesting to know that there’s actually a word that describes our ability to fantastically misunderstand something. It’s thanks to Wright, that, decades later, we now have a specific term to describe this pretty entertaining Volkswagen commercial:

new line
*The character ‘&’ itself was the result of combining the letters ‘e’ and ‘t’ (et is and in Latin).
**Portuguese actually also has a word describing this phenomenon: virundum.
***In French, one can produce these vers holorimes/olorimes as well. Par exemple:

Par les bois du djinn, où s’entasse de l’effroi,
Parle et bois du gin, ou cent tasses de lait froid.
(By the woods of the djinn, where fear abounds,)
(Talk and drink gin, or a hundred cups of cold milk.)

– Alphonse Allais

Want to read more about other uncommon words? 🙂 See the Interesting Words page.

Wikipedia – Holorime
Wikipedia – Mondegreen
Wikipedia – Vers holorimes

Time Writer 1.1 (Android)

To download, please see the download page.
For the previous version, see Time Writer 1.0.

I’ve made a few small alterations to this app:
1. Both Portuguese (Brazilian) and Portuguese (European) have been combined into one language option: Portuguese. This is because, at least for telling time, there is no difference between the two.
2. When reading the time (written out as words), you can now copy the contents via the options menu. A quick confirmation message will appear to show you what you’ve copied.

For the previous version, see Time Writer 1.0.
To download, please see the download page. I hope you enjoy it!

Time Writer 1.0 (Android)

To download, please see the download page.
For the next version, see Time Writer 1.1.

This is my second Android app and the first to be on its own, not an extension of a PC app that I’ve made. I started making this program to learn how to tell time in different languages. Thanks to the app Number Writer that I’ve made previously, this one came into fruition relatively quickly.

The ability to tell time is something extremely basic that all language learners have to do at one time (pun intended :P) or another. Much like the last program I made, this one came about due to the curious fact that there seems to be no reliable service to give you translations of time. Check out these Google Translate results:

English to Mandarin (Traditional):
It’s twelve sixteen. becomes 這是一二一六年. (Meaning: It is 1216. – this is wrong on 2 levels, because (1) you can’t say “這是” in Chinese for time, and (2) it translated twelve sixteen into the year 1216 and not the time 12:16.)
It is eight nineteen. becomes 這是8點19分. (Meaning: It is 8:19. – like above, it still literally translates “it is” into “這是” and, furthermore, it didn’t write out 8 and 19, leaving the reader unable to say it out loud if he/she can’t read numbers.)
English to Vietnamese:
It’s nine fifteen. becomes Đó là chín mười lăm. (Meaning: That is nine fifteen. – this is wrong on 2 levels, because (1) you can’t say “đó là” in Vietnamese for time, and (2) you can’t say “chín” and “mười lăm” without any time units.)
It is nine fifteen. becomes Là chín mười lăm. (Meaning: Is nine fifteen. – aside from the mistakes pointed out above, a simple removal of the apostrophe yielded an entirely different translation, this is just plain weird.)
English to Portuguese:
It’s six ten. becomes São seis de dez. (Meaning: It’s six of/from ten.)
It is one thirty. becomes É uma meia. (Meaning: It is one half. – should actually be “É uma e meia.”)
English to German:
It’s ten fifteen. becomes Es ist 1015. (Meaning: It is 1015. – like Mandarin, it assumes this is the year and not the time.)
Vietnamese to German:
Bây giờ là sáu giờ hai mươi. (Meaning: It is now six twenty.) becomes Jetzt 26 Stunden. (Meaning: Now 26 hours. – Just… plain wrong.)

These translations are pretty bad, and there’s no reason why they should be so. That’s why I’ve made this new program.

The app itself is very easy to use. You run it and it’ll display the current time (in 24-hour format), with an arc that tells you how far along in the day it is. When you tap the time, it’ll show you the time written out in plain language. You can use the menu to change what language(s) you want to see, and you can use the volume buttons to scroll through your selections.

In this first version, you’ll have 13 language options: English, French, German, Italian, Korean (Hangul), Latvian, Mandarin (Traditional and Simplified), Portuguese (Brazilian and European), Russian (Cyrillic), Spanish, and Vietnamese.

For this app, there are 2 color schemes (light blue on black and dark orange on white). The colors will change automatically depending on the level of ambient lighting.

There’s currently only 1 version of this app, but the good news is that it’s FREE! 🙂 So go check it out!

For the next version, see Time Writer 1.1.
To download, please see the download page. I hope you enjoy it!

Number Writer 1.0 (Android)

To download, please see the download page.

After having made a number writing program earlier last month (see Number Writer 2.0), I’ve finally finished making and distributing a similar program for smartphones (specifically for Android). Luckily, the learning curve was not as steep as I had feared. 🙂

Much like its PC predecessor, this app has the ability to convert from numerical digits to words and back – in 16 different language options:
– English
– French
– German
– Italian
– Korean (Hangul and Romanized)
– Latvian
– Mandarin (Traditional, Simplified, and Pinyin)
– Portuguese (Brazilian and European)
– Russian (Cyrillic and Romanized)
– Spanish
– Vietnamese

Although there is only one operating system this time around, there are a total of 3 versions: FREE, STANDARD, and ULTIMATE.
The FREE version will include English as its only option, with no negatives or decimals allowed, and maxes out at 1000 (one thousand).
The STANDARD version will include all languages, with no negatives or decimals allowed, and maxes out at 1000000 (one million).
The ULTIMATE version will include all languages, with negatives and decimals allowed, and maxes out at 1000000000 (one billion).

This is the first real Android program I’ve ever written. Please let me know what you think. If you are interested in becoming a tester, a free copy of any of the above versions can be made available. There are some strings attached though, so please contact me personally (at and we can discuss the details. 🙂

To download, please see the download page. I hope you enjoy it!

duotrigintillion / sexdecilliard / triacontatrillion

Since I’m currently writing a program that deals with a lot of numbers, I’ve decided to write a post about some interesting numbers today. 🙂

Unbelievably enough, the words duotrigintillion, sexdecilliard, and triacontatrillion can actually all mean the exact same thing. They’re all words that mean this number: 1099 (that’s the same as a tenth of a googol)!

Why must we have a word for this specific number, when we could, much more simply, write 1099? I don’t know the answer to that, but I CAN tell you why there are three different words for the same value. 😛

In English, we name large numbers (n) with the suffix -illion. Billion and trillion use the Latin prefixes bi- (n = 2) and tri- (n = 3). Continuing this pattern, we build new words using the formula 103n+3.

In Europe, the same names are used, but for the pattern 106n.

The most common example of this difference is probably the number 109. In English, the word is billion, where as in European languages, it would be milliard (and billion would actually mean 1012).

This all rather put me in mind of another misunderstanding about numbers. George Bush was (allegedly) informed during the Iraq war that three Brazilian soldiers had been killed. “Oh my God!” he said “That’s terrible. Remind me again – just how many is a Brazilian?”

David Elliott, Sheffield, UK

Both of these systems actually stem from French. The “European” system was invented in the 15th century and the “American” system came approximately 200 years after that. In the 1600’s, the “American” system was prevalent in America as well as France, with Britain and Germany using the “European” system. Then, in 1948, France reverted back to the “European” system and America stayed where it was. Furthermore, in 1974, Britain decided to move to the “American” system. The result is now pure confusion for all parties involved.

It’s been suggested that instead of using the Latin-based systems, we use a Greek-based system instead, which is how the word triacontatrillion is derived. I don’t know about anyone else, but it seems like this would just makes things even worse. 😛

Want to read more about other uncommon words? 🙂 See the Interesting Words page.

University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
The Guardian