The Weirdest Museums in the World

alex atkins bookshelf triviaJames Halperin, a professional rare coin dealer and the founder of Heritage Auctions, the world’s largest collectibles auctioneer, believes collecting is a basic human instinct that has been intensified by centuries of natural selection: “Those of our ancient ancestors who managed to accumulate scare objects may have been more prone to survive long enough to bear offspring.” That is to say, acquisition of rare items led to wealth that allowed someone to have and care for more children. In short, it is one of humanity’s innate idiosyncrasies or compulsions to collect shit. And this is where museums — particularly museums of weird or offbeat collections — come in: they validate the collection and bestow some level of honor (genius, eccentric, or madman?) on the collector or collectors. In some respects, it is high culture hoarding — and it attracts those with enough curiosity and the willingness to fork over the sometimes pricey admissions to peer into the rarefied collector’s world. For example, you can visit the Iceland Phallological Museum that has the world’s largest collection of pricks, second only to the U.S. Congress. Imagine what items are for sale at the gift shop — Sigmund Freud would have a field day. Or you can visit the entertaining (or creepy, depending on your experience) Clown Hall of Fame and Research that has the world’s largest collection of clowns, second only to the U.S. Congress and the White House. Without further ado, here are some of the weirdest or most offbeat museums in the world. Don’t delay — plan your trip today!

Tap Water Museum – Beijing, China

Dog Collar Museum – Kent, England

British Lawnmower Museum – Merseyside, England)

The Bread Museum – Ulm Germany

Garden Gnome Museum –  Grafenroda, Germany

Platinarium (bodies, sans skin, that have been preserved in creative positions) – Guben, Germany

Avanos Hair Museum – Avanos, Turkey

Iceland Phallological Museum (penises and phallic symbol) – Reykjavik, Iceland

Mummy Museum – Guanajuato, Mexico

Momofuku Ando Instant Ramen Museum – Ikeda-shi, Japan

Siriraj Medical Museum (museum of Death) – Bangkok; Thailand

Sulabh International Museum of Toilets – New Delhi, India

The Kunstkamera (contains collection of human fetuses with grotesque mutations) – St. Petersburg, Russia

Torture Museum – Amsterdam, Netherlands

Museum of Bad Art – Dedham, Massachusetts

Salt and Pepper Shaker Museum – Gatlinburg, Tennessee

Clown Hall of Fame and Research Center – Baraboo, Wisconsin

Museum of Sex – New York City, New York

Vent Haven Museum – Fort Mitchell, Kentucky

International Cryptozoology Museum (life size art sculptures of famous monsters) – Portland, Maine

SHARE THE LOVE: If you enjoyed this post, please help expand the Bookshelf community by sharing with a friend or with your readers. Cheers.

Read related posts: Why Do People Collect Things?
Words for Collectors
Words for Collectors 2
Classification of Book Collectors
Why Do We Collect Things?

For further reading:


God and Freedom are Totally Antipathetic Concepts

alex atkins bookshelf quotations“God and freedom are totally antipathetic concepts; and men believe in their imaginary gods most often because they are afraid to believe in the other thing [free will]. I am old enough now to realize they do sometimes with good reason. But I stick by the general principle, and that is what I meant to be at the heart of my story [The Magus]: that true freedom lies between each two [God/divine intervention and rational free will], never in one alone, and therefore it can never be absolute freedom. All freedom, even the most relative, may be a fiction; but mine, and still today, prefers the other hypothesis.”

From the Foreword to The Magus by British author and intellectual John Fowles. Fowles worked on the novel for 12 years and continued to revise it after publication. The Magus is considered a modern classic, ranked in the Modern Library 100 Best Novels (1999) and the BBC’s The Big Read (2003). In his review of The Magus, The New York Times critic Eliot Fremont-Smith heaps lavish praise on Fowles’ magnum opus: “The Magus is a stunner, magnificent in ambition, supple and gorgeous in execution. It fits no neat category; it is at once a pyrotechnical extravaganza, a wild, hilarious charade, a dynamo of suspense and horror, a profoundly serious probing into the nature of moral consciousness, a dizzying, electrifying chase through the labyrinth of the soul, an allegorical romance, a sophisticated account of modern love, a ghost story that will send shivers racing down the spine. Lush, compulsive, richly inventive, eerie, provocative, impossibly theatrical… No summary can convey accurately the sense of this extraordinary book. It is original and contemporary; it is intelligent… It is a marvelous, compelling novel, of a kind that doesn’t come around very often.”

SHARE THE LOVE: If you enjoyed this post, please help expand the Bookshelf community by sharing with a friend or with your readers. Cheers.

Read related posts: John Fowles on The French Lieutenant’s Woman
William Faulkner on the Writer’s Duty
Doublets: Why Writers Write

For further reading: The Magus by John Fowles

There’s a Word for That: Eisegesis

atkins-bookshelf-wordsIf you send and receive texts or Tweets often enough you have most likely encountered or committed eisegesis (pronounced “ahy si JEE sis”): interpreting text in such a way to introduce one’s own biases, ideas, or beliefs. It is often to referred to as “reading into the text.” The word is derived from the Greek root eis meaning (“in or into”) and hegeisthai (“to lead, guide”).

Eisegesis is a perfect example of a form of cognitive bias known as confirmation bias — the tendency to search for, interpret, favor, and recall information in a way that confirm’s an individuals presumptions or beliefs. As historian Barbara Tuchman, who won two Pulitzer Prizes, observed in her book, The March of Folly: From Troy to Vietnam (1984), the danger with confirmation bias, as with most forms of cognitive bias, is that it contributes to overconfidence in beliefs and can maintain or fortify beliefs even when presented with contrary evidence. Tuchman focuses on four famous historical incidents where governments pursued policies that were contrary to their own interests. Many Biblical scholars accuse fundamental Christians and evangelists of engaging in eisegesis because they often take Biblical sentences or entire passages out of context and interpret them to make a very specific point — even when it is the opposite of the author’s intent.

The opposite of eisegesis is exegesis: to interpret text by thoroughly analyzing it content and understanding its context and discoverable meaning or intent of the author. While exegesis is objective; eisegesis is subjective.

A person who practices eisegesis is known as an eisegete, which as you can imagine, has derogatory connotations.

A related word is epexegesis: the adding of words or sentences to clarify a word or sentence.

SHARE THE LOVE: If you enjoyed this post, please help expand the Bookshelf community by sharing with a friend or with your readers. Cheers.

Read related posts: There’s a Word for That: Esprit de l’escalier
There’s a Word for That: Jouissance
There’s a Word for That: Abibliophobia
There’s a Word for That: Petrichor
There’s a Word for That: Deipnosophist
There’s a Word for That: Pareidolia
There’s a Word for That: Macroverbumsciolist
There’s a Word for That: Ultracrepidarian
There’s a Word for That: Cacology

For further reading: The March of Folly: From Troy to Vietnam by Barbara Tuchman

What is the Happiest Country in the World?

alex atkins bookshelf cultureEvery few years Gallup conducts a world poll (known as the Gallup World Poll) of more than 150 countries (and the immigrants of 117 countries) that represent more than 98% of the world’s population. The poll uses the Cantril Self-Anchoring Striving Scale to evaluate well-being. The scale consists of the following statements and questions: 1. Please imagine a ladder with steps numbered from zero at the bottom to 10 at the top. 2. The top of the ladder represents the best possible life for you and the bottom of the ladder represents the worst possible life for you. 3. On which step of the ladder would you say you personally feel you stand at this time? 4. On which step do you think you will stand about five years from now?

Recently, the United Nations used this data (from 215-2017) to develop its World Happiness Report 2018. The results are fascinating. Ironically for a country that has “the pursuit of happiness” enshrined in the Declaration of Independence, consumes more than 220 Happy Meals each year, and spends more than $11 billion on self-help — happiness is not easily attainable in America. It is humbling and sobering to know that the United States does not make it in the top ten. Norway, Denmark, and Iceland are the happiest countries on earth whose population — including immigrants — truly embrace the philosophy of “don’t worry, be happy.” Interestingly, the top ten countries have been held by the same countries for the past two years. The report notes: “All the top countries tend to have high values for all six of the key variables that have been found to support well-being: income, healthy life expectancy, social support, freedom, trust and generosity.” On the other side of the scale are the unhappiest countries on earth: Tanzania, Burundi, and Central Africa Republic.

The report concludes with three emerging global health problems that threaten happiness: obesity, the opioid crisis, and depression. Of great concern is that these particular problems have been growing faster in the United States than any other country. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, in 2016 more than 16.2 million adults in America reported at least one major depressive episode (accounting for 6.7% of all adults in the U.S.).

The Happiest Countries in the World (Country followed by Cantril score)

1. Norway (7.537)
2. Denmark (7.522)
3. Iceland (7.504)
4. Switzerland (7.494)
5. Finland (7.469)
6. Netherlands (7.377)
7. Canada (7.316)
8. New Zealand (7.314)
9. Australia (7.284)
10. Sweden (7.284)
11. Israel (7.213)
12. Costa Rica (7.079)
13. Austria (7.006)
14. United States (6.993)
15. Ireland (6.977)

The Unhappiest Countries in the World

Yemen (3.593)
South Sudan (3.591)
Liberia (3.533)
Guinea (3.507)
Togo (3.495)
Rwanda (3.471)
Syria (3.462)
Tanzania (3.349)
Burundi (2.905)
Central African Republic (2.693)

SHARE THE LOVE: If you enjoyed this post, please help expand the Bookshelf community by sharing with a friend or with your readers. Cheers.

For further reading: The Weight of the World’s Population
How Old is the Universe?

For further reading:

What is a Ditloid?

alex atkins bookshelf wordsA ditloid is a curious and clever puzzle — something that would have greatly amused Lewis Carroll’s Mad Hatter. Specifically, a ditloid is a word game in which a phrase, term, title, quotation, proverb, or fact must be deduced from numbers and abbreviations in the clue. For example (answers in parenthesis):
60 = S. in a M. (60 seconds in a minute)
99 = B. of B. on the W. (99 bottles of beer on the wall)
7 = A. of M. (7 Ages of Man).
You get the idea. 
The word game was named after the following puzzle: 1=D. it L. o I. D. (1 Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich), by the Daily Express, a London newspaper. This word game is also referred to as a “linguistic equation” or “numerical phrase.” 

The most famous ditloids — indeed, the ditloids that launched a thousand ditloids — were created by puzzle master extraordinaire Will Shortz, former editor of Games magazine and current crossword puzzle editor for The New York Times, puzzle master on NPR’s Weekend Edition Sunday, and author of more than 100 books on puzzles. (Incidentally, he is an avid puzzle book collector, owning more than  20,000 puzzle books and magazines). Shortz introduced the word game, which he initially called an “Equation Analysis Test” , in the May-June 1981 issue of Game magazine. Since this was the time before the birth of the Internet, the puzzle was circulated the old fashioned way; Shortz elaborates: “Some anonymous person had retyped the puzzle from Games (word for word, except for my byline), photocopied it, and passed it along. This page was then rephotocopied ad infinitum, like a chain letter, and circulated around the country. Games readers who hadn’t seen the original even started sending it back to Games as something the magazine ought to consider publishing!” Interestingly, this “photocopied” list still gets forwarded, albeit as an image file in chain emails.

Shortz’s inspiration for the word puzzle came from Morgan Worthy’s AHA! A Puzzle Approach to Creative Thinking, published in 1975. Worthy introduced the Formula Analysis Test that had a slightly different construction: M. + M. + N.H. + V. + C. + R.I. = N.E. (Maine + Massachusetts + New Hampshire + Vermont + Connecticut + Rhode Island = New England) and 1 B. in the H. = 2 in the B. (A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush). Worthy, in turn, was inspired by obscene graffiti in a college bathroom; Worthy explains in his book, “I first became interested in aha! thinking ten years ago while a graduate student at the University of Florida. Part of the graffiti in the men’s room of the psychology building was a cryptic formula someone had written in large letters on the wall. I was intrigued by this little puzzle and, of course, had occasion to be reminded of it from time to time. Finally, one day, the answer (yes, obscene) suddenly came to me. It happened that I was studying creativity at the time and I realized that my response to solving the graffiti puzzle was very like the ‘aha! effect’ about which I had been reading… I constructed a test of times similar in principle to the one I found on the rest room wall.” In order to develop his Formula Analysis Test, Worthy followed this criteria: the puzzles do not require special information or a large vocabulary, the puzzles cannot be solved by step-by-step process, and each puzzle is relatively easy in that it is short and contains few items. Based on research by Worth, scores on solving these type of tests are not correlated significantly with I.Q. scores, but rather validated tests that measure creative thinking.

Without further ado, here are the original 24 word puzzles, the Equation Analysis Test, created by Shortz. Give it a shot, and see how many you can solve. The answers will be presented in this post in a few days. And no cheating (using Google to solve the equations). Remember, solving the puzzles is not about being smart, but rather, about being creative. So clear your mind, put some music on, chill, and let the letters and numbers speak to you… and be sure to share this with your friends, to see how they do.

1 = W. on a U.
3 = B.M. (S.H.T.R.!)
4 = Q. in a G.
5 = D. in a Z.C.
7 = W. of the A.W.
8 = S. on a S.S.
9 = P. in the S.S.
11 = P. on a F.T.
12 = S. of the Z.
13 = S. on the A.F.
18 = H. on a G.C.
24 = H. in a D.
26 = L. of the A.
29 = D. in F. in a L.Y.
32 = D.F. at which W.F.
40 = D. and N. of the G.F.
54 = C. in a D. (with the J.)
57 = H.V.
64 = S. on a C.
88 = P.K.
90 = D. in a R.A.
200 = D. for P.G. in M.
1,000 = W. that a P. is W.
1,001 = A.N.

SHARE THE LOVE: If you enjoyed this post, please help expand the Bookshelf community by sharing with a friend or with your readers. Cheers.

Read related posts: Words for Superior Persons
Rare Anatomy Words

Words Oddities: Fun with Vowels
What Rhymes with Orange

Words that Sound Naughty But Are Not
An Alphabet of Rare Words

For further reading: Aha! A Puzzle Approach to Creative Thinking by Morgan Worthy
Will Shortz’s Best Brain Busters by Will Shortz


1 = Wheel on a Unicycle
3 = Blind Mice (See How They Run!)
4 = Quarts in a Gallon
5 = Digits in a Zipcode
7 = Wonders of the Ancient World
8 = Sides on a Stop Sign
9 = Planets in the Solar System
11 = Players on a Football Team
12 = Signs of the Zodiac
13 = Stripes on the American Flag
18 = Holes on a Golf Course
24 = Hours in a Day
26 = Letters of the Alphabet
29 = Days in February in a Leap Year
32 = Degrees Fahrenheit at which Water Freezes
40 = Days and Nights of the Great Flood
54 = Cards in a Deck (with the Jokers)
57 = Heinz Varieties
64 = Squares on a Checkerboard (or Chessboard)
88 = Piano Keys
90 = Degrees in a Right Angle
200 = Dollars for Passing Go in Monopoly
1,000 = Words that a Picture is Worth
1,001 = Arabian Nights


The Teacher Who Invented Words

alex atkins bookshelf wordsBill Sherk taught history at a high school in Toronto, Canada in the 1960s. Ever since he was a young lad, however, Sherk was fascinated by the English language and etymology. He once read Webster’s Dictionary cover to cover (it took 3 years, 3 months, and 16 days). So, in 1974 he developed an extension course at York University to pursue that passion. The course was called Word Power and focused on helping students dramatically expand their vocabulary by studying Greek and Latin word roots, etymology, word lists, and wordplay. One of the Sherk’s favorite form of wordplay was neologisms, coining new words. Here are some of the neologisms or words that should exist coined by Sherk and his students over the years:

alphomeg: a person who has read the dictionary from cover to cover.

bioopsy: a botched or sloppy biopsy.

brunner: a single meal that takes the place of breakfast, lunch, and supper.

cabloop: to drive a taxi by a roundabout route to intrease the fare.

covivant: an unmarried person living on intimate terms with a partner; a live-in boyfriend or girlfriend.

cybrow: a person whose eyebrows have grown together.

dactylometry: measuring using width of hand or fingers.

doonic: the sound made by bouncing a balloon with a string tied to one’s finger.

duodemilingual: knowing two languages and only part of a third.

foulese: foul language

fuzztache: a moustache on a young man’s face before he begins to shave.

impactipediphobia: the fear of someone or something bumping into your already injured foot.

SHARE THE LOVE: If you enjoyed this post, please help expand the Bookshelf community by sharing with a friend or with your readers. Cheers.

Read related posts: Clever Neologisms
Levidrome: The Word That Launched a Thousand Erroneous Stories
How Long Does it Take to Read a Million Words?
How Many Words in the English Language?
How Many Words Does the Average Person Speak in a Lifetime?

Endangered Species: The Handwritten Note and Letter

alex atkins bookshelf cultureIf you ask a young person (Gen X – Z), “Did you send a handwritten thank you note?” they look at you as if you just asked them to take their smart phone and dunk it in a glass of water — “WTF?”  Those who are part of older generations remember the simpler times — you know: before cell phones, email, instant messaging, and social media — when people actually took the time to send handwritten notes and letters, written from the heart, to one another. Biographers know that without archives of personal correspondence, many of the notable people in history would remain largely unknown or not fully understood in the context of their time and relationships.

But there are those who refuse to believe that the handwritten note is a dead — perhaps an endangered species, but certainly not extinct. Enter Margaret Shepherd, a calligrapher and author of The Art of the Handwritten Note: A Guide to Reclaiming Civilized Communication. Particularly in the Age of Google, when most if not all communication is digital, the handwritten note or letter is more precious and more appreciated than ever before.

“The handwritten note,” observes Shepherd, “has so many virtues that you ought to reach for pen and paper first, before you pick up the phone or move the mouse. In contrast to a phone call, a handwritten note doesn’t arrive demanding to be read when you’ve just sat down to dinner; it courteously lets you know who sent it even before you open it… And in contrast to email, a handwritten note looks beautiful and feels personal; you won’t get an electronic virus from opening a handwritten note nor find a list of last week’s lamebrained jokes. You can still write a note by candlelight when your electricity fails, and mail your note while your server is down. The handwritten note has been around for hundreds of years, and it’s not going to die out just because some of its everyday functions have been taken over by email and voice mail. Adapting to the needs of every fresh generation, it continues to connect people. In fact, a handwritten note is even more vital now than it was a few years ago because it’s less routinely used. A note in the mail brightens a dreary landscape of junk mail, form letters, and prefabricated greeting cards, and it shines through a virtual blizzard of abrupt digital memos and disembodied voice chat. When a handwritten note comes in the mail, people pay special attention to what it says. It announces beyond a doubt that reader really matters to you. Your handwriting insures that your words will be read and thought about in a way that can’t be mimicked by print, email, or voice. Handwritten notes are not going to die out, because people still love to receive them and they value each note more as they receive fewer of them.”

Shepherd believes that beyond being rare, the handwritten note has the ability to enhance a message and make a lasting impression on the recipient: “[A handwritten note] upgrades a wide variety of messages, transforming ‘Oops’ into ‘Please accept my apology,’ and ‘Got the money’ into ‘Thank you for your generosity.’ Ink on paper is still the classiest way to express the thoughts that really matter, on the occasions that really count. And sometimes it’s the only way; your words will carry sympathy and gratitude with a special kind of sincerity when your reader sees them on paper in your writing… It says to the reader, ‘You matter to me, I thought of you, I took [time] on your behalf, here’s who I am, I’ve been thinking of you in the days since this was mailed… The reader can reread what you sent and save it and think good thoughts about you.”

Writing a handwritten note also helps you become a better writer. Shepherd elaborates: “[The] handwritten note does more than inspire the reader who reads it it inspires the writer who writes it. Your words not only look better when you write them, but the act of writing them enables you to choose better words. You’ll probably be pleasantly and mysteriously surprised to find that the flowing line of pen and ink lets you express yourself in ways that key tapping just doesn’t allow.” One is reminded of the memorable tagline that appears on the cover of the American Heritage Dictionary (4th edition): “You are Your Words. Make the Most of Them.” Amen.

Finally, Shepherd believes that a handwritten note is inspiring art form: “Corresponding on paper lets you elevate a simple pleasure into an art form. And art has always survived technology. A handwritten note is like dining by candlelight instead of flicking on the lights, like making a gift instead of ordering a product, like taking a walk instead of driving. Handwritten notes will add a lot to your life. You can still use the telephone or the Web for the daily chores of staying in touch, but for the words that matter, it’s courteous, classy, caring, and civilized to pick up a pen.”

OK. I know what you are thinking: “What if I don’t know what to write?” or “Sometimes I am not sure what to write during difficult times (eg, illness, death, divorce, etc.). No worries. You can turn to the perfect companion books written by etiquette experts: Just A Note to Say… The Perfect Words for Every Occasion by Florence Isaacs or Personal Notes: How to Write From the Heart for Any Occasion by Sandra Lamb. These small books offer hundreds of suggestions for all of life’s major occasions, the happy and the sad, to help you get started in writing meaningful notes.

So the next time you want to express your gratitude or your concern for someone, put down your smartphone or step away from your computer, pick up a pen, and write a handwritten note — surprise someone with the precious gift of your thoughts. Undoubtedly, it will bring a smile to their face and a profound sense of gratitude and affection as they read it and think of you.

SHARE THE LOVE: If you enjoyed this post, please help expand the Bookshelf community by sharing with a friend or with your readers. Cheers.

Read related posts: Edgar Allan Poe’s Love Letter
Abraham Lincoln’s Letter to Mrs. Bixby
Wallace Stegner’s Wilderness Letter
Harper Lee’s Letter to Oprah on Love of Books
What is the Best English Dictionary?
Writers are Defined by the Words They Use

For further reading: The Art of the Handwritten Note: A Guide to Reclaiming Civilized Communication by Margaret Shepherd
Just A Note to Say… The Perfect Words for Every Occasion by Florence Isaacs
Personal Notes: How to Write From the Heart for Any Occasion by Sandra Lamb

%d bloggers like this: