Possibly the most endearing pun of all time comes from the 2006 film Stranger Than Fiction when Harold Crick, played by Will Ferrell, brings to the baker he's infatuated with the gift of flours. Ten different types, each in its own bag, all bundled together into a small box.

The word flour was, in previous centuries, nothing more than an alternative spelling for the word flower, which back then had the additional meaning of 'the finest part.' It was the logical name for the powder created by grinding the finest part, the flower, of the wheat. This makes Harold Crick's gift a rare example of wordplay non-coincidental in origin. Most puns form by simple accident. Take for instance the words sole and soul. The former coming from the Latin word for bottom and the latter derived from the German word Seele. The richness of English lies in these frequent collisions between its diverse influences, allowing for puns as transcendently great as the one that occurs early on in the film Joe vs the Volcano when the titular Joe finishes trudging into an office so dehumanizing it would make Kafka shudder, sits at his desk, and takes off his shoe for examination. A coworker spots him and asks what he's doing. He responds simply, "I'm losing my sole." 

In these two examples we see the secret power of punnery. Oft dismissed as nothing more than groan inducing faux cleverness, a pun can be so much more. It can be a stealth bomber, blasting into a stock phrase a hole through which an entire cavalcade of additional meaning can march through. Joe turns his examination of a shoe into a meditation on the entire, dreary monotony of his life. Harold Crick turns a cliche gift idea into a virtuoso performance of personalized romanticism. Puns enable us to unlock the full power inherent in the multifaceted nature of words.


The difference between running and walking is that when walking there is always one foot on the ground. In contrast the majority of time spent running is time spent in the air. Progress by safe, methodical steps versus progress by successive, heavenwards launches. Each leap is a risky venture, but each puts you farther and farther ahead.


To prevent someone's entrance or exit. This is what it means to bar and so regular and universal is this desire that the word has seeped into the instruments used for effecting this control. The most common being the rigid cylinder and this we still call a bar even when not being used for its namesake, such as when its used in construction or even to save lives like the inanimate carbon bar that saved all three astronauts aboard the Space Shuttle Corvair's disastrous 1994 mission. 

Important to note when dwelling upon bars is that though they cannot be passed they can be seen through, as if to be barred from something only has meaning if the person confined is still permitted to see what they are missing, and in this the bars we have discussed are alike their namesake: Walls high enough to stop people from walking but short enough to be seen over. This includes the room length bar used to separate the public from the performers at court, and so ingrained is the use of this largely symbolic barrier that the entire profession that works behind it has taken it to be their sigil. Lawyers must be members of a bar to pass beyond the bar, and to be disbarred is to be barred from that bar. The punishment for violating these rules is to be put behind bars.


Assumed without proof. That is the privilege of the postulate. To be the foundation upon which all inferences will be build. For over two thousand years all of geometry rested upon the five postulates of Euclid, four of which were obvious. The fifth was a mystery. Far more complex than its siblings, not even used for the first stretch of the book, it seemed an obviously later addition. A cover up, something Euclid found he could not prove and so snuck into the beginning. For millennia there was endless effort expended on trying to prove it from the other four. It wasn't until the 1800s that brave souls began to jettison it entirely and see what they would get. And, to everyone surprise, they got sense. They were able to construct whole new geometries. Geometries on spheres, geometries in curved space, an infinite number of new possibilities opened up and with it came a cascading avalanche of advances. Einstein took the idea of curved space and tried it out against the real world and found to everyone's confoundment that it was the truth. Others were busy investigating what the truth even was. After all, if we could have been wrong about one of the axioms of geometry, who's to say that arithmetic is safe? No one, it turns out. Instead Godel taught us that no system of postulates, not even arithmetic, can capture the entirety of the mathematical world. They are all limited.

And so we learn our lesson. We need our postulates, our core beliefs from which all else is built, in order to make progress. But we must always know that these postulates are our choice.


There is a power to words associated with the present. The power of 'focusing on today', 'doing it today', 'only today', and all such phrases meant to increase our productivity or mindfulness. The past and future are illusions, these philosophies tell us. The only reality is the present and inside the present is where our minds should live and so we must live for today.

But, of course, today is not the present. Some portion of it remains in the future and nearly all the rest is in the past. Whatever is left is the present, but what is that? The present is a dividing line and that line can be narrowed infinitely, from today to this minute to this attosecond, and as the line vanishes into nonexistence what are we left with? The past and the future, two non-overlapping, bounded but infinite sets. No point in time can be given that is in both sets, but is it possible to give a point that is not in one of them? Answer with 'now' and by the time you have finished the word it your speaking it is now the past. Is there no point to be found outside these sets? Then the present is the illusion and reality is the past and future. But the present cannot be an illusion, comes the objection, after all that is where we live. That is where the 'I', the one that is even now typing these words, exists. It lives there, in that vanishing line that is the present. If that is an illusion then what is the 'I' that is typing? It must be an illusion as well. I feel that I have thoughts in the present but if there is no present then there are no thoughts and what proof can I give to refute this? That I am thinking now? The riddle is not solved by thinking the word anymore than saying it. I can offer only my memories of thinking. Only with the past can we prove the present, and how can one prove the past?


In common usage it means to be well known or close. There is an additional meaning, as anyone familiar with Dungeons and Dragons can attest. The obedient, magical servant of a witch or wizard. Inside the game's mechanics a players familiar is takes the static form of an animal, like a super powered pirates parrot, but in the folklore from which the idea springs the familiar was a shapeshifter. Sometimes an animal and sometimes a person and, most often, purely invisible, the familiar took whatever form it needed to stay around the wizard it was bound to, watching over him and breathing words of inspiration into his ear. Of course in the medieval days that this idea there was no such ideas as the wizard as we now imagine, with flowing beard, loyal army of walking brooms, and spell book arsenal filled to the brim with magic missile and prismatic spray. No, in those days the person who would have a familiar would be an occultist or alchemist. Someone attempting to unravel the secrets of nature. A genius, in other words, and what a word. Genius comes from Latin and originally meant a kind of spirit, one that is tied to a thing, or a place (then known as a genius loci), or to a person. Those of unique intelligence and ability were considered to have a particularly strong connection to their genius, one so strong that the spirit would whisper to them great ideas, until in time the word genius become associated not with the spirit but with the act of listening to one's own. And where did these genii, for that is the plural, come from? Some believed they were messengers between the gods and man. The Greeks had a name for such messengers, they called them daemons. Socrates in particular was known to have great knack for listening to his daemon.

Familiar, genius, and daemon. Each word double sided, meaning either a guardian spirit or the surprising, churning thoughts inside our heads, particularly those that come seemingly from nowhere and which tend to be our greatest. In the end whether these thoughts come from the invisible denizens of the ether or from the depths of our own subconscious is not so important, what really matters is that when people listen to the idiosyncratic voices buzzing through their minds they tend to become great, or sometimes mad, or often both.


Golden leaves and fresh rains and the chilling breeze. Harvest was once the name of the season entire, only when the word Autumn began to creep into the lexicon did the meaning of harvest shift, nimbly dodging into its new niche as a verb, but still remains intimately tied to the season from which it came. Autumn, the time of harvest. The season of culmination, of festivals and bonfires, when all that has been sown is reaped. But also the season of decline, the season favored by the melancholic, the months when the heat of the year begins to leech from the Earth and the cold seeps in to take its place. The time for reflection before the paralytic rest of winter. 

That the a year in the course of its life goes through phases so analogous to our own is one of life's great coincidences. Though, of course, this does not apply at the equator. For many regions along that line there are only two seasons, the wet and the dry. There the year goes through a simple oscillation between a time when life flows and multiplies and when it stagnates and recedes. A contrasting but equally true analogue to our lives. A stark yin and yang compared to the repeating color wheel of our deciduous seasons.


As differentiated from eating by the specific of the meal, dinner, and the connotation of doing so in a more formal way. Beyond that is an approach to eating, one different for different people. It has been said that there are three main approached to dining corresponding to the three main socioeconomic classes of society, these attitudes easily represented by three questions corresponding to a finished meal. The lower class question is "Was it enough?" The concern expressed is elemental and needs no embellishment. The middle class ask the question, "Was it good?" People here have enough money that they have no concern of going hungry, and what has taken the place of that worry is the quintessential middle class concern of making sure they, at all times, are getting their moneys worth. Climbing to the top of society and also Maslow's pyramid of needs we come to the upper class question, "How was the experience?" To the upper class there is hardly a question of goodness, anything they get will be good, all that remains is the dining experience. The charm of the location, the aesthetics of the food presented, the novelty of the latest experiment in molecular gastronomy. These are the questions at the top. When all needs are met the only thing left to do is to find out what there is left to do. To seek out the full range of what the world has to offer you. And when that fails to deliver, you pay someone to invent something new to offer you.

But let's return to that first question. "What is it enough?" For most of history the poorest of society lived in a struggle against hunger for a very simple reason: There wasn't enough food. This isn't the case today. America is awash with food. Every populated region has an abundance of supermarkets, each so full of food that much of it must be thrown out everyday. And if there ever was a real problem with having enough there are innumerable ways we could make more. Quinoa could be grown in the Rockies and Northwest, or hippos could be farmed in the Gulf states, as was seriously proposed during the meat shortages of the early 1900s until those shortages were solved by the invention of industrial agriculture and factory farming. No, the amount of food is not the barrier. The system responsible for all this food is, because we have to thank for the amazing abundance of food the brilliant simplicity of profit. Modern societies perfect marriage of science and capitalism has given us more food than our ancestors could have dreamed of while at the same time keeping it out of reach of those who need it the most because they cannot pay and without profit there would be no cornucopia for them to be barred from to begin with. A simple problem without simple solution.


A short strip of rigid plastic, a thumb sized cluster of nylon bristles. As long as there's been civilization, there has been the toothbrush. The ancient Egyptians used frayed twigs, later the Chinese had the idea to use animal hairs attached to bamboo handles. The pre-agrarian tribes did not brush their teeth. Was it because they lived lives so short they did not care? Or because they had no care for the future preferring to live, like children, in the eternal present? No, these are two common misconceptions of tribal life, in truth it was simply because they had no need for brushing. Their teeth remained healthy and white a whole lifetime long, thanks to a diet without sugar or flour. It was only when civilization made these our staples, filling our bellies at the cost of our enamel, did we have need to artificially maintain our teeth, ensuring they would remain working at the task they were not made for.

The toothbrush, on the species level a symbol of the last four thousand years of the human story. An early link in the chain of invention through which creatures made for scavenging the savanna have bootstrapped their way into climate controlled cubes full of luminescent screens. Masters of the Earth who, like all kings, rarely get to see for themselves the kingdom they have won.