Quote #21: Raymond Queneau (1973)

Let us remember that topology and the theory of numbers sprang up in part from that which used to be called “mathematical entertainments,” “recreactional mathematics.” I salute in passing the memory of Bachet de Meziriac, author of Problèms plaisants et delectable qui se font par les nobres (1612—not, as Larousse says, 1613), and one of the first members of the French Academy. Let us also remember that the calculation of probabilities was at first nothing other than an anthology of “diversions,” as Bourbaki states in the “Notice Historique” of the twenty-first fascicle on Integration. And likewise game theory until von Neumann.

Word #6: “Chicago” (n.)


  1. The name of the city in Illinois, U.S.A., used attrib. or in comb. in various special collocations.

The following passage is from Names on the Land, a history of how places in America got their names by the sci-fi-writing toponymist, George R. Stewart:

Almost at the southern tip of the Lake of the Illinois, also called Lake Michigan, a low and swampy plain stretched away between two small rivers. In early summer that plain was pink with the blossoms of the little wild onions growing there so the Algonquain-speaking Indians called it “onion-place.” To the French it became Chicagou, and they used it for the name of one of the rivers. In 1688, when there could hardly have been doubt about the meaning, a Frenchman wrote: “We arrived at etc place called Chicagou which, according to what can be learned about it, has taken this name from the amount of garlic grabbing wild in that vicinity.” Two other early French men also mentioned the onion or garlic in that region.

A great city took its name from this place and that river became fro a while very odorous,; so jokes were made about the origins of the name. It happens also that in the Algonquian language words related to that for onion and garlic apply also to the skunk, and certain kinds of bad-smelling filth. So some said that the city was really Skunk-town, or something worse.

Here’s to the baby bears from Onion-town!

Quote #3: Blaise Pascal

We think playing upon a man is like playing upon an ordinary organ. It is indeed an organ, but strange, shifting and changeable. Those who only know how to play an ordinary organ would never be in tune on this one.

passage 55 from Pensées (1670), published eight years after the Frenchman’s death.

Quote #1: Sir Thomas Browne (1635)

There is no man alone, because every man is a Microcosme, and carries the whole world about him;

Sloane 981, f.68

passage from Religio Medici (new Greenblatt edition available from NYRB); accompanying picture from the British Library collection of illuminated manuscripts: medical miscellany from the ‘book of Macharias on the eye called Salaracer or secret of secrets’ drawn in England, sometime the last quarter of the 14th or 1st quarter of the 15th century.