Look Back!

Article excerpt

Over the years Word Ways has displayed a varied logological corpus. In this column I revisit forgotten ideas, connect seemingly-disparate concepts, and suggest further investigations.

In the August 1981 Kickshaws, Faith Eckler presented a 19th-century riddle from Great Britain:

    In the morn when I rise,
   I open my eyes,
     Tho' I ne'er sleep a wink all night;
   If I wake e'er so soon,
   I still lie till noon,
     And pay no regard to the light.
   I have loss, I have gain,
   I have pleasure, and pain;
     And am punished with many a stripe;
   To diminish my woe,
   I burn friend and foe,
     And my evenings I end with a pipe.
   I travel abroad.
   And ne'er miss my road,
     Unless I am met by a stranger;
   If you come in my way,
   Which you very well may,
   You will always be subject to danger.
   I am chaste, I am young,
   I am lusty, and strong,
     And my habits oft change in a day;
   To court I ne'er go,
   Am no lady nor beau,
     Yet as frail and fantastic as they.
   I live a short time,
   I die in my prime,
     Lamented by all who possess me;
   If I add any more,
   To what's said before
     I'm afraid you will easily guess me. 

This appeared in Drawing Room Scrap Sheet No. 17, and was headed "For Which a Solution is Required", suggesting that the editor did not know the answer. Was it sent in anonymously, or perhaps copied from some earlier publication? According to Mark Bryant in Dictionary of Riddles (Routledge, 1990), the Drawing Room Scrap Sheet was a series of 26 colored sheets with ornamental borders containing two pages each of poetry, puzzles, etc., sold in selected bookshops (weekly?) from November 5, 1831 onward. The four examples Bryant gives are phonetic charades on coffee (cough, fee), walnut (wall, nut), bonnet (Fr. Bonne, nette) and a riddle answered by a pack of playing cards.

A year's subscription to Word Ways was offered to anyone who solved the riddle, but there were no claimants. Nor did any member of the National Puzzlers' League succeed in solving it. Brief Internet research has also failed to reveal the answer.

I suggest that the answer to the riddle may be the abstract concept fame in the short-lived sense of "notoriety" rather than the long-lived sense of "renown". …