In comedy, as everyone knows, timing is everything, so if you really want to silence a stand-up, cut him off before he even launches into his first joke. That’s what Aklavya Gaur, a Hindu nationalist, did to Munawar Faruqui, a Muslim comedian, in January. Citing India’s blasphemy laws, Gaur, son of Indore’s mayor, had Faruqui arrested as he took the stage at a club because of the jokes he was presumed to be about to tell. “[Faruqui] was jailed for 38 days, despite the lack of evidence against him,” reported the South China Morning Post. Still, under this kind of preemptive-censorship arrangement, Faruqui stands to save untold time and effort he’d otherwise have to spend polishing and honing—or, for that matter, writing—his material.
The birth announcement from Hugo and Olivia von Halle in The Times of London read, “A daughter, Triptych Alabama Bliss, sister to Hieronymus and Dionysus.” There was a stir on social media. “When it was discovered that her brothers’ full names were Dionysus Cosmo Chaos and Hieronymus Vladimir Azax, people speculated that either the parents were unspeakably cruel or enacting some strange form of performance art,” reported the newspaper, upon investigating the situation. “I’ve got the most common name in Britain,” explained Olivia. “I wanted my children to have something unusual.”
Mission accomplished—for now. Because the von Halles are not the only ones stepping up their game in the name of variety. “In 1999, there were 3,824 different girls’ names registered. In 2019, there were 5,591,” The Times noted. Luna, Aria, and Aurora were wildly popular, and Harlow-Grace, Syklar-May, Skylar-Rae, and Esmae-Grace were all more common than Susan or Carol. As for boys, it’s clear that in the years ahead, Arlos, Masons, Albies, and Jaxons are going to be thick on the ground, and that you’re more likely to run into a Markuss, Kruz, Cruiz, Jack-Junior, or Haydar than an increasingly solitary Nigel.
A trans-Siberian rail journey through the scenic Urals allows passengers to travel in style, try on period dress, and generally steep themselves in Russian history—appropriate, given that this was the very route taken by Emperor Nicholas II, Empress Alexandra, and other members of the royal family in 1918. Oh, right … 1918. Today’s version, while committed to authenticity, happily avoids re-creating for present-day passengers the unpleasantness of the journey’s end for the Romanovs—execution by firing squad and bayonet, disposal and cremation in a local mine shaft, etc., etc.
The derogatory connotations of the Italian terrone, lowercase t, have become so problematic for one Francesco Terrone, uppercase T, a mechanical engineer/poet from outside Salerno, that he is suing to have the word’s definition changed. It’s also a larger matter of Southern Italian pride, apparently. “While southerners have traditionally referred to northerners as polentoni — polenta-eaters — they in turn have been unflatteringly called terroni, or earth-eaters, in a scornful reference to their backwardness and poverty,” reports The Times of London.
Terrone’s lawyer has accused the all-powerful linguistic society Accademia della Crusca of downplaying the word’s more positive associations (landownership, nobility), which terrone retained until the mid-20th century, when, definition-wise, things went south, as it were. The academy is not amused. “Now we will have to consult our own lawyers,” said the Crusca’s president. “It will be an opportunity to spend public money on something useless.” A judge will take up the case in September; no doubt the former Major League Baseball relief pitcher J. J. Putz, among many others, will be paying close attention.
The long-accepted assumption that slaves built the pyramids is being questioned by some scholars and archaeologists as they uncover more evidence that the laborers were well housed, well fed, and—most significantly—well buried: that is, right next to the pyramids, an honor that would not have been accorded slaves. With the fourth dynasty of the Old Kingdom still solidly pre-wheel in pyramid-building days, the mystery persists of how anybody was able to put the things up at all, never mind so well and so efficiently. The answer might be more obvious than we’ve imagined: while the plagues that befell ancient Egypt ran to frogs, hail, lice, and so on, they did not, as far as we know, include an infestation of contractors.
The landscape architect James Corner, who designed the High Line, in Manhattan, has been selected to do something similar with a three-quarter-mile railway viaduct between Camden and Kings Cross. Apart from the always welcome expansion of urban green space, it’s hoped that the Camden Highline will help re-invigorate a weary, population-drained London. A year into the pandemic, one feels wistful even about threading through slow-moving herds of tourists on narrow walkways.
George Kalogerakis is a Writer at Large for Air Mail