…The blood of contention ran in his veins. He acquired the lucid genius of a great expositor of ideas; but by disposition he was a fighter, and he knew no tactics save attack. He was a brilliant controversialist, deft, pertinacious and imaginative, and he disposed of the errors of scholastics, Puritans and Papists with a subtle mixture of argument and ridicule.
But he made the mistake of supposing that this style was universally effective, in mathematics no less than in politics. For brilliance in controversy is a corrupting accomplishment. Always to play to win is to take one’s standards from one’s opponent, and local victory comes to displace every other consideration. Most readers will find Hobbes’s disputatiousness excessive; but it is the defect of an exceptionally active mind.
And it never quite destroyed in him the distinction between beating an opponent and establishing a proposition, and never quite silenced the conversation with himself which is the heart of philosophical thinking. But, like many controversialists, he hated error more than he loved truth, and came to depend overmuch on the stimulus of opposition. There is sagacity in Hobbes, and often a profound deliberateness; but there is no repose.
"We [Einstein and Ernst Straus] had finished the preparation of a paper and were looking for a paper clip. After opening a lot of drawers we finally found one which turned out to be too badly bent for use. So we were looking for a tool to straighten it. Opening a lot more drawers we came upon a whole box of unused paper clips. Einstein immediately started to shape one of them into a tool to straighten the bent one. When asked what he was doing, he said, ‘Once I am set on a goal, it becomes difficult to deflect me.’"
– Ernst Straus, “Memoir,” in A.P. French, ed., Einstein: A Centenary Volume, 1979
(Einstein said to an assistant at Princeton that this was the most characteristic anecdote that could be told of him.)
Some favorite words of Stockholm University linguist Mikael Parkvall, from his Limits of Language (2006):klunen (Dutch): “to walk or run overland with skates on (usually from one body of frozen water to another)”
aɣone (Kuot):“to drink from a bottle in such a fashion that drool trickles from the mouth back into the bottle”
fringsen (German):“to steal coal from railway wagons or potatoes from fields in order to survive”
knedlikový (Czech):“rather partial to dumplings”
qamigartuk (Yup’ik):“he goes seal-hunting with a small sled and kayak in the spring”
baleŋga (Chavacano):“excessive swinging of arms while walking”
kallsup (Swedish):“a gulp of water that a bather accidentally inhales”
googly (English):“(of an off-breaking cricket ball) disguised by the bowler with an apparent leg-break action”
Gunwinggu, spoken in northwestern Australia, uses different verbs to describe the hopping of a black wallaroo (Macropus bernardus) (kamurlbardme), the hopping of an agile wallaby (Macropus agilis) (kalurlhlurme), the hopping of a male antilopine wallaroo (Macropus antilopinus) (kamawudme), and the hopping of a female antilopine wallaroo (kadjalwahme).