Accidental Pilish

Some examples, and the current records
Mike Keith, Mar 2012


Being a devotee of writing in Pilish it is natural to wonder about the phenomenon of accidental Pilish, where an author incorporates a word-length mnemonic for π into some piece of writing by accident rather than on purpose.  I first began to search for examples of this in the mid 1990's but only in the last few years have I begun to find some truly impressive examples.  What follows is a short survey of some of the best instances of accidental Pilish in literature and elsewhere. 

Of course it is much easier to find examples that capture digits in the middle of π's decimal expansion, but here we focus exclusively on those that start from the beginning (3.14159265358979...).  This is an even more significant restriction than might be apparent at first, because the beginning (3,1,4,1,5) is a rather awkward sequence of lengths, mostly because of the two 1's.

To start off slow, here is the best example in all of Shakespeare, from Act II, Scene IV of King Henry the Fourth Part One.  It is the longest one in Shakespeare and it also forms a complete sentence.

FALSTAFF:  By the mass, lad, thou sayest true; it is like we shall have good trading that way. But tell me, Hal, art not thou horrible afeard? Thou being heir apparent, could the world pick thee out three such enemies again as that fiend Douglas, that spirit Percy, and that devil Glendower? Art thou not horribly afraid? Doth not thy blood thrill at it?

PRINCE:   Not a whit, i' faith.  I lack some of thy instinct.

The first seven-digit example I found, some time in the 1990's, is from Book 16, Chapter 10 of Sir Thomas Malory's Le Morte d'Arthur:

Thus as she stood talking with him there came twelve knights seeking after her, and anon she told them all how Bors had delivered her; then they made great joy, and besought him to come to her father, a great lord, and he should be right welcome. Truly, said Bors, that may not be at this time, for I have a great adventure to do in this country.

My favorite eight-digit example, which starts right at the beginning of a sentence, is from Captain Cook's Journal During his First Voyage Round the World (ca. 1771):

...I would not suffer them to be fir'd upon, for this would have been putting it in the power of the Centinels to have fir'd upon them upon the most slitest occasions, as I had before experienced.  And I have a great objection to firing with powder only amongst people who know not the difference, for by this they would learn to despise fire arms and think their own arms superior, and if ever such an opinion prevailed they would certainly attack you, the event of which might prove as unfavourable to you as them. 

I know of just one nine-digit example, from a (not very good) 2003 novel called Remembering Angie by E. Ray Jones:

So! I had a towel over my head.  That didn't mean I couldn't see a naked, beautiful young woman.  I was not looking at a "tom-boy".

Me: "Number Two, I have a large container of potato salad in the cooler.  Split it three ways for us."

(The three main characters call each other "Number One", "Number Two", and "Number Three", in case you were wondering.)  Musing on this example leads me to conclude that asking a person behind the deli counter "May I have a large container of potato salad?" might be the most natural reasonably long Pilish sentence a person could reasonably utter in public.  If it's not, it's surely close.

I discovered the current record of 10 digits in April, 2010.  This is from a forum post dated Dec 1 2009 on one of the model railroading forums, in a thread called "Speed Matching":

David has given you a very straightforward procedure to follow. Since you have not done any CV programming you should...

This example requires the full rules of Standard Pilish, so that the 15-letter word translates to the digits (1,5), but this is quite acceptable in order to snag a new record.  Note that if you do a Google search for this phrase most of the returned results will be related to my reporting this find in a comment on another person's blog, though the original post is also in the search results (as of Mar 2012) if you hunt for it.