One of the many memorable pieces of wordplay in The Phantom Tollbooth is when the heroes meet Dr Dischord and his assistant, the awful DYNNE.

"You mean you've never met the awful DYNNE before?" said Dr. Dischord in a surprised tone. "Why, I thought everyone had. When you're playing in your room and making a great amount of noise, what do they tell you to stop?"
"That awful din," admitted Milo.
"When the neighbors are playing their radio too loud, late at night, what do you wish they'd turn down?"
"The awful din," answered Tock.
"When the street on your block is being repaired and the pneumatic drills are working all day, what does everyone complain of?"
"The dreadful row," volunteered the Humbug brightly.
"The dreadful RAUW," cried the anguished DYNNE, "was my grandfather. He perished in the great silence epidemic of 1712."

What, if anything, does "the great silence epidemic of 1712" refer to? Did something significant happen in that year which led to a reduction of noise in the world? (Trying to recall this line from memory, I misremembered it as 1918, which would have made sense as the end of a world war would surely have reduced noise levels.)

  • 5
    Is there any reason you think it might reference a real historical event? For example, re there other things cited in the book which illustrate a trend for mapping to real-world events?
    – Spagirl
    Sep 19, 2019 at 9:55
  • @Spagirl With the "if anything" I've left the question open to an "it doesn't reference anything in particular" answer, which might indeed be correct and supportable by comparing with other things in the book. The choice of 1712 just seems oddly specific, so I wondered if there was any significance to it.
    – Rand al'Thor
    Sep 19, 2019 at 10:54
  • Yes, I understood that you had left it open, I just wondered and thought you might be more likely to get responses if you were able to show that there was a pattern of such references in Juster's writing, as there is in say, Pratchett's.
    – Spagirl
    Sep 19, 2019 at 11:35
  • 1
    Going by the letter of numbers business, I doubt the number is significant in anyway. Put another way, any year would have looked oddly specific.
    – muru
    Sep 20, 2019 at 8:43
  • Many medical conditions and other causes of death have been referred to as 'silent epidemics', it could just be a gentle pun on that.
    – Spagirl
    Feb 2, 2022 at 16:56

1 Answer 1


One possibility is the beginning of the peace negotiations to end the War of the Spanish Succession, which involved much of western Europe (Great Britain, France, Spain, Portugal, the Holy Roman Empire, etc.) and continued for more than a decade until it was ended by the Peace of Utrecht, negotiations for which began in 1712 although the final peace was not agreed until 1715.

After war for ten years, 1712 would have been a year of unusual silence in Europe. (I also found a website claiming the Riot Act came into effect in 1712, but this seems to be incorrect.)

Or, as commenters suggest, it might be entirely random. The story is set in a fantasy world, whose connection with the real world is unclear, but there are a few references to real-world history, including in connection with sounds:

"Every sound that's ever been made in history is kept here," said the Soundkeeper, skipping down one of the corridors with Milo in hand. "For instance, look here." She opened one of the drawers and pulled out a small brown envelope. "This is the exact tune George Washington whistled when he crossed the Delaware on that icy night in 1777."

  • 2
    If the intended reference were simply to a peace treaty at the end of a long war, the author could have used a more recognizable date, like the Treaty of Versailles, or a war famous for having been especially long, like the Hundred/Thirty Years War. The end of an unexceptional European war doesn't feel satisfying or convincing
    – b a
    Nov 16, 2019 at 18:23
  • @ba Yeah, I'm not fully convinced, but this is the best thing I could find. The other option is "entirely random", not a reference to any real event.
    – Rand al'Thor
    Nov 16, 2019 at 21:41

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.