I've exhausted all my google-fu over this one.

  • Short story published during the golden age of sci fi
  • (Probably) published in either Fantastic Science Fiction or Galaxy Science Fiction
  • Dialogue is retrospective, explaining all this sequentially except for the begin
  • Setting: 'Modern day' (1950s?) United States .


  • Lead character is a university professor at a US university or college
  • For some unknown reason, people start quarreling and rioting over a seemingly random or arbitrary phrase ("X beats the Y" vs "Y beats the X" or something?)
  • Order of words determines what "side" you're on.
  • Abrupt personal violence breaks out between opposing sides
  • Lead character comments about the news to wife, divorces him without explaining what the phrases mean "I thought you of all people would understand, [name]."
  • Society collapses and the US is divided in two camps, east and west coast.
  • Lead character is absolutely clueless and eventually finds his way to the rocky mountains or other forest/wilderness without explaining how, as the story is retrospective.
  • One side was eventually shortened to be call the "Pennys" by the lead character. Or maybe some other short word.
  • both sides have eventually wore colored clothing to identify itself, green shirts or something?

That's all information I got. And I still can't find it.

  • 4
    ""The Gostak and the Doshes" is a short story from the Golden Age, and it features war over a meaningless phrase ("the gostak distims the doshes"), but the resemblance ends there, so I'm sure that's not what you're looking for.
    – user14111
    Jul 8, 2017 at 7:35
  • That's certainly not the story I'm looking for. However, nice find!
    – Xunie
    Jul 8, 2017 at 8:04


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