Friday, April 28, 2006

Geoff Nunberg and aliens

If I lived in central California (and had evenings off), I'd have been here last night: An Evening with Geoffrey Nunberg: The Paradox of Political Language.
There's a paradox in modern attitudes about political language. Left and right may disagree as to which expressions count as deceptive packaging and which are merely effective branding, but both acknowledge that the American public is particularly susceptible to linguistic manipulation. Yet it's also fair to say that there has never been an age that was so wary of the mischief that language can work, or so alert to the dangers of political euphemism and indirection. How did we come to this point? Are political and public figures really more mendacious than they used to be, or does it reflect a changing media role or an increasingly polarized political climate? Why is widespread sophistication no impediment to the misleading use of language, and why do many of the most successful linguistic maneuvers pass our radar undetected?
Nunberg, a frequent contributor of language commentaries on Fresh Air, most recently covered use of the word alien in immigration discussions. Here's an excerpt:
Alien still suggests strangeness and difference -- people who are "not of our sort." That's partly due to the science-fiction writers who picked the word up in the 1930's to refer to extraterrestrial beings. It's revealing that alien is far more likely to be used to describe Mexicans and Central Americans than Europeans. The tens of thousands of Irish and Poles who are in the country illegally are almost always referred to as "immigrants," not "aliens." And anti-immigrationists almost never use aliens to describe foreigners who are in the country legally -- on news broadcasts, "illegal aliens" outnumbers "legal aliens" by about 100 to 1. Whatever its legal meaning, when it comes to the crunch, alien means "brown people who snuck in."
Just one more reason not to favor illegal aliens over illegal immigrants.

Cultural literacy: movies

Film critic Jeff Emerson has a list of the 102 movies you should see to be considered somewhat movie-literate.

I'm a sucker for lists; I love to check them off. So here are the movies I've seen (in bold) from start to finish. I've seen a paltry 50 of them, but my Netflix queue is now brimming.

"2001: A Space Odyssey" (1968) Stanley Kubrick
"The 400 Blows" (1959) Francois Truffaut
"8 1/2" (1963) Federico Fellini
"Aguirre, the Wrath of God" (1972) Werner Herzog
"Alien" (1979) Ridley Scott
"All About Eve" (1950) Joseph L. Mankiewicz
"Annie Hall" (1977) Woody Allen
"Apocalypse Now" (1979) Francis Ford Coppola
"Bambi" (1942) Disney
"The Battleship Potemkin" (1925) Sergei Eisenstein
"The Best Years of Our Lives" (1946) William Wyler
"The Big Red One" (1980) Samuel Fuller
"The Bicycle Thief" (1949) Vittorio De Sica
"The Big Sleep" (1946) Howard Hawks
"Blade Runner" (1982) Ridley Scott
"Blowup" (1966) Michelangelo Antonioni
"Blue Velvet" (1986) David Lynch
"Bonnie and Clyde" (1967) Arthur Penn
"Breathless" (1959) Jean-Luc Godard
"Bringing Up Baby" (1938) Howard Hawks
"Carrie" (1975) Brian DePalma
"Casablanca" (1942) Michael Curtiz
"Un Chien Andalou" (1928) Luis Bunuel & Salvador Dali
"Children of Paradise" / "Les Enfants du Paradis" (1945) Marcel Carne
"Chinatown" (1974) Roman Polanski
"Citizen Kane" (1941) Orson Welles
"A Clockwork Orange" (1971) Stanley Kubrick
"The Crying Game" (1992) Neil Jordan
"The Day the Earth Stood Still" (1951) Robert Wise
"Days of Heaven" (1978) Terence Malick
"Dirty Harry" (1971) Don Siegel
"The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie" (1972) Luis Bunuel
"Do the Right Thing" (1989) Spike Lee
"La Dolce Vita" (1960) Federico Fellini
"Double Indemnity" (1944) Billy Wilder
"Dr. Strangelove" (1964) Stanley Kubrick
"Duck Soup" (1933) Leo McCarey
"E.T. -- The Extra-Terrestrial" (1982) Steven Spielberg
"Easy Rider" (1969) Dennis Hopper
"The Empire Strikes Back" (1980) Irvin Kershner
"The Exorcist" (1973) William Friedkin
"Fargo" (1995) Joel & Ethan Coen
"Fight Club" (1999) David Fincher
"Frankenstein" (1931) James Whale
"The General" (1927) Buster Keaton & Clyde Bruckman
"The Godfather," "The Godfather, Part II" (1972, 1974) Francis Ford Coppola
"Gone With the Wind" (1939) Victor Fleming
"GoodFellas" (1990) Martin Scorsese
"The Graduate" (1967) Mike Nichols
"Halloween" (1978) John Carpenter
"A Hard Day's Night" (1964) Richard Lester
"Intolerance" (1916) D.W. Griffith
"It's a Gift" (1934) Norman Z. McLeod
"It's a Wonderful Life" (1946) Frank Capra
"Jaws" (1975) Steven Spielberg
"The Lady Eve" (1941) Preston Sturges
"Lawrence of Arabia" (1962) David Lean
"M" (1931) Fritz Lang
"Mad Max 2" / "The Road Warrior" (1981) George Miller
"The Maltese Falcon" (1941) John Huston
"The Manchurian Candidate" (1962) John Frankenheimer
"Metropolis" (1926) Fritz Lang
"Modern Times" (1936) Charles Chaplin
"Monty Python and the Holy Grail" (1975) Terry Jones & Terry Gilliam
"Nashville" (1975) Robert Altman
"The Night of the Hunter" (1955) Charles Laughton
"Night of the Living Dead" (1968) George Romero
"North by Northwest" (1959) Alfred Hitchcock
"Nosferatu" (1922) F.W. Murnau
"On the Waterfront" (1954) Elia Kazan
"Once Upon a Time in the West" (1968) Sergio Leone
"Out of the Past" (1947) Jacques Tournier
"Persona" (1966) Ingmar Bergman
"Pink Flamingos" (1972) John Waters
"Psycho" (1960) Alfred Hitchcock
"Pulp Fiction" (1994) Quentin Tarantino
"Rashomon" (1950) Akira Kurosawa
"Rear Window" (1954) Alfred Hitchcock
"Rebel Without a Cause" (1955) Nicholas Ray
"Red River" (1948) Howard Hawks
"Repulsion" (1965) Roman Polanski
"The Rules of the Game" (1939) Jean Renoir
"Scarface" (1932) Howard Hawks
"The Scarlet Empress" (1934) Josef von Sternberg
"Schindler's List" (1993) Steven Spielberg
"The Searchers" (1956) John Ford
"The Seven Samurai" (1954) Akira Kurosawa
"Singin' in the Rain" (1952) Stanley Donen & Gene Kelly
"Some Like It Hot" (1959) Billy Wilder
"A Star Is Born" (1954) George Cukor
"A Streetcar Named Desire" (1951) Elia Kazan
"Sunset Boulevard" (1950) Billy Wilder
"Taxi Driver" (1976) Martin Scorsese
"The Third Man" (1949) Carol Reed
"Tokyo Story" (1953) Yasujiro Ozu
"Touch of Evil" (1958) Orson Welles
"The Treasure of the Sierra Madre" (1948) John Huston
"Trouble in Paradise" (1932) Ernst Lubitsch
"Vertigo" (1958) Alfred Hitchcock
"West Side Story" (1961) Jerome Robbins/Robert Wise
"The Wild Bunch" (1969) Sam Peckinpah
"The Wizard of Oz" (1939) Victor Fleming

Context clues

In the "Inside Dictionaries" session at ACES, Erin McKean spent a lot of time talking about the importance of the corpus, a huge electronic databank of writing and speech that helps identify -- in context, not just how words are used.

The contents of the Oxford English Corpus hit 1 billion words Wednesday, and the Associated Press (through ASAP) has an explainer on it.

McKean is her usual charming self. On additions to the corpus:
"We're always happy to hear from people who want to have their text in," says Erin McKean, editor-in-chief for American Dictionaries for Oxford University Press. "It's like volunteering your body for science, only you don't have to die."
And the example du jour was not asshat; it was pre-game, "to drink a lot of alcohol before an event where no alcohol will be served" (or where it will be too expensive, I'd add).

I often hear people bagging on the ASAP concept, but let's say this for the service: The story didn't have much of headline on it, but what was there wasn't wrong. The same can't be said for the regular AP headline: English Language Hits 1 Billion Words. (Perhaps we can blame the hoopla over the millionth-word claim?) Yes, there are a billion words in the corpus, but most of them repeat. As McKean points out, the word the is there 50 million times itself.

Read more about the corpus here.
Read more about bad (and good) corpus headlines here.


Slate's Timothy Noah welcomes Tony Snow to his Aptronym Yellow Pages, which lists people whose professions mirror their names.

It's not the first time I've read a reference to a White House snow job, but I think this aptronym's a stretch. (If he worked behind a plow or was a professional skier, OK.) Noah does list some better ones, including:

Joey Goodspeed, former running back
Harry Beaver, retired gynecologist
Les Plack, dentist
Cardinal Sin, appointed at Santa Maria ai Monti in 1976

My doctor once recommended a dermatologist by the name of John Cheek, which gave me a few chuckles.

You can find more aptronyms at Wikipedia.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Chicago Tribune has a language column

I recently discovered another language column, written by Nathan Bierma for the Chicago Tribune. It's called On Language, no relation to William Safire's of the same name.

This week's piece is a reader-submission number asking for clever neologisms: drismal, residebt, gladually.

Last week's piece discusses use and history of the word gawker. (Bonus: a quote from Anatoly Liberman, who works with Erin McKean at Oxford University Press and has a word-origin column once a week at the OUP blog.

The column from April 5 shifted gears. It's about dyslexia in China, where readers have trouble not with reversing letters but with
learning the relationships between characters, meanings and sounds, which is at the heart of the Chinese character system.

Bierma also contributes to a blog on language. And he's the man responsible for that interview with Erin McKean that I posted a couple of weeks ago.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Copy editors vs. reporters

Alex Cruden, chief editor of copy desks at the Detroit Free Press, spent a few months working on the city desk recently. In the "Lessons from the City Desk" session, he told us how he came away with the understanding that, as much as copy editors wish it otherwise, news is messy.

We want everything to be black and white, cut and dry. But that's not the way news works; there are always mysteries and equivocations. And as long as there are deadlines, there will be questions left unanswered.

He also stressed that the culture on the city desk is different from that of the copy desk. Reporters have endless pressure to get the scoop, meet the deadline. They're so competitive, Cruden said, that they must show no weakness. They have a fear of appearing fearful. They are simultaneously proud and insecure.

How should copy editors respond? Cruden stressed that we should ask only questions that can be answered. The more you help move toward a solution, the more you'll be recognized as a great copy editor.

Some other suggestions:
  • Ask your questions as early as possible, but save them all for one call or e-mail.
  • Be flexible. Provide alternatives. Note what can be deleted without harm.
  • Fix what you can yourself. Sharply spotting a problem doesn't then mean sharply demanding a solution.
Teresa Schmedding, who oversees copy editors at the Daily Herald in suburban Chicago, couldn't make the session but had also recently spent some time on the city desk. She sent some notes along.

She noticed how much time reporters actually spend going down blind alleys, trying to track down the story and waiting for calls back from sources. It's not laziness that brings stories in at deadline (or later) every night.

Here are a few of the vows she made when her five-week stint was up:
  • I'll never assume it's laziness or a lack of caring that leads an editor to forget the "little" things like refers and captions. I'll bear in mind that while I'm focusing on tomorrow's papers, editors are juggling stories, photos, captions and planning for sections weeks in advance.
  • I'll never shake my head in snide amazement at editors who push to get timeless stories in when space is tight or they haven't had an advance edit. Excitement about a story and an eagerness to see it in print should be applauded.
  • I'll never blindly defend a headline for the sake of defending a headline. I'll recall the headline that I thought destroyed a story I cared deeply about and respond honestly and not defensively.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Quick conference recap

I'm back from Cleveland; I hope everyone was checking out the ACES conference blog, where I had time for a couple of posts (not nearly as many as I had intended).

There was one about the session on deciding if management is right for you. Here's most of it:
Despite the Wednesday night fun at Flannery's Pub ... and then the Winking Lizard ... and then the hotel lobby, I managed to register this morning and make it to the first session on time. I went to "Do You Really Want to Be the Boss?" with William Connolly, Marlene Bagley, Sara Hendricks and Scott Toole.

They laid out some pros (pay, prestige, a bigger chance to make a difference) and cons (longer hours, meetings, putting up with cranky underlings and overlings). Connolly made the point that you may lose friends once you become a manager: He had a friend once, he said, who thought he was a genius when they were peers. But once he became that friend's boss, he became the stupidest man alive.

Another suggestion: Don't holler and lose your cool. And if you do have to lose your cool, do it behind closed doors.

The main message was that a good copy editor who gets a promotion won't necessarily be a good manager. My thought: Taking promotion for promotion's sake could end up hurting your career in the long run if you're no good at managing.
The big shock of the conference: I got to meet Erin McKean, who is just as delightful as you'd expect. I was a little embarrassed; I had just written a post about her after her session Friday morning.
I think I should just get it over with and start an Erin McKean fan club. I'd be assured many members, and we could all wear cool glasses and retro dresses and sweater sets to show our respect.

I know why NPR called her America's Lexicographical Sweetheart.

Her session today, with Copy Editor's Wendy Nichols, was fantastic. McKean (who is editor in chief of American dictionaries for Oxford University Press) is just such a polished presenter; she had so many fun examples and clever anecdotes. To wit:
  • Someone tried to pay her $5 to take irregardless out of the dictionary. She said, first of all, I can't be bribed. Second of all, if I could, it wouldn't be for $5.
  • She talked about the "Usual Suspects" rule of dictionary reading: Don't leave before the twist at the end. You may be reading a clump of definitions that all have to do with the core meaning; it's at the end that the funky stuff shows up.
  • People are using ahem as a verb for online downloading: "I ahemmed the new Gnarls Barkley CD last night; it's so good!" It won't be in the dictionary any time soon, but finding new uses like that can be exciting -- even if you wouldn't allow it in a 1A story.
  • Online or print dictionaries? That depends on what you want. McKean compared the online search to a commando raid: You get parachuted in, you take out your target, and they lift you back out. But looking up a word in a book is like an over-land invasion: You're on a trek through all this land, picking up skills and intelligence as you go. One destination may just lead you to another.
And, back to asshat, it won't be enough for just us bloggers to use the word. When you find it in teen movies and zines, that won't get it in the dictionaries, either. Now, if it's in the Economist without scare quotes, she said, then they might consider it.
The asshat reference had been mentioned earlier on the ACES blog. McKean was talking about how Google hits aren't enough to decide whether a word is useful enough to put in the dictionary. She gave asshat as an example. You'll find a million references to the word on Google but only a handful on a Google Books search. A lot of young Web-reading types use the word, but it's not embraced by the general public, and therefore a dictionary entry wouldn't be useful enough to merit its inclusion.

Also, McKean's favorite word is erinaceous: of, like or pertaining to the hedgehog. Only useful enough to be in the OED, where the useful bar is lower.

That's probably enough surmising for one post, but I have a lot of other sessions to share: Lessons from the City Desk, by Alex Cruden; Morale: Who Needs It? by Arlene Schneider and Lew Serviss; America's Next Top Copy Editor, by Ron Smith, Jackie Jones and Doris Truong; Surviving and Thriving in the Slot, by Deirdre Edgar and Jeff Pierron; Women in Management, by Leslie Guevarra, Anne Ferguson-Rohrer, Melissa McCoy and Teresa Schmedding; Getting It Right, by Merill Perlman; and OK, Listen Up, This is Simple, by Phillip Blanchard, J.A. Montalbano and Mary Ellen Slayter.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Cleveland rocks

I'm headed to Cleveland in the morning for the annual American Copy Editors Society conference, where I'll be presenting the Blogging for Editors session again with Doug Fisher.

If you are going to the conference: Say hi. I have a feeling I'll be spending a good amount of off time here.

If you aren't going to the conference: ACES is going to keep a conference blog this year for the first time. I'll be contributing, along with Chris Wienandt, Deirdre Edgar, Daniel Hunt and Peter Zicari. It should get going Wednesday night or Thursday morning.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Google rears some ugly heads

If you haven't had a chance to check out the New York Times story on optimizing headlines and stories for Google yet, give it a shot. The theory is that as search-engine bots troll the Web, they're more likely to pick up on a story if it contains the right key words in the head or lead.

A few media outlets have tweaked their procedures to try to nab more readers.
About a year ago, The Sacramento Bee changed online section titles. "Real Estate" became "Homes," "Scene" turned into "Lifestyle," and dining information found in newsprint under "Taste," is online under "Taste/Food."
And BBC News' Web site tries to put more engaging headlines on its main page while leaving the nuts-and-bolts hed for the click-through.

There's been some grumbling about this, as can be expected: Headlines are supposed to be creative and work off the other elements in a package.

But that's how we draw readers into a story in print. On the Web, it will be different. Better understanding -- and exploitation -- of search engines will simply have to be a part of that.

The trick here is being able to use the Web tools for Web readers and the print tools for print readers -- so that we can engage as many readers as possible in both media.
"My first thought is that reporters and editors have a job to do and they shouldn't worry about what Google's or Yahoo's software thinks of their work," said Michael Schudson, a professor at the University of California, San Diego, who is a visiting faculty member at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism.

"But my second thought is that newspaper headlines and the presentation of stories in print are in a sense marketing devices to bring readers to your story," Mr. Schudson added. "Why not use a new marketing device appropriate to the age of the Internet and the search engine?"

Friday, April 14, 2006

New OED entries

Some recently added entries to the OED Online:

chugalug, v.
chug-a-lug, int. and n.
sippy cup
star 69

Lang may your lum reek

Addicted to BBC America but not yet a pro at deciphering all the English slang? They've provided a dictionary to help.

I have yet to be blessed with the joy that is BBC America. But while watching "Kath & Kim," an Australian show, with my parents on the Sundance Channel, Kim kept using the word daggy. I could figure out that it meant uncool or some equivalent, but I still wanted to look it up. It's not in the BBC dictionary, but I found it at another site.
1. Australia unfashionable: unfashionable, especially from a young person's point of view

2. Australia messy: untidy, dirty, and unpleasant
Her bed-sitter was so daggy.

3. Australia unconventional: different from other people, or unwilling to conform
Interested? Here's a column about dag.

The headline, by the way, is from the BBC dictionary. It's Scottish and means "Long may your chimney smell; May you always have coal on your fire; May you have enough money to keep you house warm." It's commonly said at the new year.

The Erin McKean lovefest continues

An interview with Erin McKean on prescriptivism vs. descriptivism, from 2004.

Here's a quote:
I think that there needs to be a let-off of prescriptivist steam. I mean, I get annoyed by it too. I was in a movie theater watching those ads on the screen, those movie factoids. It was something about Owen Wilson, and they made a verb transitive that in my opinion is not transitive, and I was gettin' kind of grumpy about it. And my husband was sitting next to me and he said, 'Uh huh, see? Even you are prescriptivist.'
That reminds me: Every time my partner and I hear begs the question, his head snaps around to see my reaction. But I can get by these days without so much as a sharp intake of breath. I'm so over begs the question, as I've mentioned. Lately, I've been focusing my complaints against too-loud motorcycles. Why are they allowed?

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Wink-wink, nudge-nudge

Get ready for some frenetic blogging as I try to clear out some of the links I've been saving up.

Next up is the latest The Word column from Jan Freeman. She covers the language of love and innuendo in British stories about supposed ooh-la-la-ing between Jack Straw and Condi Rice. (On a trip to Iraq, he slept in her bed; she slept on an air mattress.)

Headlines such as "Jack 4 Condi: He Tried Diplomacy but Wants a Special Relationship" and ''Condi: Hop into My Bed" turned up.

Freeman opened her column with:
It's not yet the snore heard 'round the world--but just give the British tabloids a few more days.
So why the apostrophe before round?

There shouldn't be, as Bill Walsh points out in his latest entry at Blogslot.
One meaning of round is "around." So there's no need for apostrophizin' in "round-the-clock service" or "shot heard round the world."
I'm not sure if Freeman's column was Walsh's inspiration; if not, it's a well-timed coincidence.

That Erin McKean posting I promised

Erin McKean was one of the speakers at the Radical Craft Design Conference a few week ago, and shortly after, I began seeing mentions of her in random blogs.

I read in the Huffington Post some guidelines McKean suggested for getting your favorite words in the dictionary.

There was much talk of how cute and witty she was: Hypercritical Writing included praise of McKean's outfit: "It should be noted that McKean had a better dress than any of the fashionistas present." (And I found a picture of said dress at Flickr. Here's another.) Someone at Media Bistro said she should now be called the UnBeige Lexicographical Sweetheart. (But that person also wants her to put productize in the dictionary. Take from that what you will.) Art Barn called her "adorable retro-sexy and deeply geeky" and said that "she won the crowd over with her wordy wit and had all the men drooling in their seats."

I'll close with this McKean quote, from "I make up words at Scrabble. Who's gonna challenge me?"

America's lexicographical blogger

Erin McKean of the OED is guest-blogging this week at the Powell's Books blog.

In "What's a Word Gotta Do to Get in This Joint, Anyway?" she writes about how words that make it into the dictionary aren't necessarily any more real than words that don't; they're just more useful. Especially pertinent to copy editors:
Some people have the idea that if a word isn't in the dictionary, they can't use it. This is not a rule any lexicographer ever came up with (think about it — if this were true, we'd all be out of jobs right quick) and luckily not a rule that most people follow. If a word you want to use isn't in the dictionary (and you're sure you haven't just misspelled it — hey, don't worry, it happens to everyone), go ahead and use it! That's the best way to get it in the next edition, and then everyone's happy.
In "What Do Lexicographers Do All Day, Anyway?" Erin describes what must be one of the greatest jobs in the world. Ever. She reads a lot. Answers e-mails about words. Speaks to groups about dictionaries, aka "dictionary evangelism." (And this is where I learned that "pronunciation editors exist: orthoepists.)

And, in the comments, when someone asks her to pretty please take "irregardless" out of the dictionary, she responds:
Sorry, Will, "irregardless" is in to stay. Not because we think it's the GREATEST WORD EVER (we don't) but because we think it's a heck of a lot more useful to put it in with a big warning sign (ours reads "Irregardless is avoided by careful users of English.") than to leave it out and let people flail around without the benefit of that helpful hint.
It's funny that all this stuff cropped up this week. I've been collecting some links from other people who have huge Erin McKean crushes. I'll try to post that stuff later tonight.


A fun little piece on the first use of the equals sign. (Via Kottke)

Newspapers need a mulligan

When Tiger Woods tied for third in The Masters, he tried to explain his defeat (according to the London Telegraph) like this in a TV interview:
As good as I hit it, that's as bad as I putted. And it's frustrating because I felt so in control of my ball from tee to green, and once I got on the green I was a spaz."
The English media was up in arms; most American media outlets ignored it.

The Online Etymology Dictionary (one of my favorite new online toys) has an entry on spastic:
The noun meaning "a person affected with spastic paralysis" is attested from 1896; derogatory slang shortening spaz first recorded 1965.
So is it an offensive term? I think a good argument can be made against using it. And Woods has apologized. Case closed?

Well, there's a side story here. The spaz part of the quote disappeared in most American publications. What did appear differed from paper to paper. Check out the variety (and let me know if you can find video of the original online so we can compare):

Los Angeles Times: "It was frustrating because I felt so in control of my golf ball from tee to green, then when I got on the green, I was a [wreck]."

Detroit News: "I putted atrociously. As good as I hit it, that's how bad I putted. I felt so in control of my golf ball. Once I got on the green, it was a different story. That's the way it is."

The New York Times: "As good as I hit it today was as bad as I putted. I putted atrociously."

The Washington Post: "I putted atrociously. As good as I hit it was as bad as I putted. It's frustrating."

St. Louis Post-Dispatch: "And as good as I hit it, that's how badly I putted. I absolutely putted so bad ... and I couldn't fix it.

Chicago Tribune: "I hit it great today. As good as I hit it, I putted just as bad. It could have been a different story."

Fort Worth Star-Telegram: "As good as I hit it today was about as bad as I putted it."

The Star-Ledger:
"As good as I hit it today, I putted just as bad. I felt so much control on my ball from tee to green, but I absolutely putted so bad and couldn't fix it."

AP: "I putted atrociously today. As good as I hit it, that's as bad as I putted."

Here are a few papers that published the spaz part:

The Philadelphia Inquirer: "I felt so in control of my ball from tee to green. On the green, I was a spaz. I lost it on the greens."

The Columbus Ledger-Inquirer: "I putted atrociously today. It was frustrating because I felt so in control of my golf ball from tee to green... . I was a spaz."

The New York Post: "As good as I hit it is as bad as I putted. It was frustrating. I felt so in control of my golf ball tee to green and once I got onto the green I was a spaz."

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

And "floopy" makes it a million and one?

Have I mentioned how much I love the Good Word feature at Slate?

The latest is from Jesse Sheidlower, editor at large of the OED. He talks about the Global Language Monitor's silly prediction that the English language is about to add its millionth word.

I wrote in February about how the group's president, Paul Payack, was counting shorthand from texting (I CN for I can) and slang (drinktea and fundoo). There's no word on whether floopy is included.

Sheidlower talks about the difficulty in developing criteria.
Dictionaries include great-grandfather but not great-great-great-great-great-great-grandfather, which is real enough to get over 3,500 Google hits. Only the most basic numbers are typically included; Merriam-Webster, for example, includes twenty-one and twenty-two, but not twenty-three or thirty-one. In fact, if you were to count every number between 0 and 999,999 as a word, you'd have a cool million right there -- ?and still have the rest of the English language to account for.
The millionth-word claim is bogus, but news orgs are still running stories about it.

So be on the lookout in the next few months. Global Language Monitor predicts that the millionth word will be added around June. (As of March 21, there were 988,968 words, it said.) The group may have an algorithm helping it determine when that point comes, but that doesn't make the number any more accurate.

Monday, April 10, 2006


A friend passed on this Dynamist review of "Artful Sentences: Syntax as Style," by Virginia Tufte.
"It is syntax that gives words the power to relate to each other in a sequence, to create rhythms andn emphasis, to carry meaning--of whatever kind--as well as glow individually in just the right stuff," writes Tufte. She has collected hundreds of sentences to illustrate how effective writers use specific techniques to create desired effects. She has a whole chapter on appositives and another on parallelism.
Virginia Postrel was excited to learn the meaning of asyndenton, as am I. It's stringing together words without using conjunctions: We use words like honor, code, loyalty. It's a device I see often (and have been known to employ myself when feeling floopy), but I never knew it had a name.