Distribution of letters in parts of English words


Prooffreader graphed the distribution of letters towards the beginning, middle and end of English words, using a variety of corpora, finding both some obvious truths and some surprising ones. As soon as I saw this, I began to think of the ways that you could use it to design word games -- everything from improved Boggle dice to automated Hangman strategies to altogether new games.

Read the rest

You should try the 1913 Webster's, seriously


James Somers thinks you should switch to the Websters 1913 dictionary, and he cites John McPhee's composition method of looking up synonyms for problematic words as the key to his peerless prose style. Somers makes a great case for the romance of historical dictionaries, but for my money (literally -- I spent a fortune on this one), the hands-down best reference for synonyms and historical language reference is the Historical Thesaurus of the Oxford English Dictionary, whose magnificence cannot be overstated.

Read the rest

Aussie politician calls rival a "c*nt" in Parliament, gets away with it

Juha writes, "Christopher Pyne, education minister for the ruling right-wing Coalition in Australia, calls the leader of the centre-left Labor, Bill Shorten, a "cunt." In Parliament. Pyne gets away with it too, as the Speaker doesn't intervene. Further audio here in case Youtube pulls the video."

Turn literary works into patent applications with patent-generator


Patent-generator is a Github-hosted python script that turns literary texts into patent applications, with descriptions of the accompanying diagrams (here's Kapital, AKA "A method and device for comprehending, theoretically, the historical movement"; and here's Heidegger's The Question Concerning Technology, AKA "A device and system for belonging to bringing-forth").

Read the rest

What are the stupid vanity-plate rules in your state?

Michael from Muckrock writes, "STFU: That's one of the license plates Virginia won't let its citizens register. In fact, a MuckRock user recently obtained a list of over 500 pages of rejected license plate suggestions, and now the site wants to take the look national, and is asking for users to sponsor-a-state (covering cost of stamps, etc) or just suggest the right place to file with."

Read the rest

Shakespeare's Beehive: analysis of newly discovered dictionary that Shakespeare owned and annotated


Here's a review of Shakespeare's Beehive: An Annotated Elizabethan Dictionary Comes to Light, a newly published analysis of a recently discovered Elizabethan dictionary that Shakespeare used for his plays, and which he heavily annotated. The dictionary, "An Alvearie or Quadruple Dictionary," written by John Baret in 1580, came to light in an Internet auction, Beehive's authors make a compelling case for this book having been annotated by Shakespeare himself. They proceed to analyze Shakespeare's annotations in light of his works. It looks fascinating, and as with all great works of scholarship, there are dirty parts:

Read the rest

"Fiber to the press release"

Techdirt's Mike Masnick has a gift for catchy, acerbic shorthand terms to describe shenanigans. He coined the term "Streisand Effect" to describe any situation in which a relatively obscure piece of information becomes widely known through a ham-fisted attempt to censor it. He's done it again: "Fiber to the press-release" is the phenomenon of incumbent carriers like AT&T making showy announcements about their intention to build super-fast broadband networks to replace their creaky, under-invested monopoly infrastructure, without ever mentioning scale, timelines, pricing, or any other specifics, only to have the announcement lapped up and repeated by a credulous press. Cory 5

English mispronunciations that became common usage


Here's a great history of English mispronunciations that became the received pronunciations. The piece makes the important point that English has no canon, no unequivocal right way or wrong way of speaking -- a point that is often lost in Internet linguistic pedantry and literacy privilege.

I'm as guilty as anyone of thinking that my English is the best English, but the next time I wince at "nukular," I'll remind myself that "bird" started out as "brid" and "wasp" started out as "waps," but were mispronounced into common usage.

Read the rest

Drunken bet results in 99-character name-change: "Full Metal Havok..."

Nat writes, "A Dunedin, NZ, man lost a bet five years ago and changed his name by deed poll to the longest name he could make (99 characters, 1 shy of the Dept of Internal Affairs limit). I want to know what they were drinking because the name is fantastic. "The 22-year-old man from Normanby is now legally known as 'Full Metal Havok More Sexy N Intelligent Than Spock And All The Superheroes Combined With Frostnova'." (Thanks, Nat!) Cory 21

Well-Sorted Version, an alphabetical Bible.


The Well-Sorted Version of the King James Bible takes all the letters in the Bible, preserves the order of upper- and lower-case letters, sorts the letters into alphabetical order, and "pours" the sorted letters back "into all the structure of books, chapters, verses, paragraphs, and words." Peter Harkins, who created the Well-Sorted Version, is accepting pledges to order the book in a limited, $300 edition, with cleat-sewn, acid/lignen-free paper bound into hot-foil-stamped leather, produced by the Grimm Bindery in Madison, WI, which will go into production if there's sufficient interest. There are also plans for cheaper hardcover/paperback editions and a $20 PDF version.

I once handled and enjoyed a similarly prepared edition of Joyce's Ulysses. It was a surprisingly great read.

Read the rest

Cryptofloricon: send bouquet-encoded messages

London's Cryptofloricon encode one of several useful messages into floral code and send the resulting bouquet to your sweetheart. (Thanks, Ed!) Cory 6

Great Language Game: can you tell the difference between spoken languages of the world


The Great Language Game asks you to listen to brief samples of conversational speech and then correctly guess which language is being spoken, choosing from an ever-expanding multiple-choice selection. It's surprisingly fun! My first score was 350 (I was stumped on distinguishing Dari from Malayayam, neither of which I know anything about).

Great Language Game (via Kottke)

Cockney ATM


Long have I heard tell of the Cockney Rhyming Slang ATM of Hackney Road, but na'er had I chanced upon it...until today! As soon as I stuck my debit card in the machine in front of the Co-Op Grocers in Hackney Road and was asked to make a language-selection between "English" and "Cockney," I knew I'd found it at last.

Read the rest

State of the Union Machine: mixes of previous SOTUs

Nicko from the Sunlight Foundation writes, "Tomorrow night, President Barack Obama will give the annual State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress and today the Sunlight Foundation unveiled the State of the Union Machine. It allows you to generate your own random speech modeled on the language from different presidents' previous addresses.

The project uses natural language processing on the corpus of nine previous presidents to generate random text based on the sliders that adjust the weight given to each president. The speeches are a mix of eloquent presidential prose and uncomfortable executive dissonance."

Read the rest

Lovecraftian rant about the horrors of Blackboard

Anyone who's ever had the misfortune to attend or work at an academic institution that uses the horrible classroom software Blackboard knows that it is a worse-than-useless exercise in technological sadism that is responsible for more pain and suffering than practically any other technology in educational history. But it takes the eloquence of Dave Noon's epic, Lovecraftian rant to truly express the loathing that Blackboard inspires in its users: "After generations of dry-throated croaking and lung-starched wheezing, their tongues swollen with thirst and punctured with abscesses that never heal, these distant people will bring forth a new language to survey the boundaries of their pain."

Read the rest