Friday, January 02, 2009

News In Language

It's becoming clear that the continuing raison d'etre of Short Schrift is as a repository for posts that are too nerdy for Snarkmarket -- which is to say, very nerdy indeed.

So! Here is the latest in the world of language, ranging from least to most nerdy.

  1. Lexical Gap. Paul Krugman's looking for a word to describe Alberto Gonzales's self-pity: "I consider myself a casualty, one of the many casualties of the war on terror." Krugman's definition-in-search-of-a-concept: a "person who considers his mild discomfort the equivalent of torture, crippling injury, or death for other people." Bonus nerd points: I spent a half an hour combing the OED in search of such a word. No dice. (Besides "self-pity.")
  2. Slate actually has a really good article about different takes on spell-check technology, contrasting Word's highly prescriptive (and in-principle highly limiting) to Google's highly descriptive (and in-principle highly permissive) approaches. I actually think that Google's algorithm-driven model could actually be tweaked to be more vigilant than Word, especially by finding and flagging common errors in phrases where homophonic misspelling is rampant. But would normalizing spelling at the level of the phrase just reinforce clich├ęs? I think about this stuff a lot.
  3. The International League of Antiquarian Booksellers has the great reference work ABC for Book Collectors available as a PDF, free to download for noncommercial use. What's great about the ABC is that it's actually fun to thumb through, especially if you like the dry reductive wit of a relatively disillusioned Cambridge scholar and book lover. (Rachel, I'm looking at you.)

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