January 17, 2011

E-Bbooks, E-Readers

First, here's an article about a study at Princeton University that indicated recall of information that is read is enhanced if it is presented in some less-legible typeface than the ubiquitous Times New-Roman, Arial, presumably Helvetica too, and Caecilia (which is used on Kindles). They don't tell us which typefaces are more memorable, except to say "Disfluent fonts, the ones people tend to laugh off, fonts that are comically ugly, they tend to be the best for learning and for memory." Like this maybe?

The research was published in the journal Cognition and you can buy a copy of the article here for only $40. The journalists (I don't know if the original researchers, Connor Diemand-Yauman, Daniel M. Oppenheimer, Erikka B. Vaughan, did this because I haven't shelled out the 40 bucks) have taken a leap further and asserted that e-readers encourage the brain to be lazy. While it's true (I think) that all e-readers right now are limited to a selection of these well-known, easily read fonts, all the manufacturers have got to do is update the software to include some irritating font (Comic-Sans?) and see what happens.

Second, here's an interesting, long article about the history of e-books and e-readers and John Siracusa's hopes and suggestions for them. He spends a lot of time going back - way, way back before the Kindle - to the 1990s, a period when most e-readers still burned whale oil for illumination. He talks about the resistance from publishers.

As you read that article you've got to be very aware that it was written more than a year ago. That means that while the Kindle was on the market, they were still months away from releasing the $139 model that sent sales through the roof. Also, the iPad had not been introduced yet. The author had long thought that Apple was the logical company to bring e-books and e-readers to the masses, although he doesn't seem to resent that a massive book retailer did it instead. He does think the e-reader should be more than a one-task tool, like the Kindle. The iPad is closer to his ideal.

permalink | January 17, 2011 at 11:48 AM | Comments (0)

January 12, 2011

Very Hard To Believe

Juan Jose Gonzalez Luna is facing trial in Montgomery County, Pennsylvania, for drug trafficking. He is deaf, mute and seems to have NO language at all. No sign language. No written language. No lip reading. He is 42 years old. The article says this is what made him ideal as a drug mule. He was arrested while driving from Las Vegas to Philadelphia with two pounds of cocaine. What the hell?

With no language (and I mean NO language) you can't get food, unless you catch live animals yourself. If he lived with family that was feeding him, they would have worked out some system of gestures, but the article doesn't mention a family or a gesture language. He is, however, able to pantomime and is able to pantomime a lawyer. Push him a little and I bet he could pantomime his Miranda Rights.

So how does a person with no language get to Vegas and then drive to Philadelphia? He's got no license. Understands no traffic laws, except what he can observe in the behavior of others. Can't read signs. How does he put gas in the car? Can't read maps. The GPS can't tell him where to go.

We can only hope he knows how to pantomime a guilty plea, because I would pity any juror that got stuck with this trial.

permalink | January 12, 2011 at 09:23 PM | Comments (1)

December 21, 2010

$10,000 Worth Of Spelling

$10,000 is what Microsoft Research will pay the 1st place winner of their "Speller Challenge." There are also 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 5th prizes that pay cash as well. The spell checking is to be applied to search queries. During my tour of Google HQ many years ago I got to meet the one guy who invented their spellcheck. I bet they paid him more than $10,000 for it. I offered him my own humble thanks.

The Microsoft Challenge will be open from January 17 to May 27, 2011.

permalink | December 21, 2010 at 12:32 PM | Comments (0)

China Going All French On English

That is to say China's General Administration of Press and Publication, concerned for the purity of its languages, has ordered newspapers, websites, radio and TV stations to use only standardized Chinese and not to use foreign abbreviations, acronyms and "Chinglish."

permalink | December 21, 2010 at 11:59 AM | Comments (0)

November 17, 2010

Literacy Festival At The DHS Library, Saturday

Riverside County Library System

First 5 Riverside and C.V. Literacy Network
proudly present

The 2nd Annual

Literacy Festival

Planting Words
Harvesting Futures

November 20, 2010
10 a.m. - 2 p.m.
Desert Hot Springs Library
11691 West Drive, Desert Hot Springs
(760) 329-5926

The festival is intended to encourage and inspire youth and community members to discover the countless opportunities and benefits that can be attained through reading.

With guest of honor, Juan Felipe Herrera

Award-winning author, distinguished poet, UCR creative writing professor and spell-binding storyteller.

Free books, interactive booths and cultural entertainment for all attendees.

For more information, please contact Arlene Cano at (951) 233-6160

Literacy Festival

permalink | November 17, 2010 at 07:43 AM | Comments (0)

October 31, 2010

Nomenclature of the British Isles

Nomenclature for British Isles
Click for full size.

permalink | October 31, 2010 at 10:38 AM | Comments (0)

September 26, 2010

Georgia Makes English The Official Second Language

No, not that Georgia. This Georgia. In an attempt to throw off old Russian influence, the birthplace of Stalin embraces English (second after Georgian).

permalink | September 26, 2010 at 12:41 PM | Comments (1)

August 20, 2010

It's Not Often A Major American Newspaper Gets To Use The Word "Befoul"

The St. Petersburg Times recognized the opportunity and seized it. The befoulers were found in the hot tub and arrested.

Their mugshots depicting (from left to right) shock and smirk.

permalink | August 20, 2010 at 01:49 PM | Comments (0)

July 13, 2010

From "the" To "conquistador"

This is a searchable list of supposedly the 86,800 most frequently used words in English. I suspect the data is based on written, published English text, because "fuck" is way, way down in 5598th position.

"Yes" is #146 while "no" is #51.

permalink | July 13, 2010 at 01:10 PM | Comments (0)

May 23, 2010

Coming In November: Mark Twain's Autobiography

Samuel Clemens died 100 years ago and left instructions that his autobiography was not to be published until 2010. The first volume will be released by UC Berkeley in November. Proceeds from the sales will be used to help fund "museums and libraries that preserve his legacy."

permalink | May 23, 2010 at 02:51 PM | Comments (0)

May 17, 2010

What Is It With Sparks and Spelling?

The typo has been fixed.

permalink | May 17, 2010 at 10:46 AM | Comments (0)

April 3, 2010

Bill Donohue Tries To Teach Us English

Bill Donohue's ad in the N.Y. Times has gotten to be old news, but since part of it involves word definitions I feel compelled to comment. It reminds me so much of the anti-gay marriage argument that the word "marriage" has always been defined as a relationship between one man and one woman. Besides being obviously incorrect, that argument supposes that language should somehow dictate our laws and behavior, as if it were a rigid template handed down to us by the Flying Spaghetti Monster when it created our universe.

Anyway, Bill Donohue says this:

The Times continues to editorialize about the "pedophilia crisis," when all along it's been a homosexual crisis. Eighty percent of the victims of priestly sexual abuse are male and most of them are post-pubescent. While most homosexuality does not cause predatory behavior, and most gay priests are not molesters, most of the molesters have been gay.

I don't know why Bill Donohue thinks this is at all relevant to the issue, but that's what he says.

So here comes the English lesson: he is correct that "pedophilia" is sex between an adult and a pre-pubescent child. Sex between an adult male and an adolescent consenting male is "pederasty." As far as I can determine, there is no English word for sex between a female adult and an adolescent, consenting female. Between an adult and a consenting adolescent of the opposite sex, there are probably dozens of terms as that relationship has been celebrated in literature, music and film for centuries (well, film for like 1.1 centuries). Pederasty is a subset of homosexuality, so Bill Donohue is correct on that point. I have no idea if he is correct when he says "most of the molesters have been gay."

But none of that is relevant. I haven't seen any news stories where the victim says he consented to a sexual relationship with a priest "and Father Mulcahey is a real tiger in bed." The victims are victims because the relationship has NOT been consensual. In most cases (my estimate, which is probably as reliable as Donohue's estimate) the victims haven't even been old enough to give consent. The simple word for that is "rape."

Does it reassure Roman Catholics to be told "Good news, bad news. The good news is that most of those priests accused of pedophilia are not pedophiles. The bad news is they're rapists or pederasts."

permalink | April 3, 2010 at 06:30 AM | Comments (0)

December 18, 2009

Flickr Poet

Type in a poem at Flickr Poet and it will try to find photos at Flickr to illustrate each word of the poem. It's got some catches. Not many photographers at Flickr tag their images with archaic words, so the older your poem the greater the chance that some words will go unfound. The program seems to try to ignore 1-letter words (like "I") - sometimes. Also dashes without spaces may confuse it. Example: "word—word"

But once you get around that, it can sometimes produce some good results. Here is the third stanza of Pioneers! O Pioneers! by Walt Whitman.

Flickr Poet example

permalink | December 18, 2009 at 09:12 AM | Comments (0)

June 5, 2009

Indo-European Languages

One of the articles I mentioned in my previous post mentioned the "language called Tocharian that was similar to Celtic." I Googled that for a bit, since it seemed odd that a language spoken 2,700 years ago in the Gobi Desert would be particularly similar to Celtic. Turns out Tocharian was spoken in central Asia (now Xinjiang) from the 6th to 9th centuries; i.e., from to 1,100 to 1,500 years ago. And then I went on to this article about Indo-European languages which includes this great graphic of the tree of Indo-European languages.

Here I've modified that graphic a bit to help you by pointing out where English sits.
Indo-European Language Tree with English highlighted

Try to find the Celtic and Tocharian branches to see how closely related they are. You'll probably want the full size version to do that.

permalink | June 5, 2009 at 11:18 AM | Comments (0)

April 12, 2009

Strunk & White

Geoffrey Pullum shreds the classic The Elements of Style. For example:

What concerns me is that the bias against the passive is being retailed by a pair of authors so grammatically clueless that they don't know what is a passive construction and what isn't. Of the four pairs of examples offered to show readers what to avoid and how to correct it, a staggering three out of the four are mistaken diagnoses. "At dawn the crowing of a rooster could be heard" is correctly identified as a passive clause, but the other three are all errors:
  • "There were a great number of dead leaves lying on the ground" has no sign of the passive in it anywhere.

  • "It was not long before she was very sorry that she had said what she had" also contains nothing that is even reminiscent of the passive construction.

  • "The reason that he left college was that his health became impaired" is presumably fingered as passive because of "impaired," but that's a mistake. It's an adjective here. "Become" doesn't allow a following passive clause. (Notice, for example, that "A new edition became issued by the publishers" is not grammatical.)

I'm sure my copy of the book was one of those I gave away in my great book-unloading before I moved to California. Never looked at it much anyway.

permalink | April 12, 2009 at 09:24 PM | Comments (0)

December 23, 2008

Correct Usage Of Questionable Sounding Words

Explained right here. For example:

Incorrect usage in conversation:
"I’m a real horehound, but I don’t have $50 to pay a prickmadam to let me do the Dicky grind in her cooter, so you’ll have to excuse me while I go crank my hand organ."
"Better not do it in the shittah. It’s infested with cockchafers."

permalink | December 23, 2008 at 02:03 PM | Comments (0)

August 22, 2008


Back in May I wrote here about the Typo Eradication Advancement League, two men who traveled around the country correcting spelling and punctuation errors on public signs. Ha, ha, very funny. Their hubris knew no bounds, however, as they failed to distinguish between, say, a sign hanging in front of your corner barber shop and historical signs in national parks. This seems to be the end of their project. Their website is down. They have been banned for one year from all national parks and will pay $3,035 to undo their vandalism in the Grand Canyon.

permalink | August 22, 2008 at 10:23 AM | Comments (0)

August 15, 2008

Bulwer-Lytton 2008

Read the complete results here, including:

Joanne watched her fellow passengers - a wizened man reading about alchemy; an oversized bearded man-child; a haunted, bespectacled young man with a scar; and a gaggle of private school children who chatted ceaselessly about Latin and flying around the hockey pitch and the two-faced teacher who they thought was a witch - there was a story here, she decided.

Tim Ellis
Haslemere, U.K.

permalink | August 15, 2008 at 06:02 PM | Comments (0)

August 3, 2008

The Oxford English Dictionary

The Oxford English Dictionary is "the definitive record of the English language." Says so right on their website. It's primary purpose is etymology rather than definition. The process of publishing the first edition took from 1857 to 1928. At that time it consisted of 10 volumes. It is now 20 volumes and you can buy that standard version from Amazon for $895. Or there's the CD-ROM version for only $215. You can even still buy the compact edition which is complete, but uses less paper by printing 4 tiny pages on each page. That'll cost you $288, but it comes with a magnifying glass. Every English major in the 1970s got one of these cheap by joining some mail order book club. Come by and see mine some time.

Your library may have a copy of the OED, and some libraries allow you to access the OED online from home.

All of this is getting around to this book, Reading the OED: One Man, One Year, 21,730 Pages by Ammon Shea who did, in fact, read the whole damn OED and then write about it. Here's a review of that book in the N.Y. Times by Nicholson Baker. The process of reading the OED apparently produced some stroke-like behavior in his brain.

Once he stares for a while, amazed, at the word glove. "I find myself wondering why I've never seen this odd term that describes such a common article of clothing."

permalink | August 3, 2008 at 11:24 AM | Comments (0)

August 2, 2008


Once is a typo. Three times is a problem.

It's either a punctuation error, or the word "deputies" got dropped three times. After all, there is only one Sheriff in the county. All the other guys are deputies.

The "wanted for on parole" we will overlook for the moment. Maybe a later update will include the word naming the violation:
"Gambling on parole?"
"Drug dealing on parole?"
"Oversleeping on parole?"

From The Desert Sun.

permalink | August 2, 2008 at 11:00 PM | Comments (0)