1. Stephen Fry

2. Will Shortz

3. David Mitchell

4. Erin McKean

5. Anatoly Liberman

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October 22, 2011

in Autobiographical,dictionaries,famous people,Stephen Fry,word games,Words & Origins

There’s a big library on campus currently under noisy refurbishment, but this is not a list of that York Library. That would be a really long list, and I don’t think you would learn much from it. On the other hand, the books that I decided to carry across the ocean with me were chosen based on weight, relevance to the program, and proximity to my heart.

[and then suddenly…]


October 18, 2011

in Autobiographical,Books,dictionaries,latin,libraries,literature,University of York,Words & Origins

When I have thought about and used this word, as in ‘painstakingly obvious’ or ‘she described the incident in painstaking detail,’ I break up the big morphemes as ‘pain and stakingly.’ Then, yesterday, I pressed random word on wordnik.com often enough that I got to the page on the word painstaker. The definition is “One who takes pains.” OF COURSE, said my brain, it is someone who takes pains to make sure every detail is in place. Pains taker, not pain staker.


April 29, 2011

in dictionaries,english,Etymology,FACT,insignificant linguistics mystery,wordnik,Words & Origins

I haven’t done anything today, unless you count the hundreds of words I’ve tagged on Wordnik.com in an attempt to create a foundation for … something.

Basically, I go to an entry for a word. I look at how the word is spelled. I tag the word based on the pattern it has of consonants and vowels. Consonant is c, vowel is v. Panda is “cvccv“. Panther is “cvcccvc“. That’s it.

The beauty of is is when you spend your whole day doing this, your job is basically to ‘think of all the words in English” and then tag them with their consonant/vowel pattern. Some of the combinations point out obvious connections between fight, right, light, might, etc, but other words in the ‘cvccc‘ pattern include birth, waltz, world, and sixth. Unexpected, neh?

I’m sure that a program could be written fairly easily to accomplish this task in minutes, but I had kind of a blast doing it manually. Actually, this blog is taking forever because every word I type here I want to go and tag on wordnik.

As I said, I’m not sure of the practical application of this. Making the connections may be the entire purpose. I mean, you can deduce that ‘deer’ and bead’ have the same pattern of cvvc, (one of the most popular ones, and therefore one I have not been tagging as much). It’s the strange combinations that seem worth making, and I’m happy to make this strong foundation. My favorite series of words is ‘vccvcvcv‘ which currently has: advocate, antelope, envelope, escalate, and ominivore.

A while ago, I brainstormed about what online dictionaries could offer that paper ones cannot, specifically because of Erin McKean’s very smart but understandable TED Talk where she explains the “ham butt problem.” There could be so many more features than we are used to settling for. Wordnik already links to Flickr, and provides etymologies as well as popularity charts on the right side, explaining when a word has come in and out of the language. Pretty sweet stuff.

For some reason, I made an example page of what I thought an online definition page should look like, and included this function. In my example, it was apple, which it turns out has the very strange combination of ‘vcccv.’ It took a long time to match up any other words with that pattern but now there are 5.


Some caveats when tagging and searching for tagged words on Wordnik:
1. I spent a lot of time on this today but I’m only one person. Anyone can add tags by creating their own free little account. Please add them if you think they should be there.
2. I started out just doing 4, 5, and 6 letter words, eventually expanding out to 3-letter and 7-12 letter words. Therefore, if they are 4, 5, or 6 letters long, it’s more likely there will be a larger database of words to compare it to.
3. For some reason today I’m having trouble deciding whether the Y in KEY should be a vowel or a consonant, so I tagged it for both ‘cvv’ and ‘cvc.’
4. So far I haven’t done any hyphenated words, but I’m sure they will fall into place easily.


January 3, 2010

in consonants,dictionaries,vowels,wordnik

Last week I got kicked in the pants by a linguistic celebrity. What happened was that at Andy’s 24th birthday party, 2 guys talking about their difficulty in finding suits their sizes were forced to talk to me by Andy. (I who was being forced to constantly drink more champagne.) I forced the conversation to linguistics as I do, and one of the smartly-dressed chaps suggested I email any famous important linguistics person I could think of in the world and ask for advice. Well I did, and I expected a surrogate response or a cokkie cutter statement but NO, Erin McKean the editor of the New Oxford American Dictionary and all-around good American lexicographer, WROTE BACK… TWICE. It was almost too much to take.
Anyhow she suggested that more than having a job in the industry or taking specific classes what I should really be doing is keeping up on Historical Linguistics literature. I almost jumped out the door to buy some big happy books when I realized I already have 8 that I’ve tried to start and then lost motivation for. “If you think it will be hard to motivate yourself to do the reading set yourself a public goal and blog your progress,” said the mighty lexicographer. And so I am. [and then suddenly…]

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September 2, 2008

in Books,dictionaries,Words & Origins