Jan 252011

After DeadlineThe New York Times has a weekly column called After Deadline, “Notes from the newsroom on grammar, usage and style.” In this column, Philip B. Corbett, the associate managing editor for standards (who is also in charge of The Times’s style manual), points out grammar and style errors from recent editions of the newspaper.

I learn a lot from this column. While some of the points are specific to The NY Times style guide, many are related to general usage and grammar issues. The examples given are representative of the complexity of everyday usage.

It’s the cart-before-the-horse problem: usually the grammar and usage examples that are given to illustrate a particular issue are simplified to make the issue clear and understandable. The problem is that normal usage is more complex, so it is illuminating to see grammatical analysis of complex sentences.

Further to this, Brian Garner’s Modern American Usage is an excellent reference that uses examples from print media to illustrate grammatical rules. It’s back-of-the-toilet interesting.

 Posted by at 4:46 pm
Apr 162005

…12 hops, according to The Amazing Baconizer, which uses Amazon Web services to see how two items are linked by consumer preference via intermediate items (ie, the “people who bought this also bought…” thing). Think The Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon (The Oracle of Bacon), except for stuff sold on Amazon.

Here’s a first (for me, anyway): Oxford Dictionary of English -> Madonna, by Andrew Morton – “There is no path currently connecting these two items“. How can that be? Errriiiiccccc!

 Posted by at 7:53 am
Apr 132005

(…as seen on boing boing), “SCIgen is a program that generates random Computer Science research papers, including graphs, figures, and citations. It uses a hand-written context-free grammar to form all elements of the papers.” One of its papers was recently accept as a “non-reviewed” paper by The 9th World Multi-Conference on Systemics, Cybernetics and Informatics. A quote from the accepted, auto-generated paper:

“Our overall evaluation seeks to prove
three hypotheses: (1) that we can do a whole lot to adjust
a framework’s seek time; (2) that von Neumann machines
no longer affect performance; and finally (3) that the IBM
PC Junior of yesteryear actually exhibits better energy than
today’s hardware. We hope that this section sheds light on
Juris Hartmanis ’s development of the UNIVAC computer in

The auto-generated drawings are magnificent.

OHOHOH – surely it must be possible to make a Random Software User Guide.

 Posted by at 1:57 pm
Apr 012005

It’s always worth checking Google first for April Fool’s Day pranks. This year, Google Gulp (BETA)™ with “Auto-Drink™ (LIMITED RELEASE)”.

Google never lacks a sense of humour about itself:

  • Being a limited release product, Google Gulp can only be obtained by getting a cap from another Gulp user – “if you don’t know anyone who can give you one, don’t worry – that just means you aren’t cool. But very, very (very!) soon, you will be”
  • Periodically, Google will collect usage data from Google Gulpers, which is stored in “the GulpPlex™, a heavily guarded, massively parallel server farm whose location is known only to Eric Schmidt, who carries its GPS coordinates on a 64-bit-encrypted smart card locked in a stainless-steel briefcase handcuffed to his right wrist”.
  • Google Gulp was developed by a Google VP who spends his one-day-a-week 20% time “collecting flora samples in several Bolivian sub-equatorial rain forests.”
  • From the FAQ: “Wait – you’re saying Auto-Drink™ changes my brain chemistry?” “Um, yeah – but for the better.” “When will you take Google Gulp out of beta?” “Man, if you pressure us, you just drive us away. We’ll commit when we’re ready, okay? “
 Posted by at 6:50 pm
Mar 232005

Element: wordasword


A lot of technical documentation contains words that have overloaded meanings. Sometimes it is useful to be able to use a word without invoking its technical meaning. The WordAsWord element identifies a word or phrase that might otherwise be interpreted in some specific way, and asserts that it should be interpreted simply as a word.

It is unlikely that the presentation of this element will be able to help readers understand the variation in meaning; good writing will have to achieve that goal. The real value of WordAsWord lies in the fact that full-text searching and indexing tools can use it to avoid false-positives.

 Posted by at 12:10 pm
Mar 202005

I’m prepping a book for Project Gutenberg: Stephen Graham‘s 1922 Tramping with a Poet in the Rockies. Graham was a British journalist and travel writer; Vachel Lindsay was an American poet.

In one of their conversations, Graham teases Lindsay, a poet of the proletariat, on his membership in Oxford’s “Society for Pure English” and on his (contradictory) use of slang and vernacular. Lindsay remarks that he’d give up the slang “if I could get rid of ‘motivate’ and a man’s ‘implications’ and ‘the last analysis’ and ‘the twilight zone’ and ‘canned metaphor’ and the dollar adjectives, a ‘ten-million-dollar building’ and a ‘million-dollar bride.'”

 Posted by at 12:03 pm