Monday, November 24, 2008

As I lied dying

What's generally termed "confusion"* between lie and lay is widespread and has been for a long time. It's more accurate to say that the semantic space occupied by lie is encroached upon to a large degree by lay, so that one hears things like:

I'm going to lay down.
The girls like to lay out in the sun.

Part of the problem is surely that the past-tense forms add to the, um, confusion. The verb lay is transitive (to put something into a prone position), and like good transitive verbs in Germanic languages, it follows a regular ("weak") pattern for forming its constituent parts:

present: lay. I'm going to lay the book on the table.
past: laid. Yesterday I laid the book on the table.
participle: laid. All of us have laid books on the table.

(Compare, say, talk.) The verb lie, on the other hand, in the sense of being in a prone position, is intransitive and in the manner of some Germanic verbs, is thus irregular ("strong"):

present: lie. The book lies on the table.
past: lay. Yesterday, the book lay on the table.
participle: lain. The book has lain on the table all day.

(This last sounds odd even to me, so rarely does one hear this conversationally.) It's easy to see that a present-tense lay is easy to confuse with a past-tense lay, for example. And in the world of Germanic weak and strong verbs, if you're going to bet on which form will prevail, the weak form is your better bet by a long shot.

So. Blah-blah. Why am I telling you this? Because Michael B has found such a nice example where this gets really confuddled:

That's when Perkins missed for the second time in the game. He was wide left from 28 yards with 3:24 left in regulation, then missed wide right from 37 in the second overtime. Perkins lied on his back as Martin Stadium erupted at the possibility of a shocking upset.

(Hopefully they haven't fixed this by the time you read it.)

As I say, if you're going to bet on verbs, bet on weak verbs; given half a chance, people will whack a -d onto the end of anything that looks like a verb.

* I adamantly refuse to say that this is "wrong." But then, I would.

Monday, November 10, 2008

texts and selections

Seth forwards a link to a blog post that includes this cite:

This morning I got an email from a prospective [...] student who wanted to see my syllabus prior to registering. Because [the course] deals with literature of many genres, I use the word 'texts' in my syllabus (rather than the specific terms story, play, poem, essay). The student wrote back asking whether she would need to buy a new cell phone, seeing that we were reading so many texts. I assumed she was kidding and replied with a smiley face. Immediately, I received a furious tirade about how unfair I was to expect students to purchase phones and to pay for text messages, which are expensive. I replied that I hadn't realized she wasn't joking and defined what a 'text' means in English class. She wrote back that I had no right to use that word in a way that 'no one could possibly understand' and that she had already looked into buying phones which had worsened 'an already bad day' (guess she didn't vote for Obama?). I didn't have the heart (or stomach) to tell her that I'd switched to 'text' from my previous term 'selection' because former students had found 'selection' confusing (they thought it meant they only had to read part of an assignment--a selection of it. Usually, they just read the first page, especially if I neglected to include the entire page range of a selection on the syllabus).

I have to suspend disbelief a bit to buy this, but that's probably just because I don't deal much with the demographic in question. I can easily imagine that as a college student (I'm assuming), your first definition for text is what you create on a, you know, device. Where this goes wrong for me is that this anecdote suggests that the student in question does not have a second (or subsequent) definition for text that would make more sense in the context here (an English Lit class).

Is it possible that for this language community, the definition of text has become so strongly associated with texting that it has crowded out, so to speak, more traditional definitions?

The confusion over selection here isn't as problematic for me here, again assuming that we're talking about students who are young and/or new to a literature class. Couple this with the natural tendency of most students to want to do the least possible to fulfill an assignment, and with a bit of squinting, I can see this.

All this said, I have no suggestion as to what term here would be completely unambiguous to both teacher and students. What could one use here. Readings?

Anyway, for an amusing take on cross-generational vocabulary confusion that I can relate to, have a look at Matthew Baldwin's You Say Tomato post.

Thursday, September 25, 2008


Peak: pinnacle, highest point, acme, summit, apex, etc. We know the term well from many contexts, including:
  • "in peak health" (#). This expression is so well known that a surprising number of medical facilities play on it (#)
  • "at peak [commuter] hours" (#)
Then along came peak oil, which introduced (? -- or at least popularized) a subtle difference in how the work peak is used, as suggested by the definition in the article:
Peak oil is the point in time when the maximum rate of global petroleum extraction is reached ...

Peak in this sense seems to gobble up a bit more meaning than just "apex"; as used here, it seems to mean "upper limit of the (easy) availability of [commodity]." And sure enough, this usage can be generalized:

Where else do we see this usage?

Update 10/14/08: John Cole uses the term Peak Wingnut in a political blog, which is then deconstructed somewhat (mostly the "wingnut" part) by Mark Liberman on the Language Log under the title "Peak X."

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

... and for chagiggles

I heard something today during a presentation that got my attention (well, the presentation was interesting also), but which struck me at the time as just as slip of the tongue. But when I got back to the office, I searched for it. Man, was I ever surprised:

  • just for chagrins, lets just suppose that everything in this film is embellished (#)

  • That might be neat to find out just for chagrins. (#)

  • Will probably resurrect the F body and try the filter with it (just for chagrins..) (#)

etc. These from the single page of Google hits for this phrase. Not so many cites, but I was surprised that there were any at all.

I believe that per the technical definition, these aren't eggcorns; they're just plain ol' malapropisms. I suppose these cites essentially mean that some people don't know what chagrin means. That's not so surprising, I suppose; it's not a term that comes up in everyday speech.

So: probably not an evolutionary development. Just a little mutation.

Monday, September 08, 2008

Starting over

I've been around the term reboot since, dunno, 30 years ago? (He said, using uptalk intonation.) It's, like, a computer thing, right? On the conservative extreme (language, not politics) among the people I work with (editors), booting is already a bit casual; the proper term is bootstrapping.

Or was. It's safe to say that more people know to boot than know to bootstrap in the context of computers, and I've never heard anyone even suggest to rebootstrap. Although I might try that, see what kind of reaction I get.

It seems that to reboot has been wending its way into territory beyond computer science. This came to me forcefully today when I heard Teri Gross talking about the director J. J. Adams:

Next year Abrams's new "Star Trek" movie will be released, with the hope that it will reboot that franchise the way "The Dark Knight" rebooted Batman.
Repeating reboots, cool. This is an interesting usage to me; it's clear enough what it means, since it has the same semantics as in computer land, namely to restart. Turns out that this usage is established in the comic-book industry, where writers find themselves faced with a ticklish problem, namely how to wipe the slate clean on an established story line. As the highly authoritative Wikipedia explains nicely:

A reboot gives the chance for new fans to experience the core story by reintroducing it in smaller and easier-to-understand installments and/or by refocusing the story on its most important elements and abandoning many subplots and an overgrowth of minor details. Reboots may also serve changing audience expectations as to storytelling style, genre evolution, and sophistication of material.

I went a-searching for more examples of reboot being used outside computers. Huh, once you pay attention, you see it everywhere, imagine.

There's a book of essays named Rebooting America. (A bonus there is a tantalizing link to something called smartocracy -- ain't that neat? -- but the link doesn't seem to go anywhere.)

There's a TV show I've never heard of (that covers most of them, actually) named ReBoot. By computer dudes, it looks like.

reboot now: a conference about technological change: "A convergence to celebrate the emergence of new paradigms,where you can become a catalyst for change by the unlearning of old patterns… ."Another nice find: the Latest News section starts off with "Dear Fellow Rebootians," heh.

Reboot Music: "A music label founded by technology and entertainment industry veterans to reinvent the business of music. Utilizing an innovative approach, Reboot Music embraces new consumer behaviors and new technologies to create a company without boundaries." Gotcha.

A blog piece: Reboot Your Workflow This Fall.

A piece in Wired magazine: "The Critics Need a Reboot. The Internet Hasn't Led Us Into a New Dark Age."

Reboot Stereophonic is a music company that ... well, I don't quite get it, but it has something to do with old recordings.

Life Reboot, a blog-y thing that's about people who are restarting their careers.

The meaning of "restarting" travels easily through these usages. My general impression, tho it's just that, is that this, what, more metaphoric? even more metaphoric? use of reboot is being driven by people who come out of the computer industry or its various cousins (e.g., "new media"). The exception might actually be comics, but then, there's quite a bit of overlap between comic fandom and computer folks, so maybe it's a natural migration of the term from the later to the former.

Anyway, if you hear your grandma talking about rebooting her garden or something, by all means, let me know. I'm curious just how far this term is going to go.

Saturday, May 31, 2008

Auguring yesterday's events

Just ran across a nice coinage that is a) made from parts you already have around the house, b) is semantically logical, and c) does not involve the youth of today ruining English.

This is from an article in Wired about solar eclipses in the distant past:

Using the same calculating methods that predict future eclipses, astronomers have been able to calculate when eclipses occurred in the past. You can run the planetary clock in reverse as well as forward. To coin a word, you can postdict as well as predict.

Nice, eh? A niggling point is that they did not, or were not the first, to coin the word. (Google: 3,740 hits). But the term has what appear to be multiple slightly different usages. The Double-Tongued Dictionary provides this cite:
Approximately one in five suspect identifications from sequential lineups may be wrong. As a result, no existing eyewitness identification procedure can relieve the courts of the burden of decide after the fact (or postdicting) which eyewitness identifications are accurate versus inaccurate.
This sense seems relatively established in the literature of psychology, where its sibling term postdictor is flung about with abandon.

Postdiction is also used in a dismissive sense to refer to "prediction after the fact" by people who are skeptical of, you know, prophecies. Think Nostradamus.

For the general idea of running the clock backward, as the Wired article puts it, there is also the term retrodiction. As defined in Wikiepdia, retrodiction is a way to test theories by comparing against past results in situations when comparing against future ones is impractical. You see this in economics, when economic models are tested by running them against data from the past to see if your model can, for example, accurately predict the mortgage crisis. Some might say that this constitutes that other, more dismissive sense of postdiction, but hey.

As an interesting aside, the very next paragaph in the Wired article has this bold usage:
The most likely candidate for Thales' eclipse took place on May 28, 585 B.C., though some authorities believe it may have been 25 years earlier in 610 B.C. Hundreds of scholars have debated this for nearly two millenniums.
This invites a discussion of forming plurals for terms that immigrated from non-English sources. I have an opinion on that, actually, which you can read here.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Let pre-dom ring

The pre- prefix is good, clean fun, as many folks have noted. For example, in The Atlantic in November 1998, Corby Kummer had a cute essay[1] that was (ultimately) about pre-, which went along these lines:
I wear pre-washed jeans. I have outstanding loans for which I was pre-qualified and which I hope to pre-pay, and hold credit cards for which I was pre-selected and pre-approved. I make pre-retirement deductions from my pre-tax earnings. I pre-medicate before going to the dentist, because of a pre-existing condition. My children were pre-tested in advance of pre-school. They will clamor, I predict, to see the Star Wars prequel.
It's come up here before, where we noted pregaming and pre-buttal. Sort of along the lines of this last, today I found an entry on polyglot conspiracy in which Lauren makes this sad (but lingusitically amusing) comment:
... although I ought to feel invigorated and hopeful this time around by the impressiveness of many of the Democratic candidate options, as well as the real possibility that we could get a changemaker in office, I somehow still feel pre-defeated.
I know this feeling, don't you?

People occasionally complain about "illogical" uses of pre-, but I think we can agree that pre-boarding does mean something different than just plain ol' boarding, and that pre-announcing something is different than just announcing it. The beauty of the prefix is its flexibility in the terrain that it can occupy, ranging from the nominally logical "before" to the semantic areas of "anticipatory" or "preparatory" or just "early." And although the prefix can cover a lot of territory, I don't recall offhand any usages in which it was unclear what the intent was. Unless, of course, I'm post-remembering wrong.

[1] I am amazed, I must confess, that a link that I harvested nearly 10 years ago is still good.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Tag, you're innit

From I got a link to an interesting little articlette on the BBC Web site about the use of innit to finish sentences as what they identify as a tag question. The article specifically notes that innit, which is a contraction of the contraction isn't it, is becoming or has become an all-purpose tag question.

Examples from their text:

"We need to decide what to do about that now innit." (don't we?)
"I'll show young Miss Hanna round to all the shops, innit." (won't I?)

The piece says two things that I kind of wonder about, but don't have the wherewithal to go investigate, namely:

But kids in urban Britain are using 'innit' to cover a wider and wider range of situations.

My wonderings:
  • kids: I wonder whether this is in fact limited to kids and teens, or whether it's established among (some) adults as well when they're speaking non-standard English.
  • wider and wider. I heard innit used when I lived in the UK many moons ago. The article is suggesting that semantic range of innit is actively increasing. True, or is this just another instance of the recency illusion?
In my experience, this is strictly a British usage, but we have one or two equivalents in the U.S. as well. The one that springs to mind is you know?, which we can substitute in the examples above:

"We need to decide what to do about that now, you know?"
"I'll show young Miss Hanna round to all the shops, you know?"

Are there other constructs that we can plug in here?

I already know that you know? drives people to distraction in the US, and I imagine that innit does the same in the UK. The article is at least putatively in response to the question "Isn't innit ungrammatical?" I am delighted that their answer is "no" (coz it's just a tag question) and that the article specifically references similar tag-question particles in other languages, like ¿verdad? in Spanish. Which probably drives a lot of people to distraction in Spanish-speaking countries. I am reminded also that in German, gell is used in this considered-substandard way. Which probably drives a lot of Germans to distraction.

Anyway, yay for the BBC for not just whining about those damn kids and how they're ruining the language, innit?

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Well-grounded verbs

Michael B found something today in the MSN money blog entry that discusses the latest from Starbucks:

Starbucks needs to do everything it can to improve its image as a purveyor of premium coffee. The move towards pre-grinded coffee beans and automatic espresso makers left it vulnerable.
This is a little surprising. Historically, it's not unusual for irregular/strong verbs to move toward using the regular/weak pattern, which consists of whacking a -d/-ed ending onto the stem. (And no sound change.) We use this pattern in new verbs pretty much without exception. And we see it when a traditionally irregular verb is used in a new way that is sufficiently different to cause users to "forget" that it has an existing irregular past tense. (Examples frequently cited, including by me, are to fly out; to grandstand.) You can sense when verbs are teetering between irregular and regular, as I've noted before: what's the past of to troubleshoot? What about of to cheerlead?

What's surprising about grinded here is that the usual past tense -- ground -- is in constant use even in this context. People talk about fresh-ground coffee and about dumping the grounds. But perhaps that pre- threw off the writer; if we give him the benefit of the doubt here, he's analyzing to pre-grind as a new verb (to pregrind, let's say), and new verbs always take -d/-ed.

It's a mistake, from a purely editing perspective, but it's one that follows a rigid pattern, so to speak. If a body is going to get the past tense of to grind wrong, odds are that they'll get it wrong in exactly this way.

So, Google. The search grinded +coffee yields about 6 cups about 45,000 hits, including fresh grinded coffee and fine grinded and hand grinded and just plain grinded. (In fairness, a few of these are not native speakers, but a lot of them are.)

Grinded still sounds odd to me, but to quite a few people, apparently it does not. (Is it more prevalent in writing than in speech? That's a question that we here are not equipped to research, alas.) Let's check back in 20 years, see how things are developing.

Update (5 June 2008): Found this in a blog today: "While there was some discussion of how to fix the problems, it got overwhelmed by grinded axes swinging wildly against certain personalities in Microsoft India leadership."

Monday, April 07, 2008

noun rage

I ran across a reference today to something that's apparently not particularly new, but it's set me off on another one of these blog posts, dang it. The term was wrap rage, which I found (still with quotation marks -- single ones, how odd) in a C|NET article. They define wrap rage as "... what some consumers suffer when struggling to remove a product from a sealed plastic shell resistant to poking, prying, and tearing."

Not that this has ever happened to me. Haha.

Paul McFedries noted this term in 2005, but his cites go to 2003, and he notes that package rage is at least as old as 1999. I can only imagine that in those long-ago days, package rage was all about CDs.

So, time for a rage hunt, specifically of the form noun + rage. The first one that sprung to mind was road rage, which is when those morons around you just do not know how to drive. :-) (George Carlin: "Have you ever noticed? Anybody going slower than you is an idiot, and anyone going faster than you is a maniac.")

Not so many rages as I thought, tho. McFedries had already found road rage, of course (first cite 1989), plus Web rage (mad coz your connection is so slow), air rage (bad-mouthing flight crews with extreme prejudice), and work rage, which might lead to going postal (1996).

Another one I remembered was roid rage, allegedly set off by overuse of steroids. An artificial example is Cage Rage, which involves guys fighting in a ring.

The pattern is clear enough -- rage set off by noun. (Cage Rage therefore doesn't follow the pattern, so we'll just dismiss him.) Given the examples, one might also conclude that the pattern calls for a single-syllable word preceding rage to get the appropriate spondee meter.

AFAIK, this pattern is not used when rage is used in the sense of popularity, e.g. all the rage.

What else can we find (or heck, invent) along these lines?

Friday, March 07, 2008


Slate magazine has a running feature called The Encyclopedia Baracktannica, in which people contribute found instances (I guess) of words coined around the name Barack Obama. A few samples:

The sensation that occurs during or after a speech by Barack Obama, characterized by spasms of hope and a sensation that all will be well—Ed Bush

An Obama supporter who’s older than 21

Anything that Barack Obama says

A Latino who supports Obama—Jeffrey Barton

So, a couple of things here. First, the ink is hardly dry on my recent post about the proliferating usage of the -pedia suffix for all things encylopedic, when here comes Slate with some other new way to suggest, well, encyclopedianess. (Tho really what they're providing a dictionary, not an encyclopedia -- a glo-bama-ssary, we might say. (Or not.)

Which brings up the second point, which is that people are neologizing like mad, trying to think up words that can incorporate obama or barack. Question: what are the rules for this game?

I ask this because of something I read (via the Langauge Log) not long ago about the lolcats phenomenon. When lolcats was all the rage (that was back in, like, 2007), people were making up all sorts of "i can haz cheezburger" and "im in ur RSS feed, ritin mai blog" captions for cat pictures. It seemed like a free-for-all, but as Anil Dash said:
The rise of these new subspecies of lolcats are particularly interesting to me because "I can has cheezeburger?" has a fairly consistent grammar. I wasn't sure this was true until I realized that it's possible to get cat-speak wrong.

Thinking about the barackification of words, it seems like it likewise is a free-for-all, but of course, it's not. Some coinages work; others do not. As Anil Dash says, it's possible to get it wrong. So what are the rules?

Here's an initial stab at a list of constraints for Obama coinages. I don't think this list is necessarily correct nor exhaustive. Or insightful or interesting. I'm just musing, and invite you to, um, co-muse with me.
  • The new word has to be based on a word that already contains sounds that are at least a little like the sounds from the limited pallette in Obama's name. For example: Barackupied (cf occupied). This seems to be a feature of many uses of Barack: Baracktail (cf cocktail); Operation Baracki Freedom; Barackracy (fr bureaucracy); Baracklamation; Obamination (cf abomination - clever, it just reverses);

  • The new word follows a word-creation pattern that's already functional in English: Obameter; Obamasm (#); Baracturnal.

  • The word simply adds a recognizable part of Obama's name onto an otherwise stanadlone word (more often involving Oba-, it seems to me): Obamalaise; Obombre; Obalma mater; Barackolyte.

The test here would be to try to make up words on the -obama-, -barack- pattern that don't work. I haven't thought of any just yet, but I have a bus ride ahead of me, so ...

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Nouny adjectiveness

I occasionally spot words that are auditioning for a new part of speech. (#, #) I ran across a couple recently, one that was sort of self-consciously parading, and the other that snuck itself into a (kind of) conversation.

Number 1: MSN has ad campaign going at, the point of which I have to confess is escaping me.* When the site first comes up -- but you have to really be watching, because it's only for a few seconds -- the page says:
Wait just a moment for a quick dose of awesome.
Although it seems calculated (I can imagine the marketing discussions that went into developing the tag), I like it. Once you get past the part where an adjective is being all noun-y, it reads better than the nominally (haha) correct awesomeness.

Number 2: The second instance appeared in the comic strip "Sherman's Lagoon" last Sunday, to wit:

Double score here -- happy being used a noun ("your happy"), and a solution to the question of how you'd pluralize it ("conflicting happys"). For the latter, it's conceivable that you could use happies, but just whacking an -s onto happy-the-noun preserves its adjectival origin better.

I suppose we could also speculate that to stay on top of the cutting edge of language change, you need to read ads and comic strips. At least, that's my excuse.

* Also, guitar dude keeps moving his legs like maybe he has to go.


Sometimes your work is just done for you, what can I say? Over on Fritinancy, Nancy Friedman is inspired by Mark Peters of the Boston Globe to take the stem -memtum through many of its recent incarnations, which include (I steal these from him and her):
  • Joementum (Lieberman, whom Peters credits with, you know, unlocking the potential of the word).
  • Mittmentum, Obamamentum (current presidential race)
  • O-mentum (Oprah)
  • Met-mentum (New York baseball)
As an aside, I like one of the comments on her entry, in which a certain "Orange" notes that ...
Is he on crack? "O-mentum" doesn't evoke Oprah—it evokes the omentum, the great blob of peritoneal tissue that occupies some of the space around our abdominal organs.
Right, of course! That's everyone's first thought! But after they get past their medical degree, then it invokes Oprah. Sheesh.

Thursday, January 31, 2008

Citing -source(s)

Like it or not, to source is a verb that's been around a long time. The OED lists the verb, in its sense of "to obtain from a specified source," with a first cite of 1660.[1] In its direct, current usage, cites in the OED start at 1960.

From there we move along and develop to outsource, which per the OED and RHD emerged in the late 70s.[2]

Paul McFedries (aka reports the term intersource was coined probably in the late 90s, modeled on on outsourcing: "Intersource: To farm out work by creating a joint venture with an outside provider or manufacturer." (No OED reference.) Along a similar model, I guess, Webster's lists (without a date) to insource as "to keep within a corporation tasks and projects that were previously outsourced." To un-outsource, I guess.

More? You bet:

Downsourcing. Various meanings; most common is to pass work off to an entity that's smaller or less experienced:

  • "It's a new buzzword, but for a very old idea. Cutting out the middleman." (#)
  • "What these companies hope to do is engage in a constant process of what I call downsourcing, by sloughing off their older, my highly paid employees and replacing them with fresh-faced college grads eager to pay their dues -- at a much lower price." [#]
  • "Then there's the downsourcing of mainline customer service at many mid-size airports to some entities that are semi-incompetent. It is a cost saving that's likely one of the reasons that consumers want revenge." [#]
Upsourcing. Not sure I can make clear sense of the ways in which this term is being used. Have a look yourself using this search.

So, it's the -source hokey-pokey: in, out, all about. We keep finding new prepositions to whack onto the -source.

But that is not all. Steve Sampson wrote recently about crowdsourcing, where he quotes Wikipedia: "Crowdsourcing is a neologism for the act of taking a task traditionally performed by an employee or contractor, and outsourcing it to an undefined, generally large group of people, in the form of an open call. For example, the public may be invited to develop a new technology, carry out a design task, refine an algorithm or help capture, systematize or analyze large amounts of data (see also citizen science)." Examples of crowdsourcing that Sampson mentions are,

Where up to now we created directional (locational) locutions, crowdsourcing drops direction and going right to the source. (So to speak.)

More? Maybe. Another term built on this pattern is homesourcing (aka homeshoring), defined (Wikipedia again) as "The transfer of service industry employment from offices to home-based employees with appropriate telephone and Internet facilities". Here's an interesting note on how JetBlue uses homesourcing for its reservation system. I found one similar reference to housesourcing ("This term refers to a hot trend of hiring people who work from their home .for instance, independent contractors employs people to handle customer service calls from their home ,which saves time and money for both employers and employees.") Note that this definition is from a somewhat dubious source (haha), namely a Web site in Chinese (!).

In the world of computers, source is short for source code, which is the language in which programs are written, to then be compiled into object code. With the advent of community-supported software, we now have open-source (free, community supported) and closed-source (commerical) software.[3] Not surprisingly, we have verb forms, e.g. "Open sourcing of VMS".

So we've got -sources all over the place! Where else? What new terms can we come up with?

[1] Their example is: "Like a bankroute or shipe lost on the continent by the furie of sourcinge waves," which doesn't seem to me to have quite the same sense.

[2] The citations from the 1960s in the OED for to source actually anticipate the development of to outsource, check it out: "1960 Wall St. Jrnl. 15 Mar. 14/5 There is a growing tendency toward foreign ‘sourcing’, the purchase or production of finished goods or components abroad."

[3] These definitions for open- and closed-source are simplistic, I realize.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Mini-Me ... please

Suppose that you are a programmer working with Web pages. Your job is to reduce the size of the Web page -- that is, of the HTML that defines the Web page -- to the absolute minimum. (Smaller Web pages are faster to download and thus display.) As part of this process, you get rid of all extraneous white space, extra line breaks (the browser doesn't care about those), etc.

What might you call this process? Well, here are some candidates:
  • Minimize. Possible; however, "minimizing a Web page" already means something else in the world of Windows and GUIs.
  • Compress. This term has a technical meaning (as in, compressing to a .zip file) that isn't exactly what you're doing here.
  • Condense. Ooh, nice … that's what you're doing, condensing the page to its essence, sort of.

All possible, but not what it's called. The word is … ta-da! … minify; the nounification is minification. This page provides a nice definition:
Minification is the practice of removing unnecessary characters from code to reduce its size thereby improving load times. When code is minified all comments are removed, as well as unneeded white space characters (space, newline, and tab). […] This improves response time performance because the size of the downloaded file is reduced.
My first reaction, which might also have been yours, was to say "Huh, strange-sounding word." Perhaps you (but not me) further thought "Those darn programmers are always making up wacky new terms!" Ah, but it turns out that minify has been around longer than, say, anyone currently writing about how English is being ruined. RHD's etymology says it appeared in the 1670s. The etymology further suggests that the term was modeled on magnify. Well, that makes sense, I guess.

But wait, there's more. Another term that's used for minification is crunching. (One tool that can do this for you is named the Crunchinator.) In at least one usage I know of, crunching is a little more, um, intimate than minification … it isn't just crowding everyone together on the bus, it's giving some folks a haircut:"Crunching scripts happens when scripts are built, and removes whitespace and condenses local variable names to further reduce the size of the script files."

The Google search "minification html whitespace" yields about 2,230 hits; the search "crunching html whitespace" yields 7,340. Based on this and a few other not-very-rigorous search tests, I'd posit that the more popular term is in fact crunch.


The Windows Live folks (more specifically, the lab portions thereof) are proto-releasing a tool that is described as "a search visualization site that brings a new user experience to researching -- "searching and storing results." Name: Tafiti. Per the site, the name "means 'do research' in Swahili."

Oh. I always find it a little lame when people have to explain where a brand(-ish) name comes from. For one thing, it means that the name itself isn't doing its fair share of denoting or connoting what it's supposed to represent.

So whence Tafiti? A kind-of homonym is Tahiti, a far-away exotic locale whose image would not seem (unless I'm missing something) to be suggestive of what's going on here. Another sound-alike is graffiti, which seems a little closer -- the search feature lets you save and amend search results for your research. So, evocative of scribble, perhaps.

Perhaps. Thots? Why would you turn to Swahili for branding? Not that it isn't a fine and useful language, but it's not widely known in the English-speaking world.

Monday, January 14, 2008


Etymologically, the term encyclopedia results from an imperfect understanding of classical languages. So it's come down to us as a single word that we older folks at least used to associate with a shelf-full of heavy books. An archaic but occasionally amusing feature of which was that they were arranged alphabetically and (at least in some editions) on whose spine were printed ranges (what are those called?) that indicated the letters incorporated into that volume: A-Com, Lit-Pat, Ped-Rel, like that.

Even tho there isn't a standalone word pedia in any obvious incarnation in English (unobvious ones, probably), it's been treated as combinatory form for a long time. As of 1985, the Britannica people had a Micropoedia, a Macropoedia, and a Propeodia. (Dig those funky spellings, which I will note do not pass the spelling checker I'm using.)

These days, -pedia is flung about with abandon. On the first page alone of a Google search, you can find,,,,,, and "Compendium of knowledge" is yer core meaning here. (On the Web, no one knows that you're alphabetized, so that particular flourish in the original definition does not obtain.)

Probably the best-known online encyclopedia is Wikipedia, which combines the old term -pedia with the relatively new term wiki. For the 3 people left who don't know this, a wiki is a Web site that anyone can edit or contribute to. And for the 5 people left who don't know this, wiki is from the Hawaiian term wikiwiki, which means "quick."

The particles that go on the front of -pedia can address different components of the compendium. A common one is what, i.e. subject matter: cinema-pedia, design-pedia, mobile-pedia, info-pedia, the latter covering (one presumes) everything that constitutes information. Another possibility is where, i.e. where the pedia is found: e-pedia, referencing a no-longer-so-productive prefix for, basically, "online." The Wikipedia folks used a prefix for how, namely the manner in which the pedia is compiled.

All of this you know already, right? So. Not long ago I ran across a reference to, a Web site that "has been set up to be the definitive online resource for all things Whisk(e)y." The "all things Whisk(e)y" part is pretty clear from the -pedia part of the name. What's interesting to me is that Whiskypedia is a wiki. I think the name therefore has two, two, two times the connotative value of [something]-pedia alone: I think they are, um, leveraging the similarity of the sounds of wiki and whisky to signal that it's both a pedia and a wiki. If that's true (speculate among yourselves), does it mean that as we progress, the term -pedia might start suggesting not just a compendium of knowledge, but specifically community-contributed knowledge?

Update 3/22/08: Nicholson Baker in The New York Review of Books: "Someone recently proposed a Wikimorgue—a bin of broken dreams where all rejects could still be read, as long as they weren't libelous or otherwise illegal. Like other middens, it would have much to tell us over time. We could call it the Deletopedia." (source)

Update 4/14/08: The toonopedia.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

The way that "cookie" crumbles

Basic descriptions of the differences between American and British English will often feature a chart that lists words and their correspondents in the other dialect. You know, trunk=boot, panties=knickers, pants=trousers, like that. Among those it will often note what Americans call a cookie, the Brits call a biscuit. (Confusingly, and by no means uniquely, the British word has a different meaning yet in American English.)[1]

But it ain't that simple. It turns out that the word cookie has in fact come into British English, and even means something like what we Americans understand. But it hasn't replaced biscuit; instead, the two terms in BrEnglish now have a subtly different definition.

Lynne Murphy at separated by a common language explains:

In AmE, cookie refers to what BrE speakers would refer to as biscuits, but also to a range of baked goods that were not typically available in Britain until recently--what we can call an 'American-style cookie'--that is, one that is soft and (arguably) best eaten hot. Since in the UK these are almost always bought (at places like Ben's Cookies or Millie's Cookies), rather than home-baked, they also tend to be of a certain (largish) size. In BrE, biscuit retains its old meaning and applies to things like shortbread, rich tea biscuits, custard creams and other brittle things that can be dunked into one's tea, but cookie denotes only the bigger, softer American import. (In fact, twice this year I heard Englishpeople in shops debating the definition of cookie, and had noted this for further discussion on the blog...and here it is. For previous discussion of this and other baked good terminology, click here.)

The semantic range covered by a word is rarely fixed for all time, and the language adapts to address new circumstances, to accommodate new terms, and so on. In HistLing101, for example, they'll tell you that the English word deer, which refers to a particular type of ruminant, is etymologically related to the German word Tier, which simply means "animal." As the West Germanic languages split apart, what was once the same word claimed different semantic territory in the descendant languages. In the case of biscuit/cookie, in British English, a new thing was introduced that came with an existing name. One way to accommodate this would have been to also refer to American-style cookies as biscuits. But clearly British speakers have felt that it's useful to distinguish this new type of baked good from another type, enough so that British English now has two words for these different things. In the process, the definition of biscuit in BrEng has become a tiny bit narrower, inasmuch as it now does not cover all the territory that is covered by what Americans call a cookie. In those lists of American vs British terms, the line for cookie=biscuit should now at the least have an asterisk and a note that makes this point. (Not that any such note will likely be added.)

American speakers continue to use cookie to cover the whole range of baked goods here, so they don't yet feel that the difference requires a split in terminology. They sure as heck would get confused if BrEng speaker started talking about these subtle distinctions between biscuits and cookies.

I will note for the record that I'm aware that within the world of retailing (and baking), there are all sorts of different names for styles of cookies, even in (especially in?) AmEng -- ya got yer snickerdoodles and fig newtons and vanilla wafers and ginger snaps and animal crackers, all of which refer to specific recipes or styles of cookies. I think, however, that Americans would still consider all of these to be cookies. Yes?

[1] I worked in the UK a while back, and ran afoul of such a difference on my first day (!). My employer issued a card that could be used to pay for fuel for the company car. I was told to go to someone and get such a card; when I did, I asked for a "gas card." I got puzzled looks until one of us (probably not me) sorted out that what I wanted was a petrol card.

Sit on this, why doncha

Seth points me to a term that was new to me, altho it's a variant on a term that I did know. He finds typosquatting, which is a specific instance of cybersquatting. Should these both be new to you, the terms refer to the practice of leasing a domain name ( that is either an actual brand name or similar to a brand name, in the hopes that the brand-name owner will then want to pay you to hand it over to them. For example, had you been clever and forward-looking in, say, 1995, you might have bought the rights to the domain name, and then have negotiated with the Oxford University Press for the rights to that domain name. (These days, you can be successfully sued for cybersquatting, so you might have a harder go of it today.) Typosquatting refers specifically to registering a misspelling of a trademarked name, as opposed to just a name or word that a company might find useful. If you managed to register, dunno, and, you'd be typosquatting.

Squatting and squatters refer to the practice and practitioners of occupying something that doesn't belong to you (when of course it does not refer to sitting on your haunches). I did some small amount of poking to see if I could come up with more words that whack a prefixtual word onto -squat/-squatting, but came up dry. (I sorely, sorely miss not having wildcard searches in word stems.) Are there in fact other examples of such words?