A weblog by Will Fitzgerald

Monthly Archives: June 2008

"Buy a house, sell a home?"

This might not be worth a post, but anyway:

Arnold Zwicky has a post at Language Log on “home” vs. “house” in (American) English, citing (among other things) the commentators in the Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary of English Usage saying:

A final note on home ownership: MWDEU reports that “a number of commentators have remarked on the tendency to buy a home and sell a house”.

I was curious to see whether this ‘tendency’ was real, so I checked the Google 3-gram data (see announcement). I think for this tendency to be real, the following should be true:

(1) buy a home >> buy a house
(2) sell a house >> sell a home
(3) (buy a home/buy a house) >> (sell a home/sell a house)

Here are the bare facts:

buy a home : 328,584
buy a house: 235,019
sell a home: 193,088
sell a house: 25,632

and the ratios:

buy a home/buy a house: 1.40
sell a home/sell a house: 7.53
buy/sell ratio of ratios 0.19
(buy a home+sell a home)/(buy a house+sell a house): 2.00

As you can see, (1) is true, but (2) and (3) are not (2 and 3 are related, of course). According to the Google data, ‘home’ is twice is likely than ‘house’ in both these contexts, and ‘sell a home/sell a house’ is much greater than the ‘buy a home/buy a house’ ratio.

It must be all those realtors (oh, excuse me, ‘REALTOR®s’).


A response to Mark‘s tagging me.

Seven factz about me:

  1. Will Fitzgerald didn’t use a computer until he was 23. It had cards.
  2. It is difficult for Will Fitzgerald to refer to himself in the third person.
  3. Despite his descriptivist linguistic training, Will Fitzgerald tries to distinguish ‘between’ and ‘among’.
  4. Will Fitzgerald was known as “Bill” until he was 33.
  5. Will Fitzgerald has half of a house named in his honor. He doesn’t know why.
  6. Will Fitzgerald once made his ESL class erupt in laughter by referring to ‘green Jewesses’ instead of ‘green beans’. (judias verdes vs. judías verdes).
  7. Will Fitzgerald (who has moved around a lot) has been a member or active participant of a Methodist church(United Methodist, Roseville), a Southern Baptist church (Calvary Baptist, Roseville), an independent fundamentalist church (First Church, Wellston), a Reformed Church in America congregation (University Reformed, East Lansing), an Evangelical Presbyterian church (Evangelical Presbyterian, Carbondale, now affiliated with the Presbyterian Church of America), a Spanish Baptist church (Iglesia Evangélica Bautista de Gracia, Barcelona), a Presbyterian USA church (North Presbyterian, Kalamazoo), a Christian Reformed church (Immanuel CRC, Kalamazoo), a Mennonite USA/Brethren bi-affiliated church (Reba Place Church, Evanston, now just Mennonite-affiliated), two independent Christian communities (Reba Place Fellowship, Evanston and Church of the Sojourners, San Francisco), a Canadian Anglican church (Christ Church Cathedral, Fredericton) and two Mennonite USA churches (Pine Grove, Battle Creek and Kalamazoo Mennonite Fellowship. He has more or less made up his mind.

That was fun, Mark. Rather than tag seven others, I present to you this fish tank. Click on the tank to feed the fish.

The Book of Psalms

Ockham’s Razor is Dull

It’s all (well, mostly) about representation. Peter Turney:

[F]iguring out how to represent the problem is 95% of the work. By the time you have the representation right, the tool that you use to finish the remaining 5% is not terribly important.

How many ways to win the election with nothing to spare?

Over at FiveThirtyEight, the following ‘homework assignment’ was given:

How many unique ways are there to acquire at least 270 electoral votes without any excess?

I figured it would be a ‘large’ number, but I was surprised at the actual total: 51,199,463,116,367 (or, fifty-one trillion and change). about 2.3% of all possible combinations (This exact number is based on the simplifying assumption of treating Maine and Nevada as giving up their electoral votes in the same way as all the other states). The answer was given by Isabel Lugo, a mathematician.

If you blindly checked all the possibilities at a rate of 1000 per second, it would take over 17,000 centuries. That’s older than John McCain.

Reviewing my Prediction—I was wrong.

I was wrong. And I’ve very glad.

The evolution of a Ruby programmer

# The evolution of a Ruby programmer

def sum(list)
  total = 0
  for i in 0..list.size-1
    total = total + list[i]

def sum(list)
  total = 0
  list.each do |item|
    total += item

def test_sum_empty
  sum([]) == 0

def test_sum_one
  sum([10]) == 10

def test_sum_several

def sum(list)
  total = 0
  list.each{|i| total += i}

def sum(list)
  list.inject(0){|a,b| a+b}

class Array
  def sum
    inject{|a,b| a+b}

describe "Enumerable objects should sum themselves" do

  it 'should sum arrays of floats' do
    [1.0, 2.0, 3.0].sum.should == 6.0

  it 'should sum values in sets' do
    require 'set'
    Set.new([1,2,3,3,3,2,1]).sum.should == 6

  it 'should join arrays of arrays' do
    [[1],[2],[3]].sum.should == [1,2,3]

  it 'should concatenate arrays of strings ' do
    ['a','man','a','plan'].sum.should == 'a man a plan'.gsub(/ /,'')

  it 'should work on hash tables, too -- appending their key/values' do
    {:a => 3, :b => 4}.sum.find_all{|a| a.is_a? Numeric}.sum.should == 7

module Enumerable
  def sum(zero=false)
    zero ? inject(zero){|a,b| a+b} : inject{|a,b| a+b}

# Greenspun's 10th Rule of Programming version (suggested by BenD's comment)

module Enumerable
  def reduce(by,zero=false)
    zero ? inject(zero){|a,b| a.send(by,b)} : inject{|a,b| a.send(by,b)}

  def sum(zero=false)

How do you spell X? Y.

Many of us are familiar with the commercial in which the question is asked, “How do you spell ‘relief’?” And the answer is “R-O-L-A-I-D-S.” According to Wikipedia, this commercial has been around since the 1970’s.

I came across an earlier example from 1793, in Elder John Leland’s “The history of Jack Nips”:

Like other boys, I wished to be in fashion, and as the Presbyterians were the most fashionable, I applied myself to the study of their books, but was not a little puzzled to reconcile their writings with my boyish thoughts. I could not, for my gizzard, understand their orthography, until I was more than sixteen. They would spell thus: c-i-r, cir, c-u-m, cum, c-i, ci, s-e-d, baptism.

(The full tract can be found here, but beware the cheesy embedded sound file).

Not quite the same thing is found in Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing. Ursula and Hero are discussing Beatrice, and Hero says:

I never yet saw man,
How wise, how noble, young, how rarely featured,
But she would spell him backward. ( Much Ado About Nothing, 3.1)

Wikipedia says it was first published in 1600. But I still think Leland’s turn is different enough to consider it separately. Was Leland the first person to use the spelling of a word to stand for a quality of a different concept all together?

Profiles in Ireny

(Ireny isn’t a word, but it should be)

I’ve been lurking on a discussion list, which will go unnamed. Mr ALLCAPS said that everyone in group X is either a Y or a Z. Mr. Irenic suggested that there might be a third category. Mr. ALLCAPS accused Mr. Irenic of being a ‘closet Y’ (with the comment ‘No Offense, just identification’). Mr Irenic replied:

Let me assure you that no offense is taken. Though I think your identification is slightly skewed, I don’t really mind whether one thinks I am a “closet Y”. Whatever I believe, I think I put it forth in the last post and it is not in the closet. What I don’t address clearly is not because it is in the closet, but probably because I simply don’t know. If you think I’m a Y, I have no control over that, nor any particular concern for it.

I really love the modesty and clarity of Mr. Irenic’s statement.

Maxine Ethington


Sheby County, Ky

SHELBYVILLE, KY. Local law enforcement along with Shelby County Emergency Management are asking if anyone has any information leading to the whereabouts of Maxine Ethington. Maxine is an elderly citizen of Shelby County suffering from Alzheimer’s. She was last seen on May 25, 2008 at approximately 8:00p.m. She drives a 2000 Grey or Silver Buick Sentry, license # KY 186BLY. The vehicle may have an old plate attached with #’s KY 495-JYT. There is possible damage to the left side of her vehicle with only three hub caps.

If you have seen this woman or have any clues as to her whereabouts please contact the Shelby County Dispatch at 502-633-2323 or the Shelbyville Police Department at 502-633-2326.