A weblog by Will Fitzgerald

Category Archives: Whim

The Non-Chaos, or English Spelling Defended in Rhyme

Dearest creature in creation,
Study English pronunciation.
It’s more regular in its core
Than pundits, who focus on its more
Erratic ways, would have you believe.
Perhaps they simply cannot conceive
Of any system not based in Latin—
They would choose, I suppose, to flatten
All writing to “one form, one sound”
But, really, regularities abound.
Consider, how we pronounce the plural
Form of words; Imagine the neural
Work of reading “dogs” and “cats.”
Would you prefer “dogz”? That’s
Not right—that single ess for each
Is easier to read, to sound out, and to teach.
Or consider “heir/inherit”
To write “air” would be a demerit,
A signature failure, and a sign
Of a spelling system’s worse design.
Seriously, it would simply astonish,
Anyone to think that “ghoti” sounds like “fish.”
Besides, English spans such colossal ages
And latitudes, I doubt such cages
Desired by fans of regularization
Could withstand the normal mutation
Of how language really adapts.
“Wind” and “hind” have rhymed or not, perhaps,
As, over time and place, each has adopted
A short I, sometimes a long I, co-opted
By real human beings. So “after tea and cakes and ices, “
Let us “force the moment to its crisis”—
Haters, they say, are going to hate; let them snivel
I have had enough of drivel,
Go ahead, enjoy your whine,
But English spelling is basically fine.

—Will Fitzgerald, January 2012

Things that are stentorian

The first twenty five things that are stentorian, according to the examples at Wordnik:

  1. tones [xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx]
  2. voices [xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx]
  3. commands [xxx]
  4. defenses [xx]
  5. styles [xx]
  6. rings [x]
  7. growls [x]
  8. moments [x]
  9. ways [x]
  10. jocks [x]
  11. phrases [x]
  12. resonances [x]
  13. screams [x]
  14. baritones [x]
  15. announcements [x]
  16. greetings [x]
  17. pronouncements [x]
  18. engines [x]
  19. insults [x]
  20. thickness [x]
  21. yelps [x]
  22. breathing [x]
  23. wheezing [x]
  24. barks [x]
  25. snores [x]

“Stentorian” derives from Stentor, a herald of the Greeks during the Trojan War. This post is a response to Robert L Vaughn’s post on stentorian. I thought stentorian meant “in a grand rhetorical style,” but I think it does mean just “powerfully loud,” so Sacred Harp or black gospel music could be said to be sung in a typically stentorian manner, I think. But I’m not quite sure: there are not many musical examples. But “The Stentorian Harp” would be a cool name for a shape note songbook.

Quomodocunquizing clusterfists

Now, here’s an insult:

“Another thing there is,” he says, ” that fixeth a grievous scandal upon that nation in matter of philargyrie, or love of money, and it is this: There hath been in London, and repairing to it, for these many years together, a knot of Scotish bankers, collybists, or coine-coursers, of traffickers in merchandise to and againe, and of men of other professions, who by hook and crook, las et nefas, slight and might, (all being as fish their net could catch), having feathered their nests to some purpose, look so idolatrously upon their Dagon of wealth, and so closely, (like the earth’s dull center), hug all unto themselves, that for no respect of vertue, honour, kindred, patriotism, or whatever else, (be it never so recommendable), will they depart from so much as one single peny, whose emission doth not, without any hazard of loss, in a very short time superlucrate beyond all conscience an additionall increase to the heap of that stock which they so much adore; which churlish and tenacious humor hath made many that were not acquainted with any else of that country, to imagine all their compatriots infected with the same leprosie of a wretched peevishness, whereof those quomodocunquizing clusterfists and rapacious varlets have given of late such cannibal-like proofs, by their inhumanity and obdurate carriage towards some, (whose shoe-strings they are not worthy to unty), that were it not that a more able pen then [than] mine will assuredly not faile to jerk them on all sides, in case, by their better demeanour for the future, they endeavour not to wipe off the blot wherewith their native country, by their sordid avarice and miserable baseness, hath been so foully stained, I would at this very instant blaze them out in their names and surnames, notwithstanding tbe vizard of Presbyterian zeal wherewith they maske themselves, that like so many wolves, foxes, or Athenian Timons, they might in all times coming be debarred the benefit of any honest conversation.”

From Sir Thomas Urquart of Cromartie, by John Willcock (via Schott’s Vocabulary).

World’s longest logogol

It was fun to review the world’s longest logogol (or palindrome) on Peter Norvig’s website today. A logogol is a word or phrase that has the same letters going forwards or going backwards. I think it’s cool that “logogol” is itself a logogol.

Clichés used in an Oxford Dictionary anti-clichés article

We all hate clichés. As this article on avoiding clichés from the Oxford Dictionaries says, they’re not always possible to avoid.

Here are some clichés used in the article’s text. These are not examples they give, but clichés they use in the body text:

  • Once you’ve spotted a cliché…
  • they’ve lost their impact
  • [they’ve] become stale
  • Some people just tune out
  • make a point [they may miss the point that you’re trying to make]
  • use [something] as a starting point
  • indispensable advice

At least they didn’t say “avoid clichés like the plague,” the clichéd anti-cliché joke.

Center embedding in the wild (sort of)

Around 9:10 minutes into Community, Season 2, Episode 3, “The Psychology of Letting Go“.

Annie: Bitter much?

Britta: Say “Bitter much” much?

Annie: Say “Say ‘Bitter much’ much?'” much?

Obscene intensification of adjectives (a bit NSFW)

XKCD, a ‘webcomic of romance, sarcasm, math, and language’, presents a hand-drawn chart of the frequency with which ‘fucking adjective‘ or ‘adjective as shit’ can be found in web search results.

Well, with the Bing Ngram data, we can provide more exact figures which don’t depend on all of the choice and ranking decisions made by a search engine to include or not a page in a result, and (in particular) the estimate of the number of pages on which the term appears.

So, I can say that ‘fucking free’ is the most common ‘fucking adjective‘ pair (though one suspects we’re not talking about free-as-in-speech here); followed by hot, hard, young, hardcore, black, awesome, big, white, old, sexy, good, great, amazing, huge, blonde, naked, asian, nude, sweet, crazy, horny, and hotttttttttt. And the least likely are lap-straked, cortico-hypothalamic, cloven-hooved, cloven-footed, Malayo-Polynesian, most-favored-nation, and neo-Lamarkian.

Science marches on.

First mention: “Clean and sober”

In one of the “Mad Men” discussions, someone asks if it was anachronistic to describe Freddy Rumsen as “clean and sober” in 1963 (from here, I think.)

The first clear use of this expression in the New York Times archives is from August 28, 1892, which has the embedded note in an article about a murder trial:

DEAR MISS CLOVER: WIll you meet me outside the Canterbury at 7:30 to-night? DO you remember the night I bought your boots? You were too drunk to speak to me. If you come clean and sober, please bring this paper and evenelope with you. (Neill held for murder; The death of Matilda Clover described by a witness; New York Times, August 28, 1892).

Someone else found hundreds of references in Google Books. So it’s ok to say Freddy was clean and sober; I hope he stays that way.

Update: going back to find original discussion which got me thinking.


I enjoyed reading the Wikipedia page about its “lamest edit wars.” One of these edit wars was whether the article on what Americans call “aluminum” and what Brits call “aluminium” should have, as its fundamental title, “Aluminum,” or “Aluminium.” And, one of the arguments presented in favo(u)r of “Aluminum” was that more Google hits are available for the US spelling than the UK spelling. “Ghits” is notoriously unreliable (as are Bing hits and the other search engines), since the number of search results reported are subject to lots of factors, not of which is tied directly to actual number of documents returned.

However, Bing (my employer) has recently provided programmatic access to its data on ngrams (frequency statistics based on the number of word tokens) found on web pages, query logs and anchor text (the data inside links). And I can safely express that the US spelling is much more frequently used. Here is the actual data, based on the June 2009 data release:

Source P(Aluminum) P(Aluminium) Ratio US:UK
Body text 0.00852 0.00487 1.76
Anchor text 0.00727 0.00426 1.70
Query text 0.00974 0.00483 2.01

So, as a data point: “aluminum” is around twice as frequent as “aluminium” on the Web.

Hal Eisen

Hal Eisen
sail’d to the horizon.
He’d rather suffer beri-beri
than write code that’s proprietary.