Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Word Nerd

So, I finally made it to see Wordplay, the new documentary about NYT Crossword puzzle editor Will Shortz and the national crossword puzzle tournament. It's one of those movies that just made me smile-- nothing earth shattering, but truly delightful. While I'm a bit biased to the material, as someone who dabbles in puzzling, I think it would be fun for non-puzzlers too.

In the spirit of celebrating my (not-too-hidden) inner word nerd, here are a few other sources of amusement and edification for my fellow logophiles.

* AN ARTICLE: I liked Sudoku, I can see how it's an entertaining way to spend a few minutes, but I honestly got bored with the sameness of it after a while. Crosswords, on the other hand, draw on so many different things, often have a bit of novelty or serendipity-- challenging the history buff, trivia junky, and word nerd in me all at once. A quick look at the effect of Sudoku's wild success (my Dad for instance is a true addict!) on the world of crosswords: Matt Gaffney's Surviving Sudoku

* A NEWSLETTER: Michael Quinion's World Wide Words is a weekly newsletter that includes amusing discussions of neologisms, word mysteries, and word histories-- much in the spirit of his wonderful book Ballyhoo, Buckaroo, and Spuds and , which debunks numerous folk etymologies, or urban legends about word origins. For example the word "crap" did not come from inventor of the toilet Thomas Crapper. And the expression "rule of thumb" does not derive from Puritan laws about the size of stick one's allowed to beat one's wife with. (These two I'd heard from what I'd taken to be somewhat credible sources).

* A BOOK: I always enjoy Geoff Nunberg's commentaries on Fresh Air when I come across them. His new book on conservative manipulation of language is definitely on my to-read-soon list. The book's title pretty much sums it up: Talking Right: How Conservatives Turned Liberalism into a Tax-Raising, Latte-Drinking, Sushi-Eating, Volvo-Driving, New York Times-Reading, Body-Piercing, Hollywood-Loving, Left-Wing Freak Show

* A DATABASE: The Eggcorn Database is a wonderful collection of a very specific type of errors found in common English usage-- common malapropisms that almost make sense. Or as they describe it on the site:
"And eggcorns are not like just any amusing erroneous substitution: they are special because they arise when a writer knows an expression well enough to employ it in an appropriate context, but is mistaken about the term's or its constituents' meanings, origins or the underlininglying metaphors. If you are not convinced, browse our Â?nearly mainstreamÂ? section. Are you sure you've never honed in on an important point or goal? Given free reign to your creativity, or, on the contrary, towed the line? Check out what the man has to say whose refrigerator has given up the goat, so brilliantly retold by Jeanette Winterson in the (London) Times."
* A BLOG: The linguists over at Language Log (Mark Lieberman, Geoffrey Pullum, et al) have compiled their writings into a new book (blook!), Far From the Madding Gerund. I haven't read the book, but I've read enough of their blog postings to know that there's a lot of good material there. At times they delve into linguistic discussions that exceed my grasp of the discipline, but I've learned quite a bit in reading them. It's not purely academic discussion, though, and much of it is quite witty, engaging with politics, popular culture and beyond. See for example their various articles on Dan Brown

*A PODCAST: A Way with Words: This podcast, of a radio show from KPBS in San Diego, in not appropriate for those who cringe at bad puns. Indeed, if you believe in the concept of a "bad pun" you may want to shy away. It's an incredibly cheesy-- but always fun and often quite informative-- hour-long weekly show devoted to etymology, grammar debates, etc. (Um, it's better than it sounds. But only if you're a word nerd.)


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