Monday, April 24, 2006


“Esquivalience” – n. the willful avoidance of one’s official responsibilities.

That’s the definition of the word that is listed in the New Oxford American Dictionary, a respected and successful dictionary. It’s a useful word, and had I known it, I would have used it more and more often. I also think that it would make an excellent away message. Cryptic, yet funny after the other interested party looks it up.

However, there is a slight problem: It’s not a real word.

Esquivalience is a Nihilartikel, a “nothing article”. Nihilartikels are fake articles, deliberately placed in a publication for a variety of reasons. Often they are a subtle joke, and more deviously, they are a copyright trap.

Such is the case of esquivalience. The clever folks at New Oxford American Dictionary had put their dictionary into the very convenient and very piratable format of a CD, and knew that plagiarism was inevitable. So to catch less scrupulous dictionary makers who had the bad habit of stealing from other dictionaries they put in a word that was to be found nowhere else. If the word turned up elsewhere, they knew where it came from.

All of this was uncovered very cleverly by Henry Alford in a New Yorker article. What is more interesting to me is the overall and widespread phenomenon of copyright traps.

The world of indexical knowledge is often a circular place, and there is no doubt that references often must consult each other. That this ingenious form of protection would emerge is impressive, but I suppose not unexpected. Wikipedia would lead me to believe that not only do dictionaries and encyclopedias have fake entries, but that many maps often contain invented streets and telephone books contain fabricated persons, all for the purpose of being able to track and hunt down those who infringe on copyright.

I like the fact that these reference books which supposedly document the truth don’t mind indulging in the occasional white lie or misinformation. I am disappointed, however, that esquivalience is not a real word. Or is it? Google counts over 13,000 mentions of the word. This fake word is gaining a life of its own.
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Saturday, April 22, 2006

Etaoin Shrdlu and Asdf Jkl;

Do you know what etaoin shrdlu is? Recognize it as a character name from a story or novel? Run across it in the dictionary? Encounter it in some other cryptic context?

It wouldn’t be too surprising. The phrase gets about 70,000 Google hits, which, while not huge, seems significant enough to put it into the general knowledge category.

Well, what is it?

It’s a typo. Sort of.

I won’t bother to explain it too much because Wikipedia will learn you good on this, but basically it’s the equivalent of a typist hitting “asdfjkl;”. Basically, when typesetters using the hot metal printing processors made an error, they would spend the slug by using the first line of characters on their Linotype keyboards, just because it was convenient and fast.

Carelessness meant that the letters often got put into print, instead of discarded. This happened enough that they warranted a definition in the OED as well as the Random House Dictionary. Clever souls then proceeded to use the letters as all sorts of names, jokes, and the rest. Thus marks the rise of a famous typo, though there has been no need for its accidental inclusion since the end of the hot metal printing.

However, we do have a modern equivalent: Asdf Jkl;. Like etaion shrdlu, it’s the easiest and most convenient string of characters for the contemporary typist using the standard Qwerty keyboard to hit. These random letters also enjoy the immense popularity that comes with being convenient keys, as evidenced by the Google hits.

Google Hits
etaoin shrdlu – 70,400
asdfjkl; - 70,500
etaoin – 206,000
asdf – 5,030,000

Kellen - 2,220,000

That’s right, “asdf” gets twice as many hits as my first name. Meaningless letters appear on the Internet more than my first name. Who knew that arbitrary letters were so damn popular?
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Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Overview of the New Facebook Status Feature

Facebook has tons of features and options, many of which are used in complete earnestness. Many of them aren’t. For evidence: Open Relationship, Married, Engaged, and Complicated. I estimate 90% of all these entries are by used by girls who think they are funnier than they actually are.

The new feature to be victimized by would be wise guys is the magical status thing. Implemented just a few days ago, I present a survey of how people are using it, based on a sample of my friends list.

Basically here is how its being used, based on my sample. Only a third of all the status messages are sincere, and even fewer are useful or accurate considering how long ago they were updated. A sixth of them are meta-commentary on what they thing of the new status feature, surprisingly high in my opinion. The other half of all entries, are just jokes of varying stripes.

UPDATE:What happens since the novelty of the feature has faded?

Alex is написать расписание.
Frank is at the library.
Chloe is sweaty and smelly and sleepy and sipping water and somehow going to be alright.
Amanda is in dorm doing a paper.
Yolanda is singing along to Arthur songs!
Daniel is at home.
Laura is getting mystery rolls of film developed before heading off to the factory.
Rebecca is sick in bed.
Rebecca is surrendering sanity to Austen, Gaskell, Trollope, and Dickens.
Brett is at home.

Julianna is drinking forties and shooting dice.
Galen is dead.
Meagan is plotting a world take-over.
Katie is walking on air.
Jeremy is choppin' headz.
Lauren is learning what it means to be pinkoh.
Tyler is good looking.
Emma is tired of Jack being a whinny butt
Tanner is zufrieden.
Jolene is Hoing out Keri and Matt...any takers?
Mandy is straight thuggin'.
Christine is building panda traps.
Whitney is in class.
Logan is smoking rock
Jenny is awesome.

Janet is not telling you where she is HAHAHA.
Jacob is very sad that facebook is trying to supplant AIM away messages.
Becky is refusing to appease facebook by using their new features OH SHI.
Alex is not answering this ever.
Kevin is thinking that for every new thing facebook comes up with, he will drink five shots.
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Thursday, April 13, 2006

Spaz Is Offensive?

Tiger Woods is apparently in trouble for saying "spaz" in comments about the Master's tournament. What? Spaz? That's offensive? In England, apparently it's cause for uproar.

I, of course, read about it on the Language Log, which you should already be reading anyway. They have a good entry and links to the events surrounding the controversy and they thoroughly investigate the history of the word.

One thing that they didn't mention was the offensiveness survey that I posted about recently. The Language Log post mentions that spastic is apparently more offensive than all other terms for the mentally and physically handicapped but "retard". However, the BBC survey I mentioned earlier doesn't include retard. This could simply be an oversight, but it does include spastic, and it's apparently more offensive than shit.

That blows my mind.
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Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Why Your Gradeschool Textbooks Sucked

I know I haven’t posted in a while, but hopefully this will hold you over: Why Did All My Textbooks in Grade School Blow Donkey Cock?

Ever wondered why your textbooks in public grade school were so awful? You knew it had something to do with state-mandated curriculums and out of touch policy makers dictating education instead of experts in the field but didn’t exactly know precisely why textbooks seemed so atrocious, bland, and shall we say uneducational?

Well it turns out that the answer is that evangelical Christians in Texas have a tight hold on the balls of the textbook industry and hold incredible influence over the kinds of textbooks that are made and used across the nation. But, wait there’s more and it’s even better news.

Here is the article by an individual who worked in the textbook industry for years and tries to expose some light on why textbooks suck so much. Turns out it has lots to do with money, oligopoly, and loud eveangelicals.
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Tuesday, April 04, 2006

The Best Fucking Shit Ever

Do you like to say fuck? I know I do. But have you ever stopped to wonder how offensive saying fuck actually is? I know I do. So what would you say if I told you I had a BBC commissioned study that investigated the offesiveness of naughty words and broke down in thorough detail just how offensive saying fuck is?

If you said, "Awesome!" you would be correct.

The short list of ranked words is here which comes from the larger Bad Science article here, that I only know about because Language Log posted about it here.

However, the shit you really want is right here. This is the full 64 page report in pdf format and glorious detail. It's the best reading I've done in a while.

A couple of things to note: These people are English. The report was published in December of 2000. Which would explain why bollocks is ranked so high and shit so low and why wanker is apparently more offensive than nigger. The full report breaks down types of slurs and swears and also by age and gender.

So take that shit and love it.
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