Archive for the 'Language' Category

What’s wrong with “combination”?

Posted in Language on September 23rd, 2006

This isn’t original–credit goes to James Fallows’ “Homo Conexus” in Technology Review–but when I saw it I had a little “aha!” moment.

To wit, “mashup” has always struck me as an odd term within the x2.0 environment. To me, “mashup” on its own has some negative connotations–you mash things together and wind up with a mush of mess.

That’s not what so-called “mashups” do, at least not when they’re done right. They combine information from two or more web resources to create a new resource. They do so discretely (note spelling: I suppose if they hide where the information comes from, they’re also doing it discreetly) and in an orderly fashion. You wind up with new and presumably useful, interesting, or entertaining stuff based on what you wanted.

Here’s what Fallows says, in the context of trying to do as much using “Web 2.0″ services as possible:

(The single most annoying aspect of the annoyingly named Web 2.0 movement is the use of the term “mashing up” to denote what in English we call “combining.”)

I know this one’s not winnable, but I do wonder at the urge for an apparently needless neologism–more particularly one that has a third-grader feel to it. “Hey, let’s go mash up some stuff!” (Exclamation point, of course, mandatory.)

Back when I used to like Reese’s Cups, a classic combination, I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have liked them as well if they were just chocolate and peanut butter mashed together.

All I can say is: This library professional plans to use web 2.0 and “library 2.0″ services whenever they make sense. This library professional won’t actually wince when someone uses childish phrases or sentence structure. This library professional doesn’t have to like it, though.

Update: Maybe “mashup” does make sense. Separately, I’m seeing (a few) more examples of childish syntax/repetitive structure (made mild fun of in the preceding paragraph) becoming a hallmark of (certain high-profile) Library 2.0 advocates. I have no idea what to make of that. Nursery rhymes as the new paradigm?

A grammar post!

Posted in Language on June 12th, 2006

Once in a while, I glance at “Web pages that suck.”

Usually very well-chosen examples of utterly horrendous web techniques.

Today’s, though, is an oddity: The Oak Ridge Boys site.

Not that the site doesn’t suck–but Vincent Flanders, proprietor of WPTS, usually excludes musical groups and artists from consideration, because such sites are expected to push the envelope.

So why did he make an exception? Because of this “incredible grammar error”:

The Oak Ridge Boys is one of America’s best known country acts.

I sent Flanders email saying that, by my standards, that’s not a grammatical error at all. The Oak Ridge Boys is a musical group; it takes the singular, just as The United States of America or The Beatles or … (at least in American English, given that corporate entities are “people” in the U.S.).

Would you say “The United States are the world’s leading exporters of pop culture”? No, you wouldn’t,

The members of The Oak Ridge Boys are musicians. The Oak Ridge Boys is a group.

Library 2.0 – Like it or hate it, it’s public domain (an echo post)

Posted in Copyright, Language on May 27th, 2006

Michael Casey posted this at LibraryCrunch last night. As one of those who suggested this to him, I’ll quote the whole thing as a way of reinforcing the claim against future foolishness:

O’Reilly has taken steps to consolidate use of the term “Web 2.0”, claiming it as a service mark. This has caused several worried library folk to contact me regarding “Library 2.0” and its usage.

I first published the term “Library 2.0” in September of 2005. I have always considered the term “Library 2.0”, used alone or in combinations such as “Library 2.0 Conference”, to be in the public domain, usable by anyone, and not subject to trademark or service mark registration. I would hate to see this changed by anyone attempting to turn the term itself into a commercial venture.

It appears well-established that “Library 2.0″ is Michael Casey’s coinage. I believe his post should be strong evidence opposing any attempt by a company to register the term as a servicemark or trademark, by itself or in any generic combination such as “Library 2.0 conference.” Casey’s done the right thing here, which will come as no surprise to anyone who’s dealt with him.

This may also be a good point to remind those who believe that Walt Crawford is the foremost “anti-Library 2.0″ person around there: I’m not an anti-Library 2.0 person at all, as a reasonably careful reading of the special Cites & Insights should clarify.

I think I’ll adopt the same usage here that Peter Suber tagged me with as regards open access: I’m an independent. (Which really means largely in favor of the concepts, but choosing to continue thinking and writing about difficulties and refinements.)


Posted in Language, Writing and blogging on April 12th, 2006

Rochelle Hartman posted this at the LJ Tech blog, pointing to a site that tests a website for readability.

Well, what the heck…

Here are the results for W.a.r., presumably just for the home page, not the whole blog:

Reading Level Results Summary Value
Total sentences 439
Total words 4738
Average words per Sentence 10.79
Words with 1 Syllable 3131
Words with 2 Syllables 1029
Words with 3 Syllables 380
Words with 4 or more Syllables 198
Percentage of word with three or more syllables 12.20%
Average Syllables per Word 1.50
Gunning Fog Index 9.20
Flesch Reading Ease 68.73
Flesch-Kincaid Grade 6.35

So I write at either a sixth-grader’s level or that of a high school frosh. Wonderful. Well, such is the charm of a pseudo-Asimovian writing style (much of Asimov’s simplicity, none of the grace or creativity).

This doesn’t come as a great surprise. One of my columns is based on word count, and the editor and I found that I need to submit about 20% more than the stated word count in order to fill the available space: I use lots of short words. Not necessarily because I don’t know any longer ones, but if you choose to make that supposition, who am I to argue?

Sometimes you just can’t win

Posted in Language, Writing and blogging on April 4th, 2006

I’m doing some early editing on pieces of the next Cites & Insights. In “The Library Stuff” section, I have this sentence:

It’s an interesting treatment, although I wonder about the seeming inevitability of, say, journals in art and architecture going all-digital.

[If you wonder about the context–well, the issue will be out within the next two weeks.]

I do leave Word’s real-time spell check and grammar check on. Sometimes, grammar check has a really good suggested alternative.

In this case, Word gave the evil green squiggle to “all-digital” and suggested “all digital” as an alternative.

So, OK, what the heck. I changed the hyphen to a blank.

And Word gave the evil green squiggle to “all digital.”

You guessed it: The suggested fix was “all-digital.”

Who needs editors when you have advice like that?

We need a new term? (As Huey Lewis didn’t say)

Posted in Language on April 3rd, 2006

In my post celebrating this blog’s first year I noted, “I’m trying out a new neologism, since I’m as sick of biblioblogosphere as others: any takers?” while using “biblogworld.”

I have no problem with neologisms that serve a purpose and roll pleasingly off the tongue. I can get sick of overused, trendy, or pointless neologisms pretty quickly; the same is true for neologisms that are ugly or hard to say.

In this case, a number of people had noted that they really didn’t like “biblioblogosphere,” mostly because it really doesn’t roll pleasingly off the tongue or keyboard–it’s too Germanic for most tastes. (In construction, not in derivation.) More recently, there’s the other issue–a sphere implies a center, and the world of library-related blogs has no such center.

“Biblogworld” is a non-starter, as the comments have made clear. “Library blogs” has the problem that the part of the arena that most interests me doesn’t consist of library blogs so much as blogs by “library people.” Library blogs–those run by and on behalf of specific libraries–can be enormously valuable if done right, but they really fall in a different, if related, category. And “Librarian blogs” is a little tricky, although it would allow me to investigate as an interested outsider–but it would also eliminate great blogs by other library people who don’t (or don’t yet) hold the degree. (Sorry, but as long as I’m an ALA member and nobody’s chosen to give me an honorary MLS–and boy, is the latter improbable–I’m unwilling to call myself a librarian. Drives my MLS-holding wife crazy, it does, but there it is.)

Suggestions? Some short phrase or pleasing term that encompasses the field of weblogs written by one or a small group of “library people” (as identified by themselves) and at least in part vaguely related to libraries and/or librarianship?

I can even provide a Cites & Insights hook. Yes, I do plan to do a newer, larger, different version of the “investigation” I did last year, and I’d like to have a good name for it.

Family nonsense

Posted in Language, Stuff on March 20th, 2006

Today’s Jon Carroll column in the San Francisco Chronicle is well worth reading.

I don’t think additional comment is needed (and besides, when I think about how the honorable term “Family” has been hijacked by a bunch of extremist organizations…well, I start to lose it too).

Well, I swear…but not that much

Posted in Language, Movies and TV on November 28th, 2005

Our Saturday night DVD movie was Flight of the Phoenix–the new one with Dennis Quaid, not the 1965 original with Jimmy Stewart.

My wife doesn’t much care for flying. Amazingly, she made it through the first half hour with only the comment that “I’ll never get on an airplane again.” (Not likely to be true, but it will take a really great cruise on the other end of that flight…)

The rest of the movie? Good, compelling, not too many lapses in logic and continuity. (I don’t remember the 1965 version, so can’t compare. I added both the new and old War of the Worlds to our Netflix queue at the same time, so we can make a comparison.)

But this isn’t a movie review. We enjoyed it. You might; you might not.

We had time to watch the 41-minute “making of” featurette. We were looking forward to it: To what extent did they actually try to accomplish the key plot element, and what were filming conditions actually like (in Namibia, substituting for the Gobi desert)?

We were disappointed in the featurette, for two primary reasons:

  • The studio tried too hard to make the featurette a mini-movie, with lots of dramatic music sometimes swamping the dialogue. That’s minor.
  • The director, John Moore, apparently can’t say ten words without one or two of them being f*ck or f**king. This got real old real fast. Either word used appropriately is, well, appropriate. Either word used instead of having a real vocabulary is just annoying. It got to the point where we both cringed a little whenever Moore appeared on screen

Actually, John Moore generally impressed us as being a first-rate a**h*le. We’ve never seen any of his other movies. With any luck, we never will. It’s fair to say there weren’t a bunch of quotes from cast members saying what a pleasure Moore is to work with. Admittedly, the filming was done under tough conditions–but geez, Moore seems to be a real pill.

Mondegreens as ads

Posted in Language on May 20th, 2005

If you watch TV at all, you’ve probably seen it by now: The ad for Lime Coke with the strange, catchy tune.

If you were ever a Harry Nilsson fan, you may feel a slight sense of outrage. Or nostalgia.

And if you can hear, you’ll recognize why the ad has a follow-the-bouncing-ball section: To convince you that what’s being sung is “lime in the Coke, you nut,” even though you don’t think that’s what you heard.

It isn’t what you heard.

Harry Nilsson wrote The Coconut Song and recorded it in 1971. As with much of what Nilsson did, it’s a mix of talent and eccentricity. I can’t make sense of all the lyrics, but the verses have something to do with “Doctor, ain’t there something I can take…to relieve this bellyache” and the chorus goes,

“You put the lime in the coconut, you drink them both up…”

I trust Nilsson’s estate got a hefty fee for the deliberate misquotation and use of his performance. I don’t plan to try the new concoction, but then I don’t care for pop in general. (Sodas? Cocola? I don’t know what my regional term for sweet fizzy stuff is supposed to be.)

(Mondegreens? Mishearings of song lyrics as being other lyrics. Jon Caroll’s written a number of great columns over the years about Mondegreens, which take their name from a mishearing of a ballad about how they killed Lord such-and-such and laid him on the green, which was heard as “they killed Lord such-and-such and Lady Mondegreen.”)

Reasonable people

Posted in Language, Stuff on May 2nd, 2005

So I decide to give Business 2.0 another try. And get to the “Wheels” section of the April 2005 issue, with a review of the Mercedes-Benz CL65 AMG. And these sentences:

The CL65 AMG is, in fact, everyone’s kind of car. There is not a single aspect to the vehicle that a reasonable person could find fault with.

Bwahahah….Let’s see now:

  • Fuel economy: 12mpg city, 19mpg highway. I find a lot of fault with that, since the car I drive (not a hybrid) gets better than twice that mileage in both cases. Maybe the writer’s world will never run out of fossil fuel; must be nice to live there.
  • $186,520: Almost precisely 10 times what we paid two months ago for my wife’s brand-new top-of-the-line Civic EX. Enough difference to pay for 16 high-end cruises or a vacation home in many parts of the country.
  • …for a two-door coupe that weighs 4654 pounds and is 196.6 inches long: A big, heavy, beast of a car with wide doors combined with rough access to the rear seat. The review doesn’t comment on turning radius, but I have my suspicions…
  • The speedometer goes to 220, but the top speed is electronically limited to 155 mph. The point being, I presume, that this overpowered beast (604HP) could go at an even more absurd rate of speed if it wasn’t “locked down” to something over twice the top speed limit in the U.S.

Not mentioned in the review, of course: It’s a Mercedes-Benz, which means you’ll spend a fortune on service, given the uniformly lousy reliability ratings and high servicing costs of the brand.

I guess I’m just unreasonable. I’m not going to shame anyone else for buying this car–heck, it gets better gas mileage than a Hummer, at least–but nothing to find fault with? In your dreams.

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