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Cecily Cecily

Writing Worth Reading


An agreed order for the letters of the alphabet was essential in the days of printed books: How else would you find your way around a dictionary? But in digital texts alphabetical order ceases to matter. The search engine finds what you want. You need to know what letters are available, but BAC will do as well as ABC. Hard for older readers to grasp, but the alphabet is becoming “simultaneous and not sequential” (685 words)

Red Smith, Collected

Review of American Pastimes: The Very Best of Red Smith, edited by Daniel Okrent. Smith was one of the great sports writers of the golden age — up with Grantland Rice, Westbrook Pegler, Ring Lardner. Admired by Hemingway. A writing voice like that of Damon Runyon, with a “sidelong, raised-eyebrow gaze”. Sample quote, about St Louis Cardinals player-manager Frankie Frisch: “You could have planted petunias in the loam on his face” (1,640 words)

Why Are We Still Waiting For Natural Language Processing?

“Try typing this, or any question with roughly the same meaning, into the Google search box: Which UK papers are not part of the Murdoch empire? Your results (and you could get identical ones by typing the same words in the reverse order) will contain an estimated two million or more pages about Rupert Murdoch and the newspapers owned by his News Corporation. Exactly what you did not ask for” (753 words)

Slash: Not Just A Punctuation Mark Anymore

The punctuation mark ” / ” has morphed into the word “slash”, meaning “and/or”. Now the word “slash” is evolving into a conjunction, indicating an afterthought, particularly one that is also a topic shift. “The emergence of a new conjunction/conjunctive adverb is like a rare-bird sighting in the world of linguistics”. And this one may have staying power, to judge from its common usage among young people (971 words)

One Rule To Ring Them All

On the correct use of “who” and “whom”. The news is generally bad for purists. “There seems to be no agreed unitary rule governing the inflection of who where it functions as subject of a clause to which it is not adjacent”

Organic Syntax

You would think a product called Organic Raspberry Fruit Spread would be organic, yes? Think again. “Why did I not see the obvious syntactic danger? Some grammarian, I thought to myself later, when I saw what I’d missed”

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