Tag Archives: words

Names and words

When you get the copy-edited manuscript of a book back, it comes with a document called “Names and Words,” this is a list of proper names or unusual words in the book which might admit variant spelling or typography, and the list is there to keep everybody on the production team uniform.

Here’s the A-B section of my list.  I think it gives a pretty good sense of what the book is about.

Niels Henrik Abel

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad

Aish HaTorah

Alcmaeon of Croton

Alhazen (Abu ‘Ali al-Hasan ibn al-Haytham)

Spike Albrecht

Ray Allen

Scott Allen

Akhil and Vikram Amar

Apollonius of Perga

Yasser Arafat

John Arbuthnot

Dan Ariely

Kenneth Arrow

John Ashbery

Daryl Renard Atkins

Yigal Attali

David Bakan

Stefan Banach

Dror Bar-Natan

Joseph-Émile Barbier

Leroy E. Burney

Andrew Beal

Nicholas Beaudrot

Bernd Beber

Gary Becker

Madeleine Beekman

Armando Benitez

Craig Bennett

Jim Bennett

George Berkeley

Joseph Berkson

Daniel Bernoulli

Jakob Bernoulli

Nicholas Bernoulli

Alphonse Bertillon


Joseph Bertrand

best seller


R. H. Bing

Otto Blumenthal

Usain Bolt

Farkas Bolyai

János Bolyai

Jean-Charles de Borda

Bose-Chaudhuri-Hocquenghem code

Nick Bostrom

David Brooks

Derren Brown

Filippo Brunelleschi

Pat Buchanan

Georges-Louis LeClerc, Comte de Buffon

Dylan Byers

Daniel Byman

David Byrne


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Words that appear exactly 25 times in How Not To Be Wrong

15,18,20, along, Baltimore, calculus, check, completely, drawing, early, economic, else, extra, feel, geometric, holes, John, known, lead, nature, obvious, outcome, particular, pay, precise, principle, share, sphere, student, thus, wanted.

Sounds good, right?


Ngrams: one more way to win an argument using Google

I thought I’d never see a definitive answer to this one, but thanks to the brand-new Google NGrams Viewer, the facts are clear:

It is “another think coming,” and it has always been “another think coming.”

A lot of words and phrases (though not these) show a dip starting in 2000 or so.  I wonder if the nature of the corpus changes at that point to include more words?  You see the same effects with name frequencies — the frequency of any given name has been decreasing over the last twenty years, just because names are getting more and more widely distributed; the most popular names today take up a smaller share of namespace than much lower-ranked names did in the 1950s.  A quick and dirty thing to check would be the entropy of the word distribution; is it going up with time?

Lots of good ngram examples on Tom Scocca’s blog, here and here.

Oh, and here’s the Four Shortstops:

Ripken, appropriately, is showing great staying power.

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The name of this blog, almost featured in the New York Times.  (Thanks to Terry for pointing this out.)

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One more comment on “canonical,” promoted to its own post because the non-mathematicians presumably stopped reading the other one very early on.

It’s common for mathematicians to use the word “canonical” colloquially, to mean something like  “a choice universally or at least generally agreed on.”  For instance:

The clock in Grand Central Station is the canonical place to rendezvous with people in midtown New York City.

I always thought of this as an outgrowth of the mathematical use of the word; but actually, there’s a bit of tension, because I think in this sense “canonical” almost always refers to a choice which is conventionally agreed on, and for which there might be a good reason, but which isn’t really forced upon you the way that canonical things are in mathematics.  The canonical rendezvous might just as well have been the lobby of the Empire State building.

I found a definition of “canonical” in a Hacker Slang dictionary which roughly agrees with this usage:

The usual or standard state or manner of something. This word has a somewhat more technical meaning in mathematics. Two formulas such as 9 + x and x + 9 are said to be equivalent because they mean the same thing, but the second one is in `canonical form’ because it is written in the usual way, with the highest power of x first. Usually there are fixed rules you can use to decide whether something is in canonical form. The jargon meaning, a relaxation of the technical meaning, acquired its present loading in computer-science culture largely through its prominence in Alonzo Church’s work in computation theory and mathematical logic (see Knights of the Lambda Calculus). Compare vanilla…

Anyway.  Non-math readers, would you ever use the word “canonical” in the sense described here?  Math readers, can you give an account of its colloquial usage more articulate than my own?

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Link roundup, June 2008

  • You can type any word into JustTheWord and get statistics, drawn from the 100-million-word British National Corpus, about which words appear most frequently in combination with the word you chose. What noun would you expect to follow “striking” most frequently? I guessed “contrast” but in fact that’s in third place, behind “feature” and “example.”
  • I Am Neurotic collects tics, quirks, and undesired thoughts sent in by readers, e.g.

    I can’t stand drying my hands with any kind of towel if only one hand is wet. I have to purposefully make the other hand wet and then dry them both at the same time, because the feeling of one dry hand rubbing against a towel makes me want to hurl.

    Compulsively readable.

  • Some days you just feel there’s nothing new under the sun, and human ingenuity has been exhausted. If you’re having that kind of day, gaze in awe upon the hamburger made of ground bacon. The mind unfettered by convention is a glorious thing.
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