January 2010 Archives

If M.C. Escher designed typefaces

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Guest blogger Shmuel here again... the problem with getting behind in blogging is that you feel that after taking so long, you ought to write something really good, which of course takes more time and effort than you have in reserve, so you procrastinate, and then the post needs to be even better, and so on and so forth. (I have the same problem with e-mail.)

So let's keep it simple. Check out Priori Acute, a display face that's both cool and disturbing, with a 3-D effect that doesn't quite make sense in the real world.

(The other flavors of Priori are interesting as well, with eclectic mixtures of angular elements and fluid flourishes.)

Verbs bad

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Someone recently linked to the Verbs Bad manifesto, a verbless argument against the use of verbs, written by Miranda Tedholm, age 17; it apparently won a Scholastic "Art and Writing" award in 2001, but the Scholastic page where it used to live is no longer there.

It's a fun piece. There are several bits I would have recommended tweaking a bit for improved phrasing, and she slips back and forth between sounding very natural ("No more erudition, no more delicacy in language!") and sounding like she's leaving out words ("erudition possible without verbs"); still, it's an impressive effort.


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The other morning, as I was waking up, it occurred to me that I pretty much never hear the word "nix," but I do occasionally hear the Pig Latin word "ixnay." Usually in the construction "ixnay on the [something in Pig Latin]." Like: "ixnay on the alkingtay."

I wondered whether "ixnay" is becoming an English word in its own right. Although come to think of it, I don't think I often encounter it in a non-Pig Latin context (like *"ixnay on the talking"), which seems to suggest it's not widely considered valid English.

And then I wondered whether people do still use "ixnay," or whether I've just seen it so much in older books that I think of it as common.

Anyway, I made a mental note to write an entry about this at some point, and then forgot about it.

And then a couple hours later, I came across the then-latest strip of the webcomic Darths & Droids, which used the "ixnay" construction.

And the strip's forum topic included some discussion of exactly my questions. And several of the commenters there said they've been known to use "nix" sometimes.

Also, MW11 doesn't list "ixnay" as a valid English word.

Anyway, partly I'm posting 'cause I think it's an interesting topic, but partly just because I was amused by the coincidence.

Keyword spam

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My main blog has been receiving a lot of comment spam lately. Annoying, but the upside is that some of the comments are mildly entertaining: they're posted by a spambot that recognizes key words but doesn't know that words can have multiple meanings.

So, for example, an entry of mine from back in 2002 has the title "Phrase dating and the New Wave, which contains the word "dating." So a spambot posted a comment on that entry the other day that said "Is it ok to bring flowers on a first date?"

And several of my entries that contain the word "girls" (referring to young female humans, as in "On Girls, Boys, and IT Careers") get spam comments about "girls sex movie" and such.

And then there was my entry "Writing challenge/exercise: Unamerican," which just got a spam comment that says "Love this blog, love fitness and life, thanks for a good read!"—presumably because of the word "exercise."

And though this isn't quite the same thing, whenever I mention recipes, as in an entry on "Recipe law," I get comment spam pointing me to recipe sites or saying (for example) "I am looking for a lot of different meal ideas. If you are willing to recommand another page I would honestly appreciate it. Thank you!"


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Pandiculation is "the act of stretching oneself."

The context in which I encountered it indicated that the term is specifically used to refer to the sort of stretching one does when tired, or when waking up after sleeping.

Monkey and chimp communication

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Interesting New York Times article: "Deciphering the Chatter of Monkeys and Chimps." Excerpt:

It is tempting to think of the vervet calls as words for "leopard," "snake" or "eagle," but that is not really so. The vervets do not combine the calls with other sounds to make new meanings. They do not modulate them, so far as is known, to convey that a leopard is 10, or 100, feet away. Their alarm calls seem less like words and more like a person saying "Ouch!"—a vocal representation of an inner mental state rather than an attempt to convey exact information.

But the calls do have specific meaning.

Boggle poetry


I've been playing an iPhone game called Befuddled that lets you find words in a grid, sort of Boggle-style (but a much bigger grid and with many many complications). It's got me thinking about words in letter grids, and this evening the idea popped into my head that one could write poetry of a sort in the form of a letter grid.

For example, the following Boggle board:


could be read as a vaguely romantic exhortation to a beloved seamstress or seamster:



(Perhaps you can tell by now that this entry is not entirely serious.)

Of course, one problem with this sort of poetry is that all sorts of other words also appear in the grid, such as:

  • SURD
  • USED

Still, I'm intrigued by the possibilities of the form.

So today's challenge is to create poetry (by some definition) in the form of a letter grid. The grid can be any size you like, but if you're looking for constraints, stick with 4x4 or 5x5. The words should be findable using standard Boggle letter-connection rules. (That is: to get to the next letter of the word, move one space in any horizontal or diagonal direction, without repeating letters within a given word.) Words can be of any length, in any language, and proper nouns are allowed.

The words of your poem don't have to appear in any sort of connected order (that is, the end of one word doesn't have to be next to the start of the next), and it's fine for multiple words to use the same letter or letters (as long as no letter is used more than once within a single word).

Your poem does not have to rhyme or scan, but bonus points if it does. Even more bonus points if it also manages to make sense.

If poetry is not your thing, feel free to try for a coherent prose sentence.

Post your grid in comments on this entry (or in your own blog, if you prefer, but in that case link to it from a comment here).

You can format your grid using an HTML table, but that's kind of a pain to write; you can also just post it as a series of lines. But put blank lines between them or the comment system will combine them onto one line.

You can choose to either explicitly mention the intended words of the poem in your comment, or hold off and let people guess. I suspect guessing will be rather difficult, though.

Small caps and the numeral 1


John Gruber at Daring Fireball has been linking to various posts having to do with the use of small caps in typesetting.

For example:

  • Gore's choice explains Al Gore's request that the numeral 1 in a particular font be made to look more like a 1 and less like a capital I.
  • In response, fawny Joe Clark [see comments below] rants about the evils of small caps. ("Use of small caps for acronyms and abbreviations is a surefire indication your compositor is a snob.")
  • Aegir Hallmundur at Ministry of Type responds that small caps are not bad per se; it's more a question of how and when to use them appropriately.


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Apparently, "buckraking" refers to a journalist taking a lot of money for a speaking engagement, especially speaking to a group that has a particular agenda; such a payment may cast doubt on the journalist's objectivity.

Despite the etymology (a portmanteau of "buck" and "muckraking"), the term doesn't actually have anything to do with muckraking; the word "muckraking" is apparently a stand-in here for "journalism," plus of course the pun/joke that the journalist is raking in the bucks.

I'd never heard the term before, but apparently it goes back to at least 2002, when NBC banned it. (Though the phrasing of that piece is ambiguous; perhaps NBC banned the practice under a different name.)

Utah baby namer

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Apparently, Utah Mormon names are often pretty unusual. A couple who used to live in Utah have been collecting such names for the past ten years or so; the result is a fascinating name collection, the Utah Baby Namer.

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