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A Meeting of alphaDictionary Minds

Thursday, July 17th, 2008

Paul and BobOver the 12 years I have developed this website, from the Web of Online Dictionaries, through and on to, one of the greatest joys has been meeting logophiles of like mind around the world. I use the term “mind” literally, since the Internet community is a community of minds, as I’m sure you are well aware, stripped of all the psychological and social  accoutrements of traditional acquaintanceships. 
One of my oldest Internet friends is Paul Ogden. Paul has edited my Good Words two years now and even touches up the blog from time to time (including this one). He lives in Tel Aviv but at the beginning of this month he visited the States and stopped by for a visit. We stayed up into the wee hours talking language and continued from breakfast to lunch the next day. We were two old friends of 9 years who simply had never seen each other before. Minds matched, all other aspects of physical acquaintance slipped deftly into place.

Paul’s visit illuminated for me the delightful notion that a community has bloomed around alphaDictionary. It is a community connected by this blog, the Alpha Agora, and the e-mail system, a community of minds fascinated with the world of words. This is a reward in a class all its own.

Site News: Records Set

Tuesday, July 8th, 2008

We just past the 150,000-piece mark of spam spammers have attempted to spam us with—a milestone I would prefer not to have passed.  This does not include the 10-12 pieces a week that make it through and I have to delete manually, just those caught by our spam-catcher, Akismet.

Another milestone we passed in the month of June was the half-million unique visitor mark. This past month alphaDictionary was accessed by 527,340 distinct “sites” or IP addresses, which is about as close as we can get to counting unique visitors. But this figure does not take into account the 20,000 subscribers who receive our daily Good Word and Good Word, Jr, so we should have safely crossed the 500,000 threshold of unique visitors.  We are on schedule to repeat this performance in July, despite the drop-off around July 4.

This blog is one of our most widely frequented sites, so I thank all of you who visit—especially those who catch and report errors.

There are other interesting things to do with language on the site, though, so I hope everyone reading this will check them out. We have just put up a page of resources on the language of Jesus, Aramaic, and we are about to put up what I think will be the first resource on rhyming compounds, including a discussion of them and 150 or so examples.  The best place to look for serious comments on language is Dr. Language’s Office. You can get there from the link at the top of each page. The best place for games, jokes and other fun, is our fun page:

One Student Charged with Rioting

Saturday, May 3rd, 2008

One of my first blogs was “Life in the Slow Lane“, a short essay on my life in Lewisburg. Perhaps I shouldn’t have spoken so soon since this past weekend we had a riot downtown. It was reported in the Sunbury Daily Item this morning (no hurry: news doesn’t go away) under the headline above.

My wife and I were downtown watching the parking meter flags pop up at the time of the riot but somehow missed it. Apparently he didn’t spill over onto Market Street.

My first reading of this headline led me to suspect that maybe a riot had charged up an otherwise lethargic student into really digging into his studies. But, no, he actually was the riot under the Lewisburg criminal code if not under the laws of English grammar.

Ho-hum. Another week slips by; another word gains new meaning.

Merry Christmas & a Happy New Year

Wednesday, December 19th, 2007

I am growing weary of saying “Happy Holidays!” to everyone.  I’m from the Christian culture and the holidays for me and my family are Christmas and New Years.  My Jewish friends celebrate Hannukah and New Year’s and I greet them with ‘Happy Hannukah’.  I don’t expect them to abandon their traditions out of fear of the PC police and I am to old and ornery to carry on ignoring mine.

So Merry Christmas to my gentile readers. I hope my Jewish readers had a happy Hannukah and my Muslim readers had a blessed Ramadan. We usually mark those holidays with a relevant Good Word. Next year I hope to find out more about Hindu holidays, so that we can remind ourselves of them, as well.

I have a couple of ideas which I hope to get down in writing during the holidays but tomorrow my wife and I sail off into cloudy skies toward Colorado to be with our sons and their families for the holidays. For that reason, postings may become sparse again.

If you can think of any issues I should address, please feel free to drop me a line via our contact page or my private box in the Alpha Agora.

Whistling Dixie

Thursday, August 23rd, 2007

A few months back I walked though The Lexiteria to my office whistling and my office manager shortly thereafter stuck her head in the door and said, “I’ve never heard you whistle before.”

Whistling Dixie in harmonyWell, it had been a long time since I had whistled and I wondered why. Now I’ve had time to observe and I’ve come to the conclusion that no one in the US whistles any longer; we are no longer a whistling nation. When I was growing up, people whistled popular tunes all the time. It was a sign that we were happy, in a good mood, at peace with the world. We don’t do that any more.

Since whistling is another type of oral communication, it strikes me as fair game for this blog. I think it is time we began asking ourselves why whistling has died out and I offer this blog as (so far as I know) a first attempt at blind speculation on the subject.

The world has become much more complex over the past half century, of course. Probably fewer of us are at peace with the world and more of us busy trying to keep up with it. I don’t think any fewer of us are never happy, so the question is why don’t we whistle to express our happiness?

The loss of whistling puts a long list of idioms at risk: “just whistling Dixie”, “whistling in the wind”, “whistlestop”, “blow the whistle”, “whistle in the dark”. How many of these do you know? I fear they are slipping away.

One reason that jumps out is that we no longer have composers writing whistlable songs. Rappers and hip-hoppers chant mean-spirited jargon that is foisted on us by recording companies. Have you heard a recent rap that made you want to whistle it?

In the 40s and 50s we had tunes by Jerome Kern, Richard Rodgers, Hoagy Carmichael, Harry Warren, Julie Styne and the 60s brought us a slough of whistlable songs by John Lennon and others.

My tentative conclusion is that whistling has been disassociated with happiness by a shift in music from the beautiful ballads of yesteryear to angry, unmemorable chants pandered by the music industry today. But, as I mentioned before, this is just a preliminary blind speculation. More advanced analysis awaits further investigation.


Tuesday, July 3rd, 2007

Akismet, the antispam software plugin for this blog, has caught and deleted 65,868 spam messages since I installed it 5 months ago. That does not count the 100 or more that I deleted by hand.  I have approved for posting about a dozen messages over the same period.

My oppositioni to the death penalty is softening, though I still think it excessive for murderers.

The Culinary Arts, Lesson One: European Cuisine

Tuesday, June 19th, 2007

The English national pastry the scone; the French, the croissant.  Where would you rather dine?

If you are on the seefood diet, by which when you see food you eat it, England passes muster. If your tastebuds have a more subtle relationship with your brain, you might prefer the continental cuisine. 

Second Honeymoon

Wednesday, June 13th, 2007

Forgive my long absence. Last week was spent building up a store of Good Words so that my wife and I could enjoy a second honeymoon in the same Canadian village in which we spent our first one 47 years ago: Gananoque.

The first linguistic note about this experience has to do with the pronunciation of this town. Either no one we talked to on our first visit mentioned the name of their town or we forgot it for we simply assigned it the Frenglish pronunciation of [gæ-nê-nahk]. We learned, however, the second time around, that it is pronounced [gæ-nê-nah-kwe] by the denizens. So it was a learning experience.

Driving the 330 miles up from Lewisburg, PA to Ganonoque, I thought a bit about the term “family restaurant” as we passed them along the way. The meaning of this phrase has changed over the past century. It originally referred to a restaurant run by a family. In the US today it refers to a restaurant that serves bland food, presumably that may be consumed by everyone in a family, including children (served by fully clothed waitresses). “Family restaurant”, then, today too often refers to a baby-food restaurant rather than a restaurant in which the owners take especial pride. (There should be a story there but I’m not getting it.)

Other than these two items, and the ubiquitous, “Eh!” uttered between every fifth and sixth word above the border, nothing in the speech of Canadians caught my attention. “Canadian raising”, the pronunciation of [ou] as [o], in words like house (hoe-ss) and [ai] as [êi] in words like bike (buh-ik) are old hat, a holdover from the Irish dialects spoken in centuries past. You even find traces of this along the East Coast of the US.

Anyway, I am back and have a few ideas for this week and next.

(We had a wonderful time, by the way. The weather was beautiful, our innkeepers were excellent and the food was delicious. We took some of our pictures from the first visit there in 1960 to help us remember and figure the changes that have taken place over the decades.)

Under Attack

Friday, January 26th, 2007

Overnight this blog received 532 pieces of spam, mostly from one online Viagra pedlar. A total of 756 pieces of spam has hit this blog in the past 24 hours. Fortunately, we filter comments before publishing them but it took over a minute just to open the file in order to delete them.

Last year a Korean spammer sent so many messages that it slowed and even stopped our server several times, making it necessary to move our email to another, larger server just to stay in business.

Don’t ever let anyone tell you that ‘e-mail advertisers’ are just advertisers. They are all spammers and currently represent a far greater threat to the Internet than terrorists.

Do We Need the Web and the Wikipedia?

Tuesday, January 16th, 2007

Wikipedia raises more and more interesting questions as it expands in size and into more and more areas. It is now creating a dictionary and a host of word lists (glossaries). It has a news service, a photo archive, a free content library and is beginning a “Wikiversity” of online courses. The encyclopedia itself has 1,583,681 articles in English, a total of 6,197,339 counting all the articles in the 250 foreign languages now included.

Since anyone who walks in the door and claims to be an expert can write articles for Wikipedia, and Wikipedia is apparently trying to expand into every kind of offering on the Web, the question naturally arises: do we need Wikipedia and the Web or will the latter eventually atrophy away?

Wikipedia currently has a version of just about everything alphaDictionary has on its site and this may be said for thousands of now partially redundant sites around the web. The quality is much lower but then, the hope is that with time, the quality of the Wikipedia will improve. (It compares pretty well with the overall quality of the Web in general now.)

But the main point is this: if Wikipedia succeeds in collecting a definitive article on every topic conceivable, opens a university, provides us with the news, all the dictionaries and pictures we need–and anyone can get involved in creating this stuff, the reason for the Web’s existence is reduced to advertising and sales. At this point it merges with Google and eBay and–voila! There is no more reason for the Web’s existence. It will be replaced by the Wikigoobay.

Did I miss anything in my logic here?