Friday, November 05, 2004

Reverse Dictionary

Reverse Dictionary

Look up words by entering their definition.

Monday, October 18, 2004



Of or relating to play or playfulness: “Fiction... now makes [language] the center of its reflexive concern, and explodes in ludic, parodic, ironic forms” (Ihab Hassan).


1. Chemistry.
1. The combining capacity of an atom or radical determined by the number of electrons that it will lose, add, or share when it reacts with other atoms.
2. A positive or negative integer used to represent this capacity: The valences of copper are 1 and 2.
2. The number of binding sites of a molecule, such as an antibody or antigen.
3. The ability of a substance to interact with another or to produce an effect.
4. Psychology. The degree of attraction or aversion that an individual feels toward a specific object or event.
5. Linguistics. The number of arguments that a lexical item, especially a verb, can combine with to make a syntactically well-formed sentence, often along with a description of the categories of those constituents. Intransitive verbs (appear, arrive) have a valence of onethe subject; some transitive verbs (paint, touch), twothe subject and direct object; other transitive verbs (ask, give), threethe subject, direct object, and indirect object.
6. The capacity of something to unite, react, or interact with something else: “I do not claim to know much more about novels than the writing of them, but I cannot imagine one set in the breathing world which lacks any moral valence” (Robert Stone).

Sunday, October 17, 2004

Dictionary by email / another word

At's Wordserver, you can find instructions on how to get definitions and synonyms for words by automated email responses. This is more interesting than useful, I think... these days I imagine anyone who has email access also has web access. But you can also get it to make anagrams out of a word you send, as well as have it expand an acronym (or you can add an acronym's definition to the database).

Also, here's an interesting word that I should have just been able to figure out on my own: polyonymous. Should be obvious: kind of the polar opposite of anonymous. Makes me wonder what other interesting words could be made by switching prefixes.

Saturday, October 02, 2004

Writing is Life and Publishers are Strange

How to Write a Best-Selling Fantasy Novel. Damn funny, and a good overview of things not to do when writing genre fiction - unless you know how to do them really quite well. Avoid this if you can't take some thinly veiled piss-taking at Tolkien's expense.

How to Build a Universe That Doesn't Fall Apart Two Days After. A surprisingly moving essay by Philip K. Dick. Nominally about writing, but its scope goes far beyond wordcraft, touching on philosophy, personal destiny and even the nature of reality. Don't make me break out the "If You Only Read One Essay This Etc." cliches.

I also recently read "Leaving Buenos Aires," a wonderful essay by Eduardo Galeano. Another strikingly poignant piece that uses writing as a vehicle to discuss grander issues, in this case oppression in Latin America specifically and living an engaged life in general. If you can get your hands on a copy - the version I was reading was appended to a print of Days and Nights of Love and War - I highly reccomend it.

And finally, in keeping with the wordporn theme, I thought I'd toss in a few interesting publishing terms that have entered my vocabulary over the last couple of years of becoming a "professional" journalist.

The two that cause the most trouble are lede and leading. You've probably heard someone refer to the lede of a story, and thought they were saying "lead." They mean the same thing - the lede is the first paragraph of an article - but the original printing presses used lead (the metal), and the spelling was changed so as to avoid confusing the technicians. This also explains why leading - referring to the space between lines - is actually pronounced like the metal ("led").

The space between letters - for what it's worth - is kerning. I don't know why.

The other two aren't words, but terms:

Pull quote refers to those quotes from articles which are reprinted somewhere within the article's layout, usually large and bold and set apart from the normal flow of the columns, to draw attention to the story and sum it up.

Above the fold means what it says. It refers to stories on the top half of the first page of a daily newspaper - the ones that will be seen through the newspaper box window.

Sunday, September 26, 2004


Passages selected from various authors, usually for purposes of instruction; miscellany; anthology.

Saturday, September 18, 2004

When synonyms aren't

From Many-to-Many: Folksonomy:

Synonym control is not as wonderful as is often supposed, because synonyms often aren’t. Even closely related terms like movies, films, flicks, and cinema cannot be trivally collapsed into a single word without loss of meaning, and of social context.
via notebook

Thursday, September 16, 2004

Don't make your paragraphs embarass themselves

I think one of the overused writing mistakes that bothers me the most in others' writing - probably because I'm always tempted to do it myself - is the dramatic afterthought paragraph, or exhale paragraph. It's when someone appends to a thought a sentence or two intended to emhpasize or make a smarmy little full-stop transition.

Just like this.

It's annoying - eye-gougingly annoying - when used loosely, and, oh, loosely it is used. Observe::

"The idea is that if you can get these things written down, into a system you trust, and know that you'll be reminded of them at the appropriate time, you can get them out of your head, and use all that spare head-space for something more useful. Storing cheese, perhaps.

Well, apart from the cheese, anyway. That's my own suggestion."

ARGH. Not only is that embarassingly far from the shocking grand reversal that the author implies it is (on purpose or otherwise) with that two-sentence paragraph sticking out like a bare ass, but he also completely declaims the humour he was going for a mere sentence earlier. A disturbing mixture of hubris and underconfidence.

As I say, I'm frothing like this because it's a bad habit of mine too. I am. not. crazy.
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