We’re moving! Go to “The Life of Words”!

For the last two and more years, I’ve been posting here on topics related to poetry, dictionaries, computers, and so on. Over 100 posts later, it’s time for a new home. As of June 15, 2014, I’ll be posting at my new project site:

The Life of Words

http://thelifeofwords.uwaterloo.ca

I hope you’ll visit us there often for more posts, and follow happenings on Facebook and Twitter (@thelifeofwords). Older posts will continue to be hosted here at “Poetry and Contingency”, and I will still keep tabs on comments and conversations.

See you over there.


Vnhouzzled, disappointed, vnnaneld: Hamlet in the eyes of the OED

In my last post I demoed my OED Recontextualizer, which annotates texts according to how they have been used as citation evidence in the Oxford English Dictionary, 2nd Edition. The program re-writes the file in HTML, showing the number of times a particular passage of text is quoted in OED, and the headwords under which […]


OED Recontextualizer

I’ve written a little program that annotates texts according to how much the Oxford English Dictionary cites them. This lets you see how different parts of a work have factored in the compiling of the dictionary – as if you were looking at the text through the collective eyes of all the OED readers, lexicographers, […]


Muti-lation at the end of the line

In Broken Hierarchies: Precursor to a Variorum? I noticed major revisions to a poem in Geoffrey Hill’s Broken Hierarchies: Poems 1952-2012, which I argued amounted to a totally altered poem following a new and different philosophical development. Because the revisions in BH are widespread and significant, I suggested that critics writing on Hill are now and […]


Omit Needless Fossil Poetry

Chasing down a famous quotation today, I came across a volume in the College of Dentistry Library of the University of California, San Francisco, generously made available by Google Books. The publication is the 1896 yearly digest of Items of Interest, by The Dental Independent, which describes itself as “a monthly record of dental literature”. […]


Shakespeare’s Dictionary

There has been some recent press on the claims of George Koppelman and Daniel Wechsler, two rare books dealers based in New York, to have discovered William Shakespeare’s own dictionary. What’s more, the claim is based on the extensive annotations in the reference work, John Baret’s Alvearie, or Quadruple Dictionarie (1580), which they bought on […]


Sandwich Police make Burrito Bust

In my first-year poetry class, when introducing the idea of poetic ambiguity (rich ambiguity), I like to begin with a few examples of every-day ambiguity, in the form of so-called “crash blossoms“, those newspaper headlines that can go in two often amusing directions (e.g.: “Friends help murder victim’s family“). This morning my #CapeCod Twitter stack […]


Seamus Heaney in Between

At last weekend’s Seamus Heaney conference and commemoration at Queen’s University, Belfast, I gave a paper in which I referred offhandedly to “a pretty conventional way, by now, of understanding his poetics” as in some way conditioned by a sense of being “in between”, which goes back to the first word of the first poem […]


“Making sense” in The Excursion

At the “Poetry and Happenstance” conference last Friday, there was a question from the floor about a line break in William Wordsworth’s long poem The Excursion. The lines are from Book IV: The light of love Not failing, perseverance from their steps Departing not, for them shall be confirmed The glorious habit by which sense […]


Poetry and Happenstance at Cambridge

Notes and thoughts from “Poetry and Happenstance”, a day-long symposium at Cambridge University, which took place last Friday, 4th April. There were eight papers in all: Anne Stillman – “What appears to be yours” In the opening talk, Stillman expressed some unease about what was really meant by the symposium’s key title word, happenstance. This […]


Is Empson responsible for “ambiguity” uptick?

A quick addendum to yesterday’s post on the increase of metpahor and ambiguity in the Google books corpus. A faithful correspondent writes that at the time Paul Ricoeur’s The Rule of Metaphor (La metaphore vive) came out in 1978 (1975), it seemed everyone was all of a sudden talking about metaphor. For once, the case-sensitivity […]


“Metaphors,” which to scholars cause pain and woe

I’ve recently been tracing out the history of a relation between two particular ideas in English culture, which I would call a metaphorical relation: one idea being described in terms of the other. In tracing it back, I’ve noticed that in the 19thC texts I’m reading, it is only rarely referred to as a metaphor […]


“Does steak love lettuce?” Most human-like computer poems (and vice versa).

I have happened upon Botpoet, a site that runs “Bot or Not”, a sort of Turing test using poems. It’s mildly entertaining to guess whether a poem was written by a human or a computer program, but I find most of the cases pretty obviously one or the other. What’s more fun is the “Leaderboard“, […]


Lightening Poles

I’ve come across a pair of definitions for lightening (n.) which, while not antonymous (or antagonymous) nonetheless represent a kind of polarity. And not any old polarity–the polarity, probably. The first definition comes from the Oxford American Dictionary: A drop in the level of the uterus during the last weeks of pregnancy as the head […]


Two Poetry Conferences in April

I’m currently getting material together for two conference papers in April. The first is for “Poetry and Happenstance” at Cambridge on April 4, which is a theme that fits nicely with the topics I’ve been pursuing over the last few years. The title I’ve given the organizers is “The way it is: authority, arbitrariness, and […]


From “London” to “Potato”, Seamus Heaney in graphs

Yesterday I tested out a method of exploring poetic diction in poetic corpora, using Geoffrey Hill’s opus up to 2012 ["Measured Words"]. I left several issues hanging in that post, which I thought I would follow up on today. For one, I implied that there might be value in comparing the general picture or footprint […]


How different is poetic diction?

In “Measured Words” I made an assertion that “some words aren’t very common in speech but show up fairly frequently in poetry, and vice versa.” This is intuitive, but I’m going to demonstrate it anyway, to make good my other assertion that “seeing what you already know or think you know displayed in an unfamiliar […]


Measured Words

Paul Batchelor’s 2012 review essay in the TLS of recent work by Geoffrey Hill and his critics was called “Geoffrey Hill’s measured words”. As many who write on Hill do, Batchelor keyed in to a series of resonant words in Hill’s work, drawing connections between Hill’s poetry and prose via shared terms such as uncouth, […]


Automation ambition

A recent XKCD: As always, make sure to mouseover the comic for the extra punchline. This discovered as the computer nears the end of its second week of churning through self-comparisons of 2.3M quotation strings from OED2. At last check it had reached string #878,745, so about 37.4467539286% of the way home. It turns out […]


Sappho, not a poetess – THE Poetess

The poetry world is all a twitter with the news that two new poems by Sappho have been discovered. And the Twitter world is spreading the news, chiefly linking to this write up in The Daily Beast: Many tweeters simply reproduce the headline, with a link. But some are evidently annoyed by the term poetess […]


Joseph Brodsky, Social Parasite

Joseph Brodsky died eighteen years ago today. Seamus Heaney, in his elegy for Brodsky, referred to it as “Yeats’s anniversary, | (Double-crossed and death-marched date | January twenty-eight)”. This year also marks the fiftieth anniversary of Brodsky’s show-trial on charges of “social parasitism.” In observance of these milestones, below are some key passages from the […]


#WOTYOTY. Because many, many #WOTY

Another week, another WOTY. Because marketing. The most recent and the final additional winner is because, chosen by the American Dialect Society a few days ago. Because “because marketing” … I mean, because expressions such as “because marketing” broke into the mainstream in 2013. This represents “new grammatical possibilities in informal online use,” says Ben […]


Netflix, Algorithms, and Hard Working Humans

There has been some press today and yesterday surrounding Alexis Madrigal’s article in The Atlantic ["How Netflix Reverse Engineered Hollywood"] on the genres Netflix uses to classify films – not just its films, but all films and television programmes. It’s a great article, and a good example of the kinds of approaches that inform the […]


Prof. Balls-Upon a Floor discusses Metadata

With all the recent news talk about metadata, it’s worth remembering that so-called big data is useless without good algorithms to parse and analyse it, and rich metadata to guide us through it. In addition to various versions of OED [which has great metadata], the biggest datasets I access regularly are Google Books and Google […]


Headline: Pentagon Requires Poetry Expertise

I’ve come across an old piece on Guantánamo Bay censorship policy, via a new piece on the same. The recent piece is about poetry going into the US facility there; the earlier article is about poetry coming out. It quotes some fascinating rationale for the close monitoring of poetry written by inmates: But most of […]


“Graduate” or “be graduated”? Graduation on the active/passive divide

On the radio tonight I heard a person use passive “graduate” in a sentence: She was graduated a year early, because she was a top student I’m aware of this usage, and vaguely aware that it can be cited as “correct” usage by mavens. But while I’ve heard the transitive active form (e.g. “the school […]


Advance Access: Method as Tautology in the Digital Humanities

My article, “Method as tautology in the digital humanities” has gone up on Literary and Linguistic Computing‘s advance online publication area. If you have an institutional affiliation that lets you access Oxford Journals, it can be found here: http://llc.oxfordjournals.org/content/early/2013/11/30/llc.fqt068.abstract [It appears Oxford are now offering the article free: download PDF here] In the article I […]


Wood, a poem

Here is “Wood”, a kind of poem:


“Fail, n.” #NOTWOTY

The social media are in the midst of a brief kerfuffle over “selfie”, Oxford Dictionaries’ “Word of the Year”, hashtag #WOTY. And “hashtag”, of course, was last year’s #WOTY, as chosen by the competing #WOTY-maker, the American Dialect Society. ADS chose “tweet” in 2009, and “app” in 2010, both of which seem to have more […]


O hell-kite! All? – Antedating verse coinages

In case you thought any of the top eleven most common words invented in verse were actually invented in verse, it’s worth following up with an illustration of the inherent contingency in any lexicographical record. As everyone knows, the OED is in the midst of its first complete revision. My list of poetic neologisms was […]


Top Eleven Most Common Words Invented in Verse

Poetry and lexicography, buzzfeed style. Having recently ranked the neologisms of prolific poetic word-coiners, I decided to look at all verse-coined words in OED [*caveat], and rank them according to their frequency in British National Corpus. Only words first attested after 1500 are included, on the basis that a large proportion of the lexicographical record […]