Category Archives: Digital Humanities

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 I hope you’ll visit us 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, […]

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 […]

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 […]

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“, […]

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 […]

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 […]

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: [It appears Oxford are now offering the article free: download PDF here] In the article I […]

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 […]

Unremarkable Poetic Neologisms

The word soulmate is by now at least verging on cliché, if not well in that category, which is why it was somewhat surprising and refreshing to learn that the OED lists Coleridge as the first user of the word. It was a reminder that common words can have uncommon origins–and that the coiner loses […]

Of Wingnuts and Moonbats

It appears that the radical fringe in American politics has self-differentiated into wingnuts and moonbats. That is, these are the epithets being used to describe them, usually by them, along ideological lines. In case you don’t know, wingnuts are conservative and moobats are liberal, but each is crazy, if the other is to be believed. […]

Forthcoming: ‘Method as Tautology in the Digital Humanities’

I’ve just recently sent Oxford Journals the typescript for an article due out in Literary and Linguistic Computing, called ‘Method as Tautology in the Digital Humanities’, in which I develop a concept of method in computer assisted literary criticism, using some my recent work with the OED. The article is both a case study describing […]

Hanover, Hannover

In early December I’ll be in Germany, presenting a poster and short talk at “(Digital) Humanities Revisited – Challenges and Opportunities in the Digital Age”. The whole trip is generously funded by the Volkswagen Foundation, which among its various activities supporting research in academia and beyond, puts on a series of conferences at the Herrenhausen […]

“Create”, “Creative”, “Creativity”

What have you created recently? Or, what have your various possessions let you create? In the comments to my post on the rise of “lets you”, it emerged that the third most common thing you can be let to do is “create.” And in fact, since “lets you know” is operating differently from the others, […]

Word and Sense Creation in OED

Look up a common word in the OED, and chances are you’ll find it was first recorded in English over 700 years ago. Every word in the previous sentence is at least that old, with an average (mean) age of 1,022 years. So it stands to reason that, all other things being equal, the farther […]

“OED’s Poetic Acquaintances” – Slides

Here are my slides from the very good Poetry and the Dictionary symposium last weekend at St Peter’s College, Oxford. Slides: “OED’s Poetic Acquaintances” For anyone not at the conference, the slides may be difficult to interpret. I’d be happy to provide context over email, and provide higher quality images [depending on your version of […]

Quotation Economy in the OED

Almost all of OED2’s 2.36M evidence quotations are used only once. Less than 1% are reused: 14,916 occur twice, 553 three times, 29 four, 3 five, and two six times. These most recycled [5x +] quotations are: a 1400–50 Alexander 4335. Nouthire to toly ne to taunde transmitte we na vebbis, To vermylion ne violett ne […]

Serendipity & Contingency

In the latest lecture to be posted online [], the Oxford Professor of Poetry tells us: Because I don’t go online in any way, I think and work almost entirely by serendipity. Serendipity works by the rule that the book which is to change your life stands next on the shelf to the book that […]

Sorts of Hierarchies

I was intrigued when I read that Geoffrey Hill’s forthcoming collected poetical works would be called Broken Hierarchies: Poems 1952-2012 (OUP: 2013). I recognized it as the title of a poem in Without Title (itself a title that suggests the breaking of a certain kind of hierarchy), but I hadn’t thought of that poem or the […]

Poetry and the Dictionary Conference – Oxford 2013

The CFP for this summer’s conference in Oxford has been posted. I expect to be there discussing some aspect of the OED and poetry. This symposium will be held at St Peter’s College, Oxford, on 15 June, 2013, with a view to opening up and exploring connections between poetry and the dictionary. Proposals for papers […]

Geoffrey Hill, Modern Thamus?

In Odi Barbare (2012), Geoffrey Hill writes: Google my old blind of Platonics with Mc- Taggart’s mystic corpulence deemed endearing. Whatever that means. Scratching his head, blogger Bebrowed did the sensible thing (i.e., did what he was told) and more: I’ve now googled every single possible permutation on Hill, his response to McTaggart et al […]

OED Curiosity Rovers

As part of some computer housekeeping, I’ve made up a little inventory of the Python programs I’ve developed to have a peek inside the massive text file that is the Oxford English Dictionary, 2nd edition. Here’s a list: 1. Field Comparison Tool – Look for Intertextuality in poems *I discussed some this program in the […]