Foclóir: A new English–Irish dictionary

January 23, 2013

A quick follow-up on a tweet – or should I say tvuít – from yesterday: Foclóir, a new English–Irish dictionary, has just gone online. It looks great; alongside its translations it offers detailed grammatical data, example sentences, and sound files from native Irish speakers.

The sound files are a particular treat, offered in the three major dialects of Connacht, Munster and Ulster Irish. Vocabulary-wise, although the dictionary is far from complete, there’s already more than enough to reward repeat visits:

Focloir English Irish dictionary - headword blogThe dictionary is being published on a phased basis, and the full content won’t be online until end-2014. The entries published in January 2013 consist of approximately 30% of the eventual content, however this range covers approximately 80% of general English usage.

Foclóir was created by Foras na Gaeilge and is based on the Dante lexical database. Preparation of a print edition will begin in 2015, once all the dictionary material has been published online. I’m making it my primary internet reference for English–Irish translation.

[via RTÉ News]

The Mind is a Metaphor is a database

July 2, 2012

The Mind is a Metaphor is an extensive database of historical metaphors of the mind. Assembled and maintained by Brad Pasanek, Assistant Professor of English at the University of Virginia, it serves as “an evolving work of reference, an ever more interactive, more solidly constructed collection of mental metaphorics”.

The collection of metaphors – almost ten thousand and counting – is categorised by literary period, genre, type, and (where known and applicable) author’s gender, nationality, politics, and religion. Examples span millennia, from classical texts to more recent works, with a strong focus on the period 1660–1819.

Currently on the front page are several lines from Heraclitus. Clicking through each quotation, we are provided with additional context, strengthening a site that even on a brief visit is rewarding to browse. Every page offers a wealth of images; I plucked these from a few minutes’ meandering:

What an April weather in the mind! (Alexander Pope, 1713)

My heart is melting wax (Charles Wesley, 1749)

Every time I tried to concentrate, my mind glided off, like a skater, into a large empty space, and pirouetted there, absently. (Sylvia Plath, 1963)

The Mind, in peaceful Solitude, has Room / To range in Thought, and ramble far from home (Mary Barber, 1735)

Heads overfull of matter, be like pens over full of ink, which will sooner blot, than make any fair letters at all. (Roger Ascham, 1570, quoted by Samuel Johnson, 1755)

A letter always seemed to me like Immortality, for is it not the mind alone, without corporeal friend? (Emily Dickinson, 1882)

Flowers, rivers, woods, the pleasant air and wind, / With Sacred thoughts, do feed my serious mind. (Rowland Watkyns, 1662)

The back of the mind is a small hotel / And when the residents go on picnics / Or take buckets and spades down to the sea / The betrayals begin. (Michael Longley, 1980)

My own brain is to me the most unaccountable of machinery–always buzzing, humming, soaring roaring diving, and then buried in mud. (Virginia Woolf, 1932)

Pasanek describes the database as more a “heap or helter-skelter anthology” than an online archive, and invites readers to go looking for its “many strange and surprising metaphors”. You can search by keyword and by faceted browsing, dipping in at random or tracing patterns in intellectual and cultural attitudes through time.

I tweeted about this site back in March and meant to blog about it then, but my notes are a bit helter-skelter too, and I let it go until now. There’s also a Mind is a Metaphor blog, which analyses particular metaphors in more detail, but it hasn’t been updated in a few years.

For more on metaphorical language, see my previous posts about metaphor.

Online IPA keyboards

July 25, 2011

Tomasz P. Szynalski, an English-Polish translator, has created TypeIt, a useful website for typing phonetic transcriptions in the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA). Text can be entered in a range of fonts and with special characters, marks and glyphs from other languages.

/’vɛri ‘hændi ɪn’diːd, ɘnd fʌn tɘ juːz/

I don’t know when it was developed – recently, I think. There are many websites with charts, explanations and audio files of IPA, but few that are designed for immediate online transcription. I like Richard Ishida’s, Weston Ruter’s, Paolo Mairano’s and this Phonemic Chart too, but it’s good to have options. Another: i2Speak.

Thanks to Lauren Hall-Lew, who brought TypeIt to my attention on Twitter.

[Note: I’ve edited this post slightly to add a couple of IPA tools that were mentioned in the comments.]

Academy of English? Ain’t no sense in it.

July 21, 2011

This post comments critically on the Queen’s English Society (QES) and the Academy of Contemporary English formed under its auspices; it introduces two groups set up to oppose them; and it concludes with some general remarks. For context, you might want to read my cranky earlier post ‘The Queen’s English Society deplores your impurities‘.

Wikipedia has a few basic facts about the QES and its Academy. You probably know that Wikipedia is a portmanteau word blending wiki with encyclopedia. If you didn’t, I don’t recommend asking the Academy representatives, because they do not know what portmanteau words are:

And this, we are told, ‘is where the Academy is in its element’. Even if it hadn’t confused portmanteau words with auto-antonyms, its point would be just as senseless: neither construction is a ‘[reason] why English is being debased’. Though you could make the case that English is debased by hopelessly muddled definitions.

Behind the QES’s dubious claims to authority and to good judgement in English usage lies hopeless ignorance of how language works and an ignoble attitude to non-standard expression. My earlier post has many examples; this one has more.

Read the rest of this entry »

Etymology for the people

November 22, 2010

There’s an interesting interview at Drunken Koudou with historian and author Douglas Harper. Harper is the creator of an old favourite website of mine, the Online Etymology Dictionary (aka Etymonline), which offers a wealth of succinct and well-researched word histories.

Useful for quick reference, fun and fascinating for deeper delving, it’s quite the rabbit hole for language lovers. If you haven’t, try it: enter a word, any word, and see where it takes you. I’ve sprinkle-linked a few examples in the text below.

Recalling how it all started, Harper says:

I wanted a free, thorough, reliable place to go online to find the standard etymologies of English words. Or to discover that their origin was mysterious. I went looking for such a thing online, and didn’t find it. So I started to make it.

This generous act became a prolonged and time-consuming project that has kept Harper busy for years. (He’s currently expanding the dictionary, as well as re-writing and copy editing the entire thing.) In the interview, he describes the website’s development and how he goes about composing a new entry. He talks about the fluidity of language and words and how etymology illuminates their ever-shifting identities. Asked about using words “in the right way”, he responds:

I’m always glad when people want to use words carefully and with an awareness that a word means one thing and not another. But people will use words as they choose, and they always have. In English perhaps more than most tongues, there isn’t a bright shining line around “the right way” to use the words. In fact, etymology dictionaries are testimonials to ways people have stretched, bent, and mangled the language to suit their needs. Language is for people, not pedants.

The emphasis is mine, added in hearty agreement. You can read the rest of the interview here.

* * *

On a related note, Language Hat wrote last week about the origin of the word wanton and its unusual prefix wan-; the comments include some discussion about how best to abbreviate “Online Etymology Dictionary”. (OED is too closely associated with the Oxford English Dictionary.)

After suggesting OEtyD, and considering the other initialisms proposed, I began to favour Etymonline. It conveys the website’s address ( and its subject, it’s unambiguous and easy on the eye, and it’s used by Douglas Harper himself.

The privates sector of pubic service

April 20, 2010

It has been quite a week for typos. A cookbook called Pasta Bible made headlines for an error as unsavoury as its dishes are (presumably) delicious. Elsewhere, a subtler error caught my attention; or rather, it caught the attention of Amy, editor of WildBird, and was brought to mine by Mark Allen.

This pubic-for-public error, which appeared on the U.S. National Park Service’s website, has since been fixed, but a cached version preserves its ingloriousness:

Pubic for public is a common slip, but it shouldn’t appear in carefully edited text. Wondering if it was repeated on the NPS website, I ran an internal search for pubic and discovered, to my amazement, that the word registered almost 800 times. Some of these instances are legitimate anatomical references, but in the vast majority of cases the word should be public.

The pubic count is now a more merciful 574,* but even allowing for correct usages and duplicates (of which there are many), the frequency of this typo is impressive.

To give you an idea of the variety, there is a Pubic Library and a Pubic Open House, a church that is open to the pubic, and opportunities to present pubic programs. There are pubic meetings, pubic teachers, pubic lands and pubic comments; there is pubic pressure, pubic access, pubic review, pubic assembly, pubic safety, pubic benefit, pubic dissemination, and pubic information (too much, if you ask me); and there are, naturally, pubic restrooms.

These and similar examples abound, giving the impression of a schoolboy’s prank. Assuming that it’s mere carelessness, someone really ought to address it — if only for the pubic good.

* Update: A few hours later, it’s 331. They’re evidently working on it.**

** Or maybe not: the tally is now 865. I don’t think I’ll look again.