New Website for Word Lovers

For a look at how the English language has changed over time, check out The Distance Machine.

The Distance Machine shows words in a selection of text that were unusual at a given point in time. The site is very easy to use. You can enter text of your own or choose a passage from some previously published work in the Google Books corpus. A slider allows you to choose a year from 1800 to 2014; words in the text are highlighted in different colors to show which are more common earlier, later, or both when compared to the given year.

You can also look up just one word to see its frequency of use. I tried the word “computer.” The word appeared slightly before 1950, peaked in around the mid-70s, and more or less leveled off in the 2000s (maybe as other devices such as laptops became popular?).


The Write Style

I came across an interesting article about forensic linguistics–a technique used to identify a writer’s style–in light of J. K. Rowling’s use of a pseudonym. As a fiction writer, I like to think my style varies from piece to piece, to fit the voice of the story. But does it? Something (else) to ponder!

Cursive handwriting debate

The following article presents four interesting and varied views about the need for continuing to teach (and/or value) cursive handwriting. The writers are not divided along generational lines as might be expected. After reading the four points of view (they are brief, although the comments accompanying them are many), let me know where you stand.

I am a cursive writer and actually stumble over print when I feel compelled to use it. I do think there is something to the “benefits to the brain” argument, by the engaging of both hemispheres, although I wonder whether the same benefits may result for someone who becomes totally “fluent” in print!

Time will tell. Now, about spelling . . .

Is Cursive Dead?

Word Play

Sometimes a play on words is not only not funny, but in extremely bad taste. Driving through western Pennsylvania the other day, I passed a billboard that fits both categories. I didn’t have time to snap a photo myself, but someone else did.

Please click here to see what I mean.

I wonder how long that billboard has been up there and how long it will remain.

Word Play

Today’s matching test includes some very esoteric words. I therefore issue no challenge to use them in your daily conversation unless you find yourself in some special circumstance and have to either impress or deflect someone with words. In that case, go to it!

haecceity                             a. to speak privately
collogue                               b. not able to be expressed in words
fungible                               c. the property of an object that makes it unique
quiddity                               d. able to be traded
ineffable                              e. the essence of a thing

Here’s the usual link to, but since you might need further information about a few of the words (as I did), here’s another link that might help out. For yet more information, check out this page.

And, if you give up altogether, go watch a good movie. Check out Films to Consider for some suggestions!

Word Play

Here is another round of words, this time motivated by the recent election season (and showing why I don’t get my news from political ads). All the words are adjectives that begin with the letter V. Try to keep these words and their emotional baggage OUT of your conversation this week!

Match the words on the left with the meanings on the right.

1. vitriolic                                                   a. malicious, spiteful
2. vindictive                                               b. hateful, antagonistic, harsh
3. vituperative                                           c. scathing, caustic, bitter
4. venomous                                              d. stupid, lacking substance
5. virulent                                                   e. vengeful, spiteful
6. vacuous                                                  f. verbally abusive, censorious

The answers might seem almost interchangeable but aren’t. I tried not to give them away too much.

Also, sorry if the right column doesn’t line up right – I tried!

Check your answers on

Word Play

Here are some more unusual vocabulary words I’ve come across in my reading lately. Try to work them into your conversation this week:

extirpation                           a. light splash
obeisance                            b. ability to produce a desired outcome
efficacy                               c. total destruction
plash                                   d. gesture or attitude of deference
maledict                              e. to utter a curse against someone

Check your answers on