When Not to Correct People’s English

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Internet Quotes: Langland on the Decline of English

I’ve come across the following quotation in a number of places, such as this article from The Economist:

There is not a single modern schoolboy who can compose verses or write a decent letter.

The quotation is attributed to William Langland, author of Piers Plowman, who died in 1386. The problem is that I could only find the quotation in modern translation and it sounds distinctly un-Middle Englishy, so I doubted that it was authentic. Because I could only find it in translation, tracking it down was difficult—it’s hard to search for a Middle English quotation if you don’t have the Middle English diction. It turns out that the quote is genuine, but it is a rather free translation.

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Publishing By the Numbers

Fivethirtyeight.com, Nate Silver’s website on polling, data, and statistics, has a podcast called What’s the Point? that recently delved into the use of data by book publishers. It’s a neat discussion about the industry and how publishers make decisions about whether or not to publish a book and how to market it if they do.

Finding Movie Quotations

Ever get a line from a movie stuck in your head but you can’t remember the film it’s from? Or you’ve got a twenty riding on a bar-bet about the accuracy of a TV quote?

Despair no more. The site QuoDB.com has the answers.

The site is a huge database of movie and television scripts, and it will pinpoint down to the second where in the film the quote appears. For instance, I looked up the word multi-pass:

01:09:24 Multi-pass.
The Fifth Element (1997)
01:09:18 - And this is?
01:09:21 - Leeloo Dallas. Multi-pass.
01:09:24 - Multi-pass.
01:09:25 - She knows it’s a multi-pass.
01:09:27 - My wife. We’re newlyweds. Just met.

The site tells me the word appears five other times in the film, and details on those are only a mouse-click away.

Definitely a site worth bookmarking.

[Tip o’ the hat to Languagehat]

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Kryptonite in the OED

The latest additions to the OED Online includes an entry for kryptonite. Definition:

In the fictional world of the comic book hero Superman: a substance that renders Superman weak and powerless. Hence in figurative or allusive use: something that can weaken or damage a particular person or thing; an Achilles heel.

And the dictionary includes the following note:

Kryptonite is most commonly depicted as a green mineral that came to earth from Krypton, Superman’s home planet, following its destruction. Other types have appeared in various comic books, films, etc., each having different properties.

Kryptonite first appears on the Superman radio program in 1943. It’s comic book appearance dates from 1949. The earliest figurative use cited by the OED is from 1965.

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