What is a Photocopier?

The New York Times is running this video, a dramatization of an actual legal deposition. The words are verbatim from the transcripts, but the actors were given license to perform them as they saw fit, so the video is not necessarily a true representation of what happened.

It’s a brilliant video that shows how much we rely on general categories and definitions when we speak and the pitfalls encountered when trying to pin a concept down precisely. Watch all the way to the end for a stunning demonstration of genericization of a trademark.

(Follow-up: According to Kevin Underhill of Lowering the Bar (a hilarious blog of legal humor, BTW), at issue in the case is whether copying onto a CD-ROM is “photocopying.” Ohio law allows the county clerk’s office to charge $2 per page for photocopies of public legal documents—pricey, but not totally unreasonable when you consider staffing costs. But the county clerk’s office took the position that it could charge $2 for each page of material copied onto a CD-ROM. One law firm saw its monthly bill for photocopies jump from around $1,000 to $100,000. Hence the man’s unwillingness to say what was meant by “photocopy.” If he gave the obvious answer, he’d be providing evidence against his employer and costing the county a boatload of money. But he didn’t want to look like an idiot either.)

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Digitizing Manuscripts

A short video from the Bodleian Library that provides an overview of what digitizing library materials entails.

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Hwæt You Say? (Redux)

Back in November, George Walkden published a paper on the Old English word hwæt and how it is used in in Old English poetry, most famously in the opening lines of Beowulf:

Hwæt! We Gar-Dena    in geardagum,
þeodcyninga    þrym gefrunon,
hu ða æþelingas    ellen fremedon.

My previous post summarizing Walkden’s article is here. But in a nutshell, Walkden says that instead of translating hwæt as an independent interjection “Listen!” “Lo!”, as is usually done, that it is part of a larger exclamative phrase, “How have we heard the glory...” Walkden uses statistical analysis of the word’s use in four works, three Old English and one Old Saxon, to make his case.

In his blog, Phenomenal Anglo Saxons, Peter Buchanan has challenged Walkden’s statistics, saying that his results are insufficient to draw a general conclusion about how the word is used in Old English. For anyone interested in the topic, I highly recommend Peter’s blog post. And if you’re not especially interested in the Old English, but want to know what the heck a p-value is, you should also give it a read. It’s one of the clearest explanations of statistical significance that I’ve seen. Not only does Peter walk through the mathematical process for determining p-value, but he explains exactly how the measure should and shouldn’t be used.

[Full disclosure: Peter is a friend of mine, who finished up his PhD here at Toronto last year. We share the same dissertation advisor.]

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Books Read, 2013

As I posted for 2011 and 2012, here is a list of books I’ve read over the past year.

Asterisks mark those that are re-reads.

Ælfric, various homilies and hagiographies

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55 Canadianisms

An interesting survey of fifty-five different Canadianisms. The results are not statistically valid, but probably roughly align with reality.

Since I’ve lived in Toronto for three-and-a-half years now, I thought it would be interesting to tally up the words that I’m familiar with. I’ve heard about half of them. Some of the unfamiliar may be due to the fact that I live in Toronto and not Canada proper. Others may be due to not having traveled in wider social circles (e.g., back in my younger drinking days, I probably would have known what a forty-pounder was). And of course due to diegogarcity, over the next week I’m sure to hear many of the ones I had thought were unfamiliar.

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