W4 IS COMING!

Ben Zimmer’s Visual Thesaurus piece “Happy 50th, Webster’s Third!” has some interesting discussion with Merriam-Webster editor Peter Sokolowski about the Scripps National Spelling Bee and the “single-statement rule” for definitions pioneered by Philip Gove, editor of Webster’s Third New International Dictionary (see this LH post from 2009), which produced such thickets of carefully arranged verbiage as this definition of door:

a movable piece of firm material or a structure supported usually along one side and swinging on pivots or hinges, sliding along a groove, rolling up and down, revolving as one of four leaves, or folding like an accordion by means of which an opening may be closed or kept open for passage into or out of a building, room, or other covered enclosure or a car, airplane, elevator, or other vehicle

But what really caught my eye was this parenthetical aside: “W3 has been enriched with addenda over the years, but work on a brand-new edition only began in earnest in 2008, with no definite publication date yet set for the much-anticipated W4.” I would have been much-anticipating it myself if I’d known it was coming; I just assumed the age of the Big Dictionary was over as far as the world of paper and ink was concerned. If they eliminate the defects mentioned in my earlier post, it could be the high point of American lexicography, and I eagerly await further developments.

Comments

  1. dearieme says:

    The missing comma is excruciating, or entertaining, according to taste: “… like an accordion by means of which an opening may be closed or kept open for passage into or out of a building, room, or other covered enclosure or a car, airplane, elevator, or other vehicle”.

  2. I believe the first public statement from Merriam about the existence of W4 came in 2009:
    http://www.neh.gov/news/humanities/2009-07/webster.html

  3. If you think door needs commas, try this one: “hotel: a building of many rooms chiefly for overnight accommodation of transients and several floors served by elevators”.
    “Even though we can laugh at door or hotel,” Sokolowski told me, “the premise [is] that the definitions are written from the perspective of someone completely unfamiliar with the word and what it signifies is itself a philosophical position that is admirable when expanded to include nearly half a million words.” He added, “This strikes me as very Govian, and very modern.”
    Not to mention very ironic, considering that if you were unfamiliar with doors you wouldn’t have a clue what was being talking about.
    “Moveable piece of firm material or a structure” (a wheel? a caravan?) is almost as far from describing a door as you could get. It also rules out screen doors and many metaphorical uses of door and it doesn’t even mention the PURPOSE of a door. In contrast, here is the OED’s first definition of door:

    1. a.1.a A movable barrier of wood or other material, consisting either of one piece, or of several pieces framed together, usually turning on hinges or sliding in a groove, and serving to close or open a passage into a building, room, etc.

    Someone in the article calls this dictionary “a single door-stopping volume”, which sounds about right. Also this cove Gove seems to have conflated dictionary & encyclopedia: under hotel he’s got “and with telephone booths, writing tables and washrooms freely available”. That has nothing to do with the definition of a hotel (as well as being too dated to have any significance).

  4. Never mind the booths and washrooms; what about the “shops having both inside and street-side entrances and offering for sale items (as clothes, gifts, candy, theater tickets, travel tickets) of particular interest to a traveler, or providing personal services (as hairdressing, shoe shining)”? Are hotels required to have those? The whole definition is very odd. You almost expect it to ramble off into a reminiscence of Hotels I Have Known and how they’re Not What They Once Were.

  5. That made me laugh.

  6. I wonder if this tendency to waffle on and on, as evidenced in those dictionary definitions, is encouraged by the internet as a publishing medium. Once upon a time, the cost of publishing was directly proportional to the amount of what you published. Now, there is only the fixed cost of a website, and the more you say, the less each word costs you on average.
    The heavy cost of verbiage used to be an incentive to think about what you’re saying, and keep it short and sweet. Now, there is no reason to think, and diarrhetoric is the order of the day. My own remedy for this, which I have been practicing for some time now, is to hone three-sentence paragraphs, each of which contains a self-standing thought.

  7. Many people in the internet are fond of using abbrevations such as IIRC, IMHO and BTW. This may give the impression that they are pinching their thought-pennies. But no, they’re just too lazy to type out their cliché-ridden thoughts in full.
    A character in one of Firbank’s novels exclaims, in response to a suggestion another character has just made: “She saves us from cliché !”. I do wish more people had that ambition.

  8. Bathrobe says:

    Clichés are the stuff of language.

  9. “Stuff” here means fabric. Mental apparel cut from the coarse cloth of cliché is itchy and unsightly. Mr. Abercrombie would have bitten Mr. Fitch in despair.

  10. There’s nothing wrong with cliché in everyday speech. But why should every kind of communication be like everyday speech ? Pardon my French, but that’s the traditional male approach – put on the same things every day, after just a quick sniff to determine whether the smell whelms.

  11. Bathrobe says:

    “Clichés are the stuff of language” uses a cliché’d form of expression. It is very hard to find language that is not cliché’d somehow. Cliché’d prose is prose that uses lexical items in ossified combinations. Prose itself normally involves the deployment of habitual syntactic patterns, mostly borrowed from somewhere else.
    Clichés don’t worry me so much. They can be refreshing when used consciously or refreshingly (that is, in full knowledge that they are clichés).
    But some of the drivel on the Internet does bother me a little, and not because it is “cliché’d”. The driving force of the modern Internet is supposed to be “Content is King”. But what sort of content do we get? There are actually articles on the Internet telling you how you can create your own content. If people have something bright and useful to say but have trouble saying it, I’m all for helping them along. But sometimes the concept is more like “I’ve got a webpage/blog here. I want to have a presence on the Internet but I’ve got nothing to say. What can I do?” This gives rise to a lot of worthless filler.

  12. Bathrobe: But some of the drivel on the Internet does bother me a little, and not because it is “cliché’d”.
    We seem to be in agreement. I applied the word “cliché-ridden” only to those “thoughts” which take the form of IIRC, IMHO and BTW. My original suggestion was that, in the case of the internet, the medium itself really is the message – the message being that no one has much of interest to say, but says a lot of it, because it’s essentially free.

  13. The internet has not added any experience we have not already had – standing in a long supermarket check-out line, unwilling witness to the all-too-human prattle in front of us and behind.

  14. “Content is King”
    it’s no wonder that monarchies have pretty much disappeared from Western societies. Most kings have been old bores.

  15. Most kings died young. It’s presidents and prime ministers who become old (bores).
    “Humble” is a silly cliché, but there’s nothing wrong with “by the way” or “in my opinion”. They have a purpose. Perhaps you just don’t like internet acronyms? How do you feel about sentences that aren’t really questions ending in a question mark, or ones that are questions not having a question mark – indeed I’m not sure question marks aren’t a waste of space most of the time.

  16. I think you’re confusing commonly used phrases with clichés.

  17. J.W. Brewer says:

    Surely the problem with the “hotel” definition is less the lack of commas than the notion that a facility that lacks an elevator cannot possibly qualify as a “hotel.” I think I have personally stayed at counterexamples, which were surely even more common 50 years ago. There seems to be a fundamental confusion here between trying to describe the typical features of a typical member of the class of “hotels” and trying to describe the minimum criteria for membership in that class.

  18. “Chiefly for overnight accommodation of transients” reminded me of a Sam Spade investigation.

  19. Bathrobe says:

    Exactly. Although people from out of town might technically be ‘transients’, the term has negative connotations that make even a five-star sound decidedly seedy.

  20. Well, and anyone unaware of that ought not to be writing a dictionary. If he was aware, and he was trying to recycle transient, remove the stigma, then he ought to do that on his own time. It’s the job of a stylist, surely, not an etymologist.

  21. Yes, the more I read that definition, the poorer it seems. I trust the W4 crew are paying attention.

  22. befuggled says:

    “I wonder if this tendency to waffle on and on, as evidenced in those dictionary definitions, is encouraged by the internet as a publishing medium.”
    In the early nineties before the Internet era really took off, I’d seen this blamed on word processing software. I think there’s some truth to it. Instead of having to retype your entire work for the second draft, you can cut and paste or just save it with a different file name.

  23. I think the worst blunder in these two definitions is describing a door (“moveable piece of firm material”) rather than mentioning its purpose (a moveable barrier).

  24. The prolix definitions of W3 can’t possibly have anything to do with the Internet or word processing: they were most recently updated in 1961, and may well be older. And they were written for ink on paper, a notoriously inelastic medium.

  25. John Cowan: The prolix definitions of W3 can’t possibly have anything to do with the Internet or word processing: they were most recently updated in 1961, and may well be older.
    I did not claim or suggest that the prolix definitions of W3 “had anything to do with the internet”. In the first sentence of my first comment above, I cited them as instances of prolixity, and did not mention them thereafter:

    I wonder if this tendency to waffle on and on, as evidenced in those dictionary definitions, is encouraged by the internet as a publishing medium.

    My subject is not the W3 and not dictionaries, but diarrhetoric. I still wonder whether the internet encourages waffling. For sure it doesn’t discourage it.

  26. Bathrobe says:

    Does the Internet encourage waffling? I could agree that it encourages the creation of all kinds of vapid content because: (1) Anyone and everyone can publish even the most trifling or worthless of thoughts and reactions. This is a result of wide access and sheer ease of publishing. (2) The commercial nature of the Internet and the method of finding information (search engines) mean that all kinds of rubbish is published for the wrong reasons (to gain ranking and attract customers).
    On the other hand, people don’t always find it comfortable to read long sentences or paragraphs on the web. That means that there is unrelenting pressure to make writing shorter or more accessible so as not to turn off visitors. So while they may be tempted to publish worthless content or content of transient interest, people are not necessarily encouraged to waffle. Short and sweet is a virtue on the Internet, unlike perhaps the print media.
    If I remember rightly, the revolutionary step that put an end to waffling in ephemeral writing (by which I mean journalism) was the abandonment by newspapers of the practice of paying by the word. That brought about an almost total reversal in the connotations of the word ‘journalese’, from long padded sentences to a spare abbreviated style.

  27. Bathrobe: people don’t always find it comfortable to read long sentences or paragraphs on the web.
    That may be, but too many short sentences and short paragraphs are still too many.
    So while they may be tempted to publish worthless content or content of transient interest, people are not necessarily encouraged to waffle. Short and sweet is a virtue on the Internet, unlike perhaps the print media.
    I’m not sure I understand. Are you saying that worthless content is not waffling ? Have you made the observation that worthless content is usually short and sweet ?
    You point out a significant distinction, that I hadn’t considered, between commercial and private content. I was talking about private content. In fact, the reason why private people go on and on is because they have nothing to sell, and so think nothing of giving it away.
    When there was a direct cost to publicizing thoughts, most people kept quiet. I don’t know how the internet gets financed. I hope funds run low at some point, so that a fee for having opinions in public will have to be charged.

  28. If I remember rightly, the revolutionary step that put an end to waffling in ephemeral writing (by which I mean journalism) was the abandonment by newspapers of the practice of paying by the word.
    Very interesting—when did that happen?
    When there was a direct cost to publicizing thoughts, most people kept quiet. I don’t know how the internet gets financed. I hope funds run low at some point, so that a fee for having opinions in public will have to be charged.
    You’re probably just jesting/Grumbling, but no one is being forced to read people’s private opinions, and in fact I suspect the vast majority are read only by friends and family (if even by them). There does not seem to me to be a serious downside to the easy availability of online publishing, and (if I may be so bold) the only reason LH exists is that putting my thoughts online was easy and free. (It’s not free any more, because I got sick of Blogger and its many failings, but you know what they say: the first hit is always free…)

  29. The trouble is, Hat, that the sheer volume of “content” on the net makes it difficult to search efficiently. The waffle clogs the works when you’re only searching for a pancake. Haven’t you ever wondered why searches often return several hundred thousand results ?
    I have a secret patented system for searching that usually avoids the worthless “content”.

  30. In terms of finding things, the internet now functions like the Library of Congress would if people could file their thoughts and laundry tickets there.
    It’s a good thing Google doesn’t index text messages. I wonder if they index Facebook and Twitter, or intend to. What a catastrophe that would be.

  31. Bathrobe says:

    Very interesting—when did that happen?
    Hat, now that you’ve challenged me to give more detailed information, the Internet has failed me.
    My understanding is that 19th century newspapers were noted for their florid, long-winded style because journalists were paid by the word. It was therefore in their interests to write long waffling sentences.
    At some time, possibly late in the century, a change took place in the system of payment (don’t ask me what took its place) and suddenly journalism lurched to the other extreme of a brief, condensed style designed to fit as much information in as few words as possible.
    I hate to be so vague, but that’s my understanding of what happened.

  32. Bathrobe says:

    I’m starting to wonder whether I just dreamed it up.

  33. It deserves to be true. Do you mean by “the Internet has failed me” that you couldn’t find the desired needle in the haystack of content ? Meine Rede.

  34. Bathrobe says:

    This article, THE EVOLUTION OF THE SUMMARY NEWS LEAD, suggests that “the development of the summary news lead was not a by-product of the technical constraints of the Civil War, but an outgrowth of the rise of science and education, especially higher education, in turn-of-the-century American society.”
    Here’s the start of an 1860 news story, with no summary news lead, that the article quotes:
    “Bristol, England, Dec. 17, 1860––An unusual degree of excitement was caused here this morning by an alarm of fire; and the consternation was not a little heightened when it became known that the conflagration had broken out amongst the shipping in the floating harbor. The ships’ sea bow, on board of which the fire broke out, and in whose destruction it result, was a fine American-built ship, belonging to a New York firm, of some 1,400 or 1,500 tons of burden.”
    The monograph notes that the introduction of the summary news lead and the inverted pyramid story form came into common use not, as is widely-believed, during the Civil War (1861-65), but during the Progressive Era (ca. 1880-1910).

  35. Bathrobe says:

    But no mention of journalists’ being according to how much they wrote.

  36. Bathrobe says:

    Aha! This article on Technology, Objectivity, the Death of Newspapers and Fox News takes the point of view that the authors of the monograph reject, that the big change was caused by the introduction of telegraphed news stories. And it was the custom of the telegraph of charging by the word that caused this change:
    “Yet another technology, the telegraph, brought a new timeliness to the news. The formation of the Associated Press in 1848 meant that one reporter writing a single faraway dispatch in a neutral, objective reporting style could be published in many member newspapers, even those with highly different political perspectives. Because telegraph services charged by the word, a spare reporting style made that remote reporter cheaper still. Objectivity had the added benefit of placating advertisers wary of offending potential customers.
    Thus the sacrosanct neutral and objective journalistic reporting style was not born of any high-minded journalistic integrity. It was, rather, a function of market efficiencies brought about by new technologies and would only later earn its status as the guiding principle of journalism.”
    The same point is made by this article, How our bits shape us: James Gleick’s “The Information”:
    “The Crimean War was the first major conflict experienced nearly in real-time by an audience scattered across the globe, because of the telegraph. But first, fast reports, especially those bearing sensational stories, often had to be corrected later. News style was changing, too. Because telegraph operators charged by the word, reporters’ writing became terse, abrupt, factual, economical. Telegraph style became a signal of the writers’ modernity, to be enshrined in style guides like Strunk & White’s.”
    It is possibly the change from writers’ being paid by the word to fill up space (resulting in waffling style) to telegraph offices being paid by the word (resulting in a terse style) — although this doesn’t actually make sense! — that was the basis for my vague understanding. As I said, the monograph disagrees with the idea that the modern structure of the news story is based on the adoption of the telegraph.

  37. I don’t understand grumbling about the internet. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. There’s definitely an art to using Google, and if you’re looking for John Smith you’re out of luck. Just using the internet I was able to put together a pretty good genealogy of my Korteweg, Hospers, Knittel, Hiams and Dumbleton ancestors, but my Smith and Church ancestors could not be found. I also was able to find my mother’s fiance before my father, who turned out to be still alive, and famous at 95 as the world’s oldest bungee jumper.
    There’s all kinds of other stuff — the complete works of poets in various languages, abscure book that have been out of print for decades, and so on.
    I’m able to find things sitting at home that otherwise would require, at a minimum, a 100-mile round trip to a university library, and more likely a 220 mile round trip to a first-class library.
    MMcM should show up now.

  38. JE: I don’t understand grumbling about the internet. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. … There’s all kinds of other stuff — the complete works of poets in various languages, abscure book that have been out of print for decades, and so on … I’m able to find things sitting at home that otherwise would require, at a minimum, a 100-mile round trip to a university library, and more likely a 220 mile round trip to a first-class library.
    I’m not grumbling about the internet as an idea, but about the fact that it has become hard to use consistently and productively. Because of the sheer volume of stuff that people dump on it, it is getting ever more difficult to find something useful at all in a reasonable amount of time.
    Sure, it’s fun to play around with the internet. But IT people like myself rely on it to keep track of software standards, implementation details, bugfixes etc. IT is a fast-changing area. Quick and efficient access to up-to-date IT info is crucial for people in IT.
    There’s no way to prevent masses of words from being uploaded into the internet. One solution to the relevance problem would be to set up special, restricted-topic search engines. They would cover only specific sites registered for indexing, and registrants would be vetted for topic relevance by the index operator. I would pay to subscribe to such search engines.
    The operator could be simply a subcontractor of Google. This kind of thing exists already, but is restricted to one site that arranges with Google to search that one site only, in addition to searching the entire internet.
    In other words, walls will have to go up again, but this time only in the internet. Good searchwalls make good neighbors. And there’s still the Google internet for a swim in the crowd (ein Bad in der Menge).

  39. This is a practical matter. In essence I have just outlined a business proposition.

  40. but has no one challenged the concept of the single-statement definition?
    To me, it not only leads to cumbersome sentence structure where the essential meaning of the word may be lost (we only discover that the door is to keep an opening closed or open on the 43rd word in the sentence), but also to the loss of an essential meaning, i.e. door, of course, first of all is a means of entry and exit, not ‘a piece’ or ‘a panel’, its physical form, as AJP so rightly points out (well, just). I am not a native English speaker, but to my eye as a professional editor it simply is not on.

  41. Can anyone explain to me how the ‘encyclopedic’ approach took foot in compiling English dictionaries where both proper nouns and common nouns are included, while in Russian dictionaries it’s either common nouns only (dictionaries) or proper names/terminology only (encyclopedias). Russian Ozhegov dictionary has ‘door’, but doesn’t have Gorbachev or Moscow. BES (Большой энциклопедический словарь), the two-volume Russian encyclopedia, has three Gorbachevs and five Moscows, but no door.
    I’d be interested to know what’s the position re compiling dictionaries in other countries. Jonhnson blog recently pointed out that the specifics of German and Turkish make it absurd, for example, to include compound words in their dictionaries.

  42. Prolixity in journalistic prose began with Daniel Defoe, said to be the first journalist and a ‘founder’ (Wikipedia’s phrase) of the English novel. He incured a massive debt and took to writing (which was paid by the word), but nevertheless apparently died still in debt.

  43. The OED has Moscow and Gorbachevian (though not Gorbachev)

    Gorbachevian, a.
    (gɔːbəˈtʃɛvɪən, -ˈtʃɒv-)
    Also Gorbachovian.
    [f. the name of Mikhail Sergeyevich Gorbachev (b. 1931), Soviet statesman, General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (1985–90) and later President (1990–91), + -ian.]
    Of, pertaining to, or characteristic of Mikhail Gorbachev or the policies associated with him, esp. those of glasnost and perestroika.
       1984 Washington Post 28 Dec. a17/1 In America the nonsense is more esoteric. It has to do with a current Gorbachevian preoccupation: President Reagan’s Star Wars proposal for nuclear defense.    1986 Times 28 May 13/2 The campaign, which one diplomat called ‘Gorbachovian’, was causing a good deal of fear among bureaucrats.    1987 Daily Tel. 27 July 13/1 Under the Gorbachevian loosening of constraints there are occasions when peaceful political protest is permitted.    1988 New Scientist 22 Sept. 70/2 The old stories about a nation bereft of bath plugs have been replaced by Gorbachovian symbols of market failings.    1991 New Republic 9 Sept. 8/1 In Eastern European‥countries the force of the Gorbachevian contradiction was blunted.

    I don’t know about US dictionaries, but my theory is that the OED includes proper nouns and related adjectives if they look like they’re going somewhere etymologically. So for instance it doesn’t include Capetown but it does have Cape Cod, because

    Cape Cod N. Amer.
    (keɪp kɒd)
    [is] The name of a promontory in Massachusetts, U.S.A., used attrib. or absol. to designate a type of compact rectangular house, usually with a steep gable roof, reminiscent of dwellings on Cape Cod. Also ellipt., as Cape.
       1916 J. E. Chandler Colonial House ii. 60 The remembrance of a most charming Cape Cod cottage.    1926 House Beautiful Sept. 255/1 The Cape houses‥were carefully constructed, with pitch roofs and walls hung on a solid frame of hewn oak.    1945 Geogr. Rev. XXXV. 445 Contemporary ‘Cape Cod’ invades the hills of the Los Angeles suburban zone to be neighbor to ‥‘English half-timbered’.    1966 H. Kemelman Saturday the Rabbi went Hungry (1967) iii. 23 There was no confusing the Moderne with its flush door and three small diagonal panes of glass with the Cape Cod, which had a white panelled door flanked by two long narrow windows.    1967 Boston Herald 1 Apr. 8/1 (Advt.), A charming Cape with exquisite authentic detail.    1968 Globe & Mail (Toronto) 13 Feb. 30/1 (Advt.), Attractive Cape Cod, storey and a half, located on a well landscaped lot.

  44. Incidentally, I don’t know if Canadians spell the floor of a house “storey” as they do in Britain, or did the OED change the Globe & Mail (Toronto)’s spelling to reflect Britspeak?

  45. The OED does not change the spelling of citations.

  46. John Emerson’s case of genealogy is an interesting one. Various enterprises, many associated with the Church of LDS, have put records online with user-friendly interfaces.
    But even though it seems to me like low-hanging fruit for a semantic web, I don’t know of anything that filters information from like Wikipedia (which even has ahnentafel markup) into a appropriately structured searchable form.
    I should be able to enter Val Prinsep and Bella Sidney Southorn or Prince Philip and Queen Anne of Romania and have it show me the connection.

  47. MMcM: I should be able to enter Val Prinsep and Bella Sidney Southorn or Prince Philip and Queen Anne of Romania and have it show me the connection.
    Maybe a Mormon website could help here. Failing that, you could buy the dozens of volumes of Debrett’s and Gotha, or inspect them at your nearest library. Provided enough paying subscribers can be found, this would be a good case for one of the self-standing, specialized search engines I mentioned.
    But even though it seems to me like low-hanging fruit for a semantic web, I don’t know of anything that filters information from like Wikipedia (which even has ahnentafel markup) into a appropriately structured searchable form.
    If the source information is not “structured” in particular, known ways (like books shelved in alphabetical order in a library, or rather knowledge that this is so), then all you have in order to search that information is brute force plus heuristics. Such “structure” is often called metadata (knowledge of the alphabetical sort order, knowledge of the card catalog in that library). Google indexes the contents of websites regularly, thus obtaining metadata. Unfortunately, this is ephemeral metadata – changing info on changing info.
    Because of the dynamic character of website content, it would in principle be easy to disrupt this Google strategy for certain types of information (from certain disciplines, say), or rather foil the expectations of its users: automatically generate millions of websites with randomly generated content comprising words from those disciplines.

  48. The internet looks like Citizen Kane’s warehouse in the final scene of the film. Someone “found” Rosebud, but didn’t know what it was, so it ended up on a bonfire. Only the film script had the metadata needed to “really find” it. Rosebud was found too late for inclusion in a memorial library, but just in time to complete the film.

  49. I should have said explicitly that the volumes of Debrett’s and Gotha are themselves examples of restricted-topic search engines – just not of an electronic kind. Every book is a search engine. Some are more search-efficiently organized than others, for instance those which come with an index, table of contents, numbered pages etc.
    Because their contents are retricted to certain topics, Debrett’s and Gotha are easier to search than the internet is. When you search the internet again and again for things related to a certain topic such as mental health, most of what you encounter has to be filtered out, again and again: for instance reports on the success people have had in improving the health of their favorite plants by talking to them.

  50. You might have a hard time filtering the mental health entries from Debrett’s. Isn’t it the Prince of Whales who talks to his plants to make them healthier? The only thing that really works with flowers is admonishment. That and the extra nitrogen.

  51. Not carrot and stick, but stick and Stickstoff ? I like the idea of drubbing recalcitrant young buds with a Stickstoff – but not too hard, you understand. I’d probably have a green thumb, if it weren’t stained nicotine-yellow.

  52. Does the Prince of Wales exhale a lot of nitrogen? Or did you mean carbon dioxide?
    German wiki says
    Die deutsche Bezeichnung Stickstoff erinnert daran, dass molekularer Stickstoff Flammen löscht („erstickt“) oder dass in reinem Stickstoff Lebewesen ersticken.
    I think that this includes green plants.

  53. The nitrogen is for the soil, in the form of nitrates. I don’t know whether nitrogen gas would kill plants. The earth’s atmosphere is already at least 80% nitrogen, isn’t it ? Lebewesen is a vague term that usually does not include plants.

  54. About Lebewesen: I didn’t mean to imply that it’s wrong to apply it to plants. Duden defines it as “entity with organic life, especially animal or human”:

    Le|be|we|sen, das: Wesen mit organischem Leben, bes. Tier od. Mensch; Organismus: einzellige, tierische, pflanzliche L.; der Mensch als höchstentwickeltes L.

    The difficulty is that everyday Germans don’t use the word Wesen in connection with plants. You hear it in the trope “das höchste Wesen” [The Highest Being] or in reference to other aliens.
    It sounds strange to call a plant a (Lebe)Wesen, because ein Wesen suggests sentience, whereas (in a philosophical context) das Wesen is “essence” or “nature”. Of course Das Wesen von Outer Space could be a film about a sentient plant, like a weed, bent on destroying other kinds of sentient plants.

  55. dass in reinem Stickstoff Lebewesen ersticken.
    Animals would also asphyxiate in an atmosphere of pure krypton, pure carbon, etc. Why are people getting down on nitrogen’s case especially ?

  56. Yes, by “extra nitrogen” I meant the fertiliser I scatter around my garden twice a year to make plants grow big and strong.

  57. Well, if they’re not sentient then why does His Royal Heir Apparenthood talk to them? And why does Crown admonish them? What? What?

  58. No, of course they’re sentient. I bloom, therefore I am.

  59. Artistic types in the past, about whose biographical endpoints little is known, are said to have flowerished or blossomed (floruit) in the years X-Y. One never learns how they were fertilized, nor where they were ultimately composted.

  60. I don’t see that the above complaints are about “the internet”. They’re complaints about the failure of everyone in the world, including present company, to put certain kinds of information out there in a structured way. It’s like criticizing libraries because sometimes the book you want isn’t in the library you’re using.
    Under certain circumstances the internet can be a lot better than a research library for finding certain kinds of information. It’s quite erratic because those circumstances require a guessable set of search words, ideally relatively uncommon words or proper names, equally well standardized phrases made up of common words with a given meaning (e.g. “melting point of” in quotation marks), and finally, simple commonsense descriptive phrases for things that quite a few people are interested in. (For example, “US 1860 Presidential election” without quotes gets this: http://www.uselectionatlas.org/RESULTS/national.php?off=0&year=1860 ,)

  61. I personally put information out there in as unstructured a way as possible.

  62. A guessable set of search words: a.) ideally, relatively uncommon words or proper names, b.) equally well, standardized phrases made up of common words with a given meaning (e.g. “melting point of” in quotation marks), and finally, c.) simple commonsense descriptive phrases for things that quite a few people are interested in.
    Perhaps that emergency fix makes the passage intelligible.

  63. Genealogy of Maggie and Jake Gyllenhaal: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gyllenhaal

  64. I personally put information out there in as unstructured a way as possible.
    I know you have claimed to have anarchist tendencies. But I don’t believe a word of what you say: your website is well-organized, your blogs and comments are well-considered (except for that parenthesis issue). Let’s face it, we’ve all been co-opted by the establishment zu neunzig Prozent.

  65. *flails angrily, only to find himself more entangled in the net*

  66. It’s all very well for Tully Bascomb to say that there’s as much anarchy in anarchy as in any other political philosophy, but in fact plenty of anarchists are strong believers in Law, just not in coercion.

  67. plenty of anarchists are strong believers in Law, just not in coercion.
    Without coercion (especially of the type “punishment”), Law would appear to be only a wish list for behavior. Which anarchists have believed that Santa Claus is the patron saint of social order ? I suppose that amounts to a belief that things will sort themselves out without coercion. But if that were the case, we could dispense with Law as well as coercion, and just hope for the best.

  68. Which anarchists have believed that Santa Claus is the patron saint of social order ?
    Well, I believe it was Groucho who said “Sanity Clause? There is no Sanity Clause”.

  69. I think I will indulge myself a very first LOL. You saw it here.

  70. Chico Marx.

  71. That makes more sense. I knew I should have checked.

  72. Here it is, Stu. They did so love to make fun of contracts.

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