My wife and I don’t get AMC (and hardly use the TV anyway), so we don’t watch Mad Men, but if we did I’m sure I would have caught the goof Ben Zimmer writes about in this Word Routes post. As Ben says, they should have used the Shorter.

Addendum (July 2018). Since I have learned from bitter experience to allow for linkrot, I’d better say explicitly that the goof is that the Compact Edition of the Oxford English Dictionary (shown in an episode) did not exist in 1963.


  1. mollymooly says

    Why “use the TV” rather than “watch the TV”? Google suggests “use the TV as a babysitter”, so I’m glad you’re not doing that either.

  2. i rather like Ben’s star system, it reminds me of those How’s my driving? stickers on the backs of trucks. I’ve never watched it, but I gave him five-for -‘fabulous’ stars for his Mad Men piece. I think you ought to let us judge LH using a star rating, Language. You could have charts to illustrate monthly and yearly averages.

  3. The Compact OED was very popular when I was in grad school. The usual way that impoverished graduates students bought it was to join the Book Of The Month Club, get the OED as the bonus, order the required three or four books, and then quit the Club. Might be interesting to examine the BOMC membership records for that era and see if there were an unusual number of new members who lived in collegetowns and ordered the minimum number of books.

  4. Why “use the TV” rather than “watch the TV”?
    Because the next clause contained “we don’t watch Mad Men,” and I was too lazy to find a better way to avoid awkward repetition.

  5. use the TV
    I know this isn’t LH’s intent, but I’m reminded of the classic line from the Dick Van Dyke Show episode “I’m No Henry Walden” (the one with Carl Reiner as the English “anti-existentialist” Yale Sampson), where Mrs. Venetia Fellows says, “But you see, I don’t own a television machine.” (10:28 here)

  6. MMcM reminds me of when I was learning Italian and had occasion to err and say “guardavo il televisore” instead of “guardavo la televisione” — suggesting that I was just staring at the powered-off physical appliance, instead of consuming videographed entertainment.

  7. My grandmother used to say “looking at TV”.
    I’m also reminded of the fact that in English fiction from around the 1920’s or 1930’s the expression “he is on the telephone” may mean “he is connected to the telephone (network)” in the sense that his house has a telephone.

  8. “guardavo il televisore”
    I suggest that Language has foreseen the way things are going; that a telly is just a telly set, sitting in the corner, connected to a satellite, to be used or not used, and that its contents can be watched also on other machines like laptops, iphones and whatever the next new thing is.

  9. Ben ZImmer says Orion Montoya, chief computational lexicographer at Wordnik….
    What sort of a job description is that – and what does it mean ?

  10. What sort of a job description is [chief computational lexicographer]?
    Oh, you know: chop wood, carry water. It’s initiating, performing and/or sensibly delegating all of the computational aspects of making dictionaries: corpus development, developing and using NLP tools, turning quantitative text analysis into comprehensible qualitative displays; further corpus development, corpus cleanup, deduplication; API development; searching, sorting, grepping, counting, arithmetic; collocation and colligation and prosody and contextual/distributional similarity. And fixing broken things.

  11. John Emerson says

    I thought that grepping had been abolished in the EU.

  12. You can watch Mad Men on Hulu.

  13. “Mad Men” devotees might be interested to know that Lane Pryce himself has responded via Twitter, appealing to a character from another fictional world (“Back to the Future”) to bail him out.

  14. [chief computational lexicographer] … chop wood, carry water … collocation and colligation
    I recall seeing IBM card sorting machines back in the late 60s. I seem to remember their being called “collimators” or “colligators”, something fancy at any rate. But these words don’t mean that nowadays. Apparently one just talks of “sort bins”.
    Orion: what exactly are the things you collocate and colligate? Is this activity taking stacks of paper from a printer, tapping the edges to align them, then stapling them?
    I like chief computational lexicographer as a job description. But it covers so much, as you explain. What is left over, say, for the sous-chief to do? As I know these things from IT, either you actually have to do everything yourself (the standard case, there being no sous-chief), or else you have a bevy of flunkies and floozies to delegate it all to (the ideal case, rarely encountered).

  15. Orion: Thanks, one learns so much from LH – I had to look up half the words 🙂

  16. I thought that grepping had been abolished in the EU.
    John, I wonder if this is what the Germans call Grabschen, namely unsolicited manual acquisition of parts of the female anatomy. It may well have been abolished in the EU, but the EU is so far away. Recently I saw Homer Simpson being persecuted for Grabschen, although all he had done was retrieve a squashed Statue of Liberty Gummibärchen from the jeans of the baby-sitter as she got out of the car in which Homer had driven her home.

  17. Grumbly Stu: yes, on my bike ride home last night I thought “WTF! I didn’t even mention my awesome team!” Yes, the reason it’s “Chief” is that I have a number of awesome people who help me keep things going, and who correct me when I’m wrong about stuff. After a few jobs where I did have to pretty much do everything myself, it’s been quite interesting to have delegation an ever-present option.
    Collocation and colligation are not things that we *perform* as part of the job, they are sorts of word-cooccurrence tendencies that we work to *detect* computationally so we can show them to people and make them smarter.

  18. Orion: sorts of word-co-occurrence tendencies that we work to *detect* computationally
    You interest me strangely. Do you look at syntactic as well as topological tendencies (“occurrence vicinities”, as I might say for lack of a better term)? Sounds like “syntactic” isn’t that important, which would be a relief to hear. Does this have something to do with folksonomy?
    so we can show them to people and make them smarter
    Well … What that does at best is make people more self-aware – able to see themselves as others see them. At worst, it might make them self-conscious – able to see themselves as others see them. But hey, what distinction is this? When does knowledge become a burden, Mr. Bones?
    “Getting smarter” cuts several ways, of course. Intelligence and self-awareness being what they are, some people with that new awareness will go on to become more devious (knowing how others will interpret what they say). Others will go on to become more honest (knowing how others will interpret what they say).
    in other words: no matter why you do it, please do tell some more about your work if you care to.

  19. clodhopper says

    Wot yer see is wot yer get:
    The goggle box [ telae [tela,ae] of the force [visi]of a javalin or ,television or as reduced by a Saxon to TV] is used to prevent activity of the brain except help the addiction of submitting to a beer [bare] bellie.;
    The English lingo claims a million words used at one time or another, as spoken by the majority, only 10,000, so the rest of the unused words must be re-cycled to be eco-friendly.

  20. Do I really use as many as ten-thousand words? It seems an awful lot to keep in my brain. I bet i probably reuse the same five-hundred or so most of the time.

  21. I recall that even literate folks like present company use only 1000-2000 different words daily at the utmost – although not necessarily the same words each day, of course. Still, I bet there is a large overlap from day to day.
    Also, that is active use. Maybe I have a passive, potentially activatable understanding of ten thousand English words, but I doubt it. In any case, the practice of language is only roughly related to individual “words” and “meanings”. Introspection (who will honestly claim there is no such thing?) reveals to me that in reading, writing and talking I am sailing between fog-banks of half-understood phrases, with dramatic music in the background. Like der fliegende Holländer. Some people like to imagine they are the captains of their souls, but I regard that as just a subplot to heighten overall dramatic interest.

  22. To grumble on the bright side, you probably have double the number of half-understood phrases and whatnot that the average monolingual person has available to them.

  23. clodhopper says

    There has to be a program to peruse and count the words, real, slang , ‘mispelt’ on blogs to find the actual count on literacy [0.5 k to 10 k ?], the Brits have some where a classifying program to test government papers for readability for the Gnu,
    by counting how many mono syllables and up in the ‘sentance’, the number of clauses used etc..

  24. “You can watch Mad Men on Hulu.”
    Unfortunately, that only works if you live in the USA.

  25. “The Season 3 premiere of Mad Men is available until Sept. 22, 2009.
    Please note: The Season 3 premiere will be the only episode of Mad Men available for streaming on Hulu.”

  26. I distinguish between those who watch TV (as I do) and those who merely have it on. The latter are perhaps more likely to stare at their phones nowadays.

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