The other day I was discussing grammar with my father, which led to a conversation on how difficult it can be to look up questions about such things on the Web.
As I’ve said here before, the Mac’s Dictionary app can be addictively handy for definitions, pronunciations, and sometimes even usage questions. But outright Internet searches on usage, punctuation, and syntax usually land me within the Q&A section of The Chicago Manual of Style Online. While I don’t always agree with CMS, I
don’t always agree with Strunk & White’s venerable The Elements of Style either. I am on the same page when it comes to serial commas (alias “Oxford commas”) — pro, in case you hadn’t noticed — and I like what I discover on the site as well as how the information is delivered. Say, I forgot to ask Dad, who’s a special-ed teacher, what he thinks of serial commas.
Let’s break, or more appropriately brake, for Hacked Stop Signs. [dead URL,
The poorly worded translations I passed along several posts back led my friend Joan Crawford to recommend the hysterically funny website Engrish. All sorts of anecdotes from my time spent learning Japanese among native speakers spring to mind, but they’ll have to be wait.
Evan Morris’s The Word Detective is a site to which I’m often led when Googling musings on the origins of odd phrases. I’ve never read through a full issue of monthly posts, but whenever a search points me to an old column I find myself poking around the archives. Just a bit more time for such perusal and a bit more money in my bank account would find me happily becoming a paying subscriber, as I believe heartily in the Internet as a potential business model for independent content providers like Mr. Morris — not to mention that I have a soft spot for fellow men and women of letters, especially when they’re aficionados of Alice.
Urban Dictionary, which complies user-provided explanations of slang words
and phrases, many NSFW, is another helpful online reference. Although it’s a little too democratic and thus easily manipulated for my tastesl, in a different way than Wikipedia — redundant, poorly phrased, and/or discredited definitions seem to hang around indefinitely — and there’s too much chaff amidst the wheat to make browsing fun for me (especially with its unappealing visuals), I’d love to see a more disciplined version of it added to the Dictionary app. I often find myself out of the loop on vernacular and a website that keeps track of new and changing argot is as
advantageous to readers as it is to writers.
My father recently shared an impressive resource called Wolfram Alpha, billed as
a Computational Knowledge Engine. You can see an amazing array of what the service can ideally do via an introductory screencast narrated by company founder Stephen Wolfram, and it’s pretty wild. The qualifier is due to the fact that Wolfram understandably cherry-picked queries that he knew his engine could handle, while
my own stabs betrayed gaps both in Wolfram Alpha’s knowledge base and in its ability to make associations. I think I’ve become pretty good at having search engines get me where I want to go, but sometimes they just fail in the face of a question that’s either
too finely detailed, too broad, or too hard to articulate since you’d need the very information you’re missing to properly search for that information, so I certainly look forward to remembering to try Wolfram Alpha when faced with numerical or statistical data-based problems.
Related: ... in Translation • Spamabit • Words to the Wise