Category Archives: linguistics

Lost in Translation

J. E. Littlewood told a cute story about a paper he supposedly published in the Comptes Rendus de l’Académie des sciences de Paris. The paper had three footnotes, which read, in French: I am greatly indebted to Prof. Riesz for … Continue reading

Posted in linguistics, problems and puzzles | 3 Comments

Recursive driveling

If there’s anything inaner than turning literature into drivel, it’s turning drivel into drivel. I’ve added a “recurse” button to the drivel generator. It feeds the output back to the input, like xeroxing a xerox. What happens when this process … Continue reading

Posted in computing, linguistics | 9 Comments


“The fine art of turning literature into drivel” is a specialty of mine. I’ve been doing it for 30 years. Here is a specimen of drivel that I extracted from Walter Benjamin’s 1936 essay “The Work of Art in the … Continue reading

Posted in computing, linguistics | 8 Comments

Crossed conversations

David G. Hays, a pioneer of computational linguistics, describes an experiment he performed in 1956 at the RAND Corporation: The experiment strips conversation down to its barest essentials by depriving the subject of all language except for two pushbuttons and … Continue reading

Posted in computing, linguistics, mathematics | 3 Comments

How Did the Stars Get Their Points?

Those are hot young stars in the Large Magellanic Cloud—one of the puppy-dog galaxies that follow the Milky Way around—photographed by the Hubble Space Telescope. (Detail cropped from a Wikipedia image.) Note that four rays seem to emanate from each … Continue reading

Posted in linguistics | 12 Comments