Tuesday, February 26, 2013


I stumbled across a webpage with idioms, and it made me start to question how I would define some common English idioms. The webpage is IdiomSite.com, which features a banner across the top that defines idioms as 'a natural manner of speaking to a native speaker of a language.' My first issue with the page is with that definition--I feel the definition provides some kernel of truth, but there is a lot missing from how idioms are separated from other natural manners of speaking; also, notice the definition only includes a one-way relationship (in the definition, the listener is specified as a native speaker, but not necessarily the speaker of the idiom).

After scrolling down through the page, there are several idioms defined that I would argue with. The following three are examples of these potentially arguable definitions:

  • 'as high as a kite': anything that is high up in the sky.
  • 'barking up the wrong tree': a mistake made in something you are trying to achieve.
  • 'chip on his shoulder': angry today about something that occured [sic] in the past.

My own uses of these idioms don't quite match up with the above definitions; however, I don't want to bias my audience. Do you agree with these definitions? If not, how would you change them to make them more accurate?

Monday, February 25, 2013

Atlas of True Names

Thanks to a student who shared this website with the other Dr. Sams, I think I know what I want for Christmas this year--a map from Atlas of True Names.

The atlas literally translates place names on maps, based on the name's etymology, making looking at a map even more intriguing than it already is. I'm sure some of the names are a bit liberal in their translations, but the appeal is that the different names makes it like looking at a map of a fantasy world, when it's really just a map of our world.

For instance, you can head over to the Great Land of the Tattooed (England) to visit Unfordable River Town (London) and leave from there for Westland (Ireland) to visit Darkpool (Dublin); of course, on the way, you'll have to pass through Land of Strangers (Wales). You can then travel across the Sea of Weeds (the Atlantic Ocean) to visit any one of the coastal cities of the United States of the Home Ruler, including New Yew Tree Village (New York), Sibling Love (Philadelphia), or Marsh Farm (Washington, D.C.).

Even if you don't go on that epic journey, you should take a moment to appreciate how cool the Atlas of True Names is.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Visuwords: Graphical dictionary

I've seen visual thesauri and dictionaries floating around the web, but I think the best one I've seen (or at least the one I've had the most fun with) is Visuwords, an online graphical dictionary. When you go to the page, you see the following space:

Visuwords screenshot

There is a search box at the top, where you can enter a word you want to explore, or you could choose to hit the "random" button to the left of the search box, which will give you exactly that--a random word.

Running down the left of the blank white area (where your word will be mapped) is a key to understand what you're about to see:

Visuwords key

Using Visuwords can help identify parts of speech and semantic relationships, both helpful in a linguistics classroom.

I chose to search for the word 'linguistics', which resulted in this graphic display:

Visuwords search for 'linguistics'

You can zoom in on the area to pay more attention to some of the detail going on:

Zoomed in section of 'linguistics'
Using the key down the side of the page, I can see that linguistics is a kind of humanistic discipline, that lexicology is a kind of linguistics, and that 'linguistic' and 'lingual' are derivations of the word 'linguistics'. If you hold your mouse over any of the the visual definition, you can get more information:

Mouse over information

In this image, you can see a yellow box of more information about the 'humanistic discipline, humanities, liberal arts, arts' entry.

All in all, I think this is a pretty cool tool to visualize relationships among words and concepts and is something I will introduce in my linguistics courses when we discuss semantics.