Linguistic dark matter

Michael Quinion wordseditor at WORLDWIDEWORDS.ORG
Fri Dec 17 14:14:29 UTC 2010

David Barnhart wrote

> If you haven't noticed I'm skeptical of the "tool".

I'm certainly sceptical of that 52% "undocumented in standard references",
which was why I quoted that sentence. The figure seems extremely high. As
I can't get access to the Science article (which is only fee online to
subscribers), I can't begin to work out its basis.

The researchers seem not to have applied many lexical filters. Proper
names are included, because they want the corpus to be a cultural tool as
well as a lexicographical one. Similarly, they allow scientific names
("Turdus merula" and the like). I would have thought that - if the
"standard references" are restricted to general dictionaries - proper and
scientific names would account for a big part of that missing 52%.

There are some intriguing graphs, however. Try "ketchup, catsup" for

Michael Quinion
Editor, World Wide Words

The American Dialect Society -

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