Tag Archives: dictionary

Stuff editors like: Word games

games Editors tend to love words, word puzzles and word games. I asked editing friends, colleagues and strangers on Twitter what they liked to play, and I got a broad range of answers. The games everyone knows came up, of course, but some lesser-known ones got mentioned and I learned about a few new ones to try. Continue reading

You still need a person

Machine translation isn’t there yet.

A recent post on the Economist’s language blog about a sign on a New York shop window discussed the inadequacy of relying solely on a computer or bilingual dictionary for translation. All the shop owner — admirably — wanted to do was welcome tourists in their own language (some of them, anyway, and I still don’t get the purpose of having a greeting in Latin, but it does bring to mind the classic Monty Python Latin grammar scene in “Life of Brian”). But instead of saying “Welcome!” the greeting, many of the words were “welcome” the noun, as in reception, which would have made little sense to visiting Norwegians, Russians and others.

The Economist post points out that one should at least check the part of speech when using a dictionary or computer translator. One word should be clear enough, but what about a whole sentence? That seems to inevitably result in gibberish, as is commonly spotted in signs around the world. And while bad signs or directions can be funny, they can also be confusing, misleading or offensive.

I’m all about clarity and accuracy, but I also realize that sometimes you need to say something in a language you don’t know. The only good way to do this is to get a speaker of both languages to help you. Barring that, if you must use a computer translator, check the translation by running it back into English to see what was lost.

Let’s try it with Austen: Continue reading

Our favorite books: Flip Dictionary

Originally posted on Grammar Monkeys on June 18, 2009.

Flip Dictionary by Barbara Ann Kipfer (Writer’s Digest Books, 693 pages, $19.99 paper)
flipIt’s not quite a thesaurus and not really a dictionary, but this word reference is a useful book indeed. Subtitled “For when you know what you want to say but can’t think of the word,” the Flip Dictionary lists synonyms, groups of words or phrases, related words and definitions first so you can find exactly the word you need.
For example, the book lists numerous synonyms for “emotion,” and then goes on to list, in separate entries, dozens of definitions related to emotion, such as “emotional tension after overwhelming experience, release of.” This way you can find “catharsis” — by looking backwards. Handy.
If you need to know 10 varieties of pears or major world lakes, there are entries for those. If you’ve forgotten the name of the gadget that measures radiation, look under “radiation measurement instrument” to find “Geiger counter.”
If you know there’s a word for something — or another, better word — but you’re having a hard time coming up with it, this book will jog your memory. And for word lovers, it’s easy to get mesmerized, captivated or spellbound just flipping through the Flip Dictionary.