The Friday Fillip

Words, words, words. Where would we be without them. #+)&%~! — that’s where. And we’d all be out of jobs.

But since we do ‘ave ’em, I’ve got a pair of places to point you to today that ought to offer hours of lexical — the other ‘lex’ that is — edification and amusement.

First up is WordNet. The official word from the site is that:

WordNet® is an online lexical reference system whose design is inspired by current psycholinguistic theories of human lexical memory. English nouns, verbs, adjectives and adverbs are organized into synonym sets, each representing one underlying lexical concept. Different relations link the synonym sets.

Yes. Well. It’s a tad more interesting than that suggests. For the non-linguists among us, WordNet functions as a dictionary and thesaurus combined, lacking the precision of classical dictionaries — because words are grouped by a common thread — but providing a wider, more inspirational set of meanings.

You can explore WordNet online, or download it and have it all to yourself for those special offline moments. (By the way, the nifty Visual Thesaurus is built on the WordNet hoard.)

Site number two is the search mechanism that operates on the Oxford English Corpus, which is “a collection of texts of written (or spoken) language presented in electronic form. It provides the evidence of how language is used in real situations, from which lexicographers can write accurate and meaningful dictionary entries.” You get to query the corpus by using the Sketch Engine, once you’ve registered (which is free). Look up a word and you get a ton of information, only some of which I’ve been able to comprehend as yet. Simplest is to look at the Word Sketches, which show you the word in action — that is, in actual sentences from the corpus sample queried. You can pursue things to find out exactly which book, newspaper etc. the instance comes from, if you wish.

It might be fun to cross-ruff the two engines, and see what emerges.


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