Notes from An Alien

~ Explorations In Reading, Writing & Publishing ~

Tag Archives: Visual Thesaurus

Technology & Language ~ Can They Get Along with Each Other?

I’m going to feature an interview in today’s post with Ben Zimmerlinguist, lexicographer, and language columnist—executive producer of the Visual Thesaurus and

I’ve featured the Visual Thesaurus six times on this blog ( seven times with this post :-)

And, to set the stage for excerpts from Ben’s interview, here come “word-trees” for Language and Technology from the Visual Thesaurus:
[ On the Visual Thesaurus site, you can grab branches of the tree and move them around; or, click on words in the tree and have a new tree for that word pop up; or, click on words and expand that branch of the tree… ]



The original interview with Ben is at the Chicago Manual of Style Online, in their Shop Talk column.

An excerpted version is on the Visual Thesaurus siteBen Zimmer on How Technology is Shaping Language.

As always, I urge you to read the full articles and I’ll give you some bits to encourage you to take those links :-)

All the following quotes are from Ben’s answers to questions in the interview


“I’m fascinated by the ‘technologization’ of language, both in terms of how new communications technology is shaping language in unexpected ways and how that same technology is giving us fresh insights into how language works.”

“Because electronically mediated styles of talk are less fixed than traditional ones, it’s not surprising that we don’t have a good handle on what is happening with emerging linguistic conventions.”

“Though computer-mediated communication is often portrayed as nothing more than a series of abbreviations and emoticons, that stereotype masks some fascinating language shifts going on with texting and other short-form writing.”

“I love print dictionaries and thesauruses and still enjoy collecting them, but putting these resources online opens up worlds of possibilities. The Visual Thesaurus, for example, creates interactive displays of the relationships between words and between senses of words by means of elastic, spring-like graphs. Moving from node to node through this type of semantic visualization, the jumps can be unexpected, allowing for the emergence of a different kind of serendipity than the kind that a print reference normally affords.” moves beyond the traditional structure of the dictionary to present engaging text that explains word usage, as well as commandeering examples from a massive textual corpus to illustrate ‘words in the wild’. These rich lexicographical resources are then integrated into an adaptive learning program, where word-learning becomes an active, dynamic process.”

“The biggest challenge, I find, is differentiating lexical flashes-in-the-pan from those words and phrases that have a chance of sticking around. So much of what passes over the transom is evanescent, fading away as quickly as it bubbles up. It’s easy to get lost in the welter of words, especially with the endless churn of social media, so I try to keep a reasonable perspective to avoid getting caught up in transient linguistic fads.”


If you do read the full interview (or, the excerpted version), please, do come back and leave a few thoughts in the Comments

Actually, if all you do is read this post, please, do leave a few thoughts in the Comments :-)
To Leave A Comment, Use The Link At The Top-Right of The Post :-)
For Private Comments, Email: amzolt {at} gmail {dot} com
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Visual Thesaurus ~ More Than Fancy Diagrams

I’ve talked about the Visual Thesaurus before in this blog and even recommended you pay $20/year to unlock all its features; but, you can still get a lot of value even if you can’t afford the subscription.

If you’ve never seen the results of using this tool, here’s the image for the word “blogarrow blogimage

And, clicking on any word in that tree will immediately show the diagram for that selection—a visual Word-Journey...

journalimagearrow2Here’s the tree when I click on “journal” in the diagram for “blog”.

whiteIn the previous post, Blooming Words ! ~~ A Thesaurus That Offers Articles On Writing :-), I listed some of the incredible features of the site and directed readers to some of their free articles on writing.

I want to do that again—more free articles on writing, with just a brief excerpt to get you interested :-)

Flash, Gleam, Glint, Sparkle: McPhee, Woolf, and Words:

“In an essay on writing in last week’s The New Yorker, John McPhee describes how, while editing a fourth draft, he draws boxes around words he wants to replace. ‘The final adjustments may be small-scale’, he writes, ‘but they are large to me, and I love addressing them.'”

Always Never Something: Eliminating Five Overused Words:

“…two examples, typical of students’ use of always in writing:

‘My mom is always telling me to go to bed earlier.’

‘I’ve always wanted to be a fashion designer.’

“Really? Your mother is perpetually, without ceasing, telling you to go to bed earlier? What a pain. Or, you’ve wanted to be a fashion designer since the dawn of time, even pre-dating your birth? Wow.”

Towards a Fuller Understanding of Usage:

“I remember when my family got WordPerfect 5.2 for Windows, roughly twenty years ago. I was excited because it came with a grammar checker called Grammatik, and I, as an aspiring young writer, thought it would help me improve my writing. But I soon came to find its advice more frustrating than helpful. I particularly remember it telling me not to use towards because it was British; I was supposed to use toward instead.

“I was perplexed….”

Writing Packed with Life:

“Yes, it’s been said before, but let’s say it again: writing lives on the life writers pack into their writing. Get only a little life into your poetry or prose, and your writing will soon starve, dwindle, and die. Get a lot of life into your poetry or prose, and your writing may live forever.”

And, to bring this post about Visual Thesaurus full-circle, A Grave Case of Synonym-itis:

“Some writers go to great lengths to find synonyms for things or acts that they have to refer to repeatedly in a story. They seem to have the idea that this adds flavor and depth and style to their writing. Actually, it can add a thick layer of B.S. and to demonstrate quite clearly why supposed synonyms are not necessarily fungible.”

Plus, to close the circle yet tighter:

Our Comment Link Is At The Top of The Post :-)
For Private Comments, Email: amzolt {at} gmail {dot} com
* Google Author Page

Blooming Words ! ~~ A Thesaurus That Offers Articles On Writing :-)

In case you didn’t know, a thesaurus is “a book that lists words in groups of synonyms and related concepts” and it comes from roots AuthorMapthat mean “storehouse” and “treasure”

This image is from the Visual Thesaurus.

I encourage you to go there and put your own words in to try it out but you may want to consider subscribing—$20.00/year

When you’re on the Site you can click on any of the words that blossom-out and it will draw a new map with that word in the center—you can filter the map by parts of speech and play with many other relationships of the language :-)

Yet more awaits

But, some of it does need a subscription

Here are a few of the features:

Use words precisely ~ The intuitive interface helps you find words through their semantic relationship with other words and meanings.
Master word usage ~ Roll over a meaning to see its definition and example sentences that express that meaning.
Improve your grammar ~ Meanings are color-coded to indicate parts of speech.
Explore 39,000 proper nouns ~ Historical figures, phrases and trademarks are included. Look up Mozart, Manda or simply, “M.”
Check your spelling ~ The VT suggests a word if you spell it wrong.
Hear words pronounced correctly ~ The VT offers both American and British pronunciations (Internet connection necessary)
Personalize your experience ~ Use the Settings Panel to control font size, filter content, display up to 17 semantic relationships and more.
Connect to the Internet ~ Right-click on any word to launch an Internet search for images or information.
Access the VT from anywhere ~ No software to install, access from virtually any computer with an Internet connection.
Email word maps to friends ~ Share your favorite words with friends and family.
Explore five additional languages ~ Search for words in Spanish, German, Italian French and Dutch, as well as English. (International features are still in beta)
Unlimited access to our magazine ~ Read features about language and the creative process and join a community passionate about words, language and creativity.

So, that last bit—articles in their magazine—some are available without subscribing and here are just a few (with the first paragraph to entice you to click on the link):

The Energy of Writing “In physics class my high school junior year, I learned little, and of that little I remember little. Our brilliant though irascible teacher, Mr. Whitney, did, however, impress me with one fact of nature I’ve never forgotten.”

Lightening Struck: Strange Errors from the College Classroom “I’ve been teaching writing for nearly a decade, but I’m hardly a grammar maven. The fact is, I teach the kind of writing that those down in the trenches—wielding participles and parts of speech—find rather precious: I teach fiction writing, mostly to undergraduates at Sarah Lawrence College, where my job is to promote imaginative storytelling, not to improve linguistic mechanics. Consider, as evidence of my approach, that I don’t even own a red pen, or that I couldn’t confidently tell you the difference between a direct and an indirect object. My wife—who does teach grammar—routinely corrects my own miscues around the dinner table. (Once I said, ‘These potatoes came out good’, and almost lost an eye.)”

Spelling, Usage and the Singular “They” “A couple of weeks ago we ran the first part of our fascinating conversation with Professor Anne Curzan of the University of Michigan, an expert in the history of English and a member of the American Heritage Dictionary’s usage panel. Here is part two of our interview — a jaw-dropper for anyone interested in language — where we focus on gender, spelling and much more:”

The Noun Game “Everybody knows that a noun is the name of a person, place, or thing. It’s one of those undeniable facts of daily life, a fact we seldom question until we meet up with a case that doesn’t quite fit the way we’re used to viewing things.”

So, if you go to the Visual Thesaurus and try it out, I’d love to hear your reaction in the Comments :-)
Our Comment Link Is At The Top of The Post :-)
For Private Comments, Email: amzolt {at} gmail {dot} com
* Google Author Page

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