In Sunday’s NYT Magazine there was a great article by Erin McKean about the Oxford English Corpus. Imagine having access to over a billion words that are tagged and given context. For a namer this is close to heaven. With a few clicks you could check any English word for negative connotations and sort by the most powerful connections.
What a great way to determine what a word or phrase may bring to mind. It’d get rid of those experiential biases that we all bring with us (AKA “I knew a guy named ____ and he was a twit – so I’m not gonna name my company that.”)
And that’s only scratching the surface.
I was thoroughly peeved, however, to learn that all the press lately is for naught. Yes it is pretty cool that there are over 1 billion words in the Corpus. But who gives a rat’s arse (note the British spelling!) how many words there are if we can’t look at the damn thing. Are we supposed to be pleased that the smart-folk have access and are thus shepherding our language much more intelligently than they were able to before they had access?
It is obvious that Oxford is looking to invest heavily in the OEC brand. Rebecca over at OUP notes that the “Powered by Oxford Corpus” is showing up on all the new Oxford dictionaries. One assumes this is a tactic similar to the “Intel Inside” campaign, in that even though we could buy a computer that was powered by Intel we didn’t have the right to take apart the chip and figure out how it worked. Perhaps that’s a weak metaphor… But since I don’t have access to the Corpus I can’t figure out if there’s a better word grouping for what I want to say.
Also interestingly, there are no indications that people like me (and you – if you don’t edit dictionaries) can’t access the thing. It’s like they’re taunting us by telling us how cool this thing is (they even show you how to use it!) and then not even giving us the courtesy of telling us we can’t use it. They let us waste a couple (okay, a few) good hours figuring it out for ourselves. It’s like a word-geek clique. If you have to ask then you’re obviously not going to get access…
Any dictionary editors out there want to loan me a password so I can play? I won’t tell a soul…
Until then – My slogan for the OEC is: “Oxford English Corpus – The Hypothetical Anti-Resource.”