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Dennis Baron's go-to site for language and technology in the news
Results for "June, 2011"

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  • Content-free prose: The latest threat to writing or the next big thing?

    There’s a new online threat to writing. Critics of the web like to blame email, texts, and chat for killing prose. Even blogs—present company included—don’t escape their wrath. But in fact the opposite is true: thanks to computers, writing is thriving. More people are writing more than ever, and this new wave of everyone’s-an-author bodes well for the future of writing, even if not all that makes its way online is interesting or high in quality.

    But two new digital developments, ebook spam and content farms, now threaten the survival of writing as we know it. 

  • Webster's lays down the law

    The Supreme Court is using dictionaries to interpret the Constitution. Both conservative justices, who believe the Constitution means today exactly what the Framers meant in the 18th century, and liberal ones, who see the Constitution as a living, breathing document changing with the times, are turning to dictionaries more than ever to interpret our laws: a new report shows that the justices have looked up almost 300 words or phrases in the past decade. According to the New York Times, last week alone Chief Justice Roberts consulted five dictionaries.

    Even though judicial dictionary look-ups are on the rise, the Court has never commented on how or why dictionary definitions play a role in Constitutional decisions. That’s further complicated by the fact that dictionaries aren’t designed to be legal authorities, or even authorities on language, though many people, including the justices of the Supreme Court, think of them that way. What dictionaries are, instead, are records of how some speakers and writers have used words. Dictionaries don’t include all the words there are, and except for an occasional usage note, they don’t tell us what to do with the words they do record. Although we often say, “The dictionary says…,” there are many dictionaries, and they don’t always agree.

  • How a bill becomes a law 2.0: A high-tech president renews the Patriot Act by autopen

    Because he was traveling in Europe when it came time for him to approve the extension of several key parts of the USA Patriot Act, Pres. Obama signed the bill, not in person, but long distance, with the stroke of an autopen.