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Twitter from Aristology to Zeuglodont

Aristology: The science of cooking and dining. Abjured, even denigrated, by Nero Wolfe, on the basis that both cooking and dining are arts, not sciences. Now more commonly defined as both an art and a science, covering the preparation, cooking, presentation and eating of food.

Zeuglodont: A type of carnivorous whale. Now extinct. Also referred to as phocodontia.

Aristology. A word I first came across when I was about ten, when I started reading Rex Stout. Although Stout first used it in Three At Wolfe’s Door, that was not where I happened upon it. It was when I was reading The Doorbell Rang, surely one of the ten best mystery novels ever written.

It was in the reading of Nero Wolfe that I developed a keen interest in food, in all aspects of food. And, I daresay, sometime in my life I will start growing orchids for similar reasons.

What has any or all of this to do with Twitter? It’s like this. Some time ago, during the debate on continuous partial asymmetry triggered by James Governor’s post, Stu Berwick, an old friend and colleague, made a crucial comment. By keeping it short and to the point, he crystallised something that everyone knows but not everyone appreciates. Twitter is both a communications medium as well as a publishing platform.

Now for me one of the ways of testing something as a publishing platform (as opposed to a communications medium) is the depth of language used, the breadth of subjects covered. So I started “testing” Twitter. What I did was enter “random” words into Twitter search, and observe the results. I converted that into a game. The rules were simple:

  1. I had to know the word and what it meant
  2. It had to be a word that had found its way into the language proper, as opposed to one that was “technically” included, that made its way only because it formed part of an obscure branch of science.
  3. The number of results returned had to be zero.

I read a lot. I have been reading voraciously for over forty years. I read widely. And I have a good head for words, coupled with a decent memory. Years of playing around with crosswords and Scrabble have, if anything, sharpened my vocabulary.

Yet it took me several attempts before I found a zero. Aristology was my best for some time, with just one result returned, until I tried zeuglodont. Bugloss returned two, which was pretty good.

Try it. You’d be amazed at just what Twitter already contains. Which bodes well for its existence as a publishing platform, despite the number-of-characters limit.

[Why would I even know a word like zeuglodont? Simple. The way I remember words is by remembering their size and “shape”, where the shape is a pattern represented by the consonant-vowel sequence. When I try and recall a word, the first thing that comes to me is the size of the word. Then sequences of letters come. And finally the whole word emerges. That process is not alphabetical, although I can sometimes help it by going through the alphabet once I have the word’s length and shape. -UGLO- is a very unusual shape in this context, occurring only in two words as far as I know, bugloss and zeuglodont.

Posted in humour, Twitter, words.


11 Responses

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  1. Bill Thompson says

    And you managed to spell zeuglodont wrongly in the first para and the final sentence, demonstrating how your memory works by shape and sound, not spelling!

    This is a lovely point, and an important one – in a sense what Twitter does is to preserve our conversations in a public forum so that they form part of an ongoing communication – a publication. IM and even email allow us to talk, only Twitter (so far) lets that conversation happen in the public sphere, concretising the conversation.

    It’s been fascinating to watch the discussion today, Christmas Day, and see how the shape has shifted on this UK/western holiday. I suspect there are groups of twitterers for whom this is just a normal day, but I see few of them, giving me a sense of how my twitterverse is constructed.

  2. JP says

    @billt it was worse than that, it was the same misspelt word cut and pasted without my glasses on! Corrected, thanks.

  3. jwalker says

    Nice. However, I expressed a slightly different take on Twitter here: http://bloglabs.net/blog/15-reasons-twitter-must-die

  4. Dominic Sayers says

    “Quinquereme” is still a sad loss to the Twitterverse. I may start twittering about apes and peacocks just to get it in there.

    Interesting description of how you remember words. I suppose this is involuntary? For me, a half-remembered word appears as a sequence of vowels in roughly correct order. No idea why this happens, nor is it a particularly useful way of remembering words. Just how my brain works.

  5. JP says

    Dom, yes it is an empirical description rather than any set of choices or decisions by me. My Bible reading takes me to Nineveh often, but Ophir remains distant. So quinquireme away. [I have actually played biremes and trireme at scrabble]

  6. Oliver says

    So that was the other point of the little game you proposed! Today, I finally found a word that hadn’t been used on Twitter. I found it in a journal I’d kept as a ten year old. And I’d forgotten it, so I had to look it up!

    It seems my lexicon may have actually shrank in some areas over the years. I used to simply read the dictionary in those days and had a penchant for archaic words. My family used to play scrabble (and other board games) fairly often. Sadly, it’s now difficult to get my brothers to participate in something non-computerized these days.

  7. JP says

    Why don’t you get them to play lexulous with you?

  8. Dominic Sayers says

    Google is divided on the spelling of quinquireme/quinquereme. Even in the context of Masefield’s poem.

  9. JP says

    Dom, I didn’t even *notice* that the two of us spelt it differently. Instinctively I went for -qui-, that’s what I remember from Masefield. So I checked Bartlett, which gives the -qui- spelling. See http://www.bartleby.com/265/212.html

    My attitude to Google on this question is identical to that of George V towards Bognor (on his deathbed)

Continuing the Discussion

  1. Twitter as Combinatorics | shmula linked to this post on December 28, 2008

    [...] of simplicity and usefulness.  Lately, @windley (Phil Windley’s article), @monkchips, and JP have approached Twitter from a more theoretical perspective.  This article is my contribution to [...]

  2. Asymmetric Follow a Core Web 2.0 Pattern | SKY ROCK INDIA linked to this post on January 25, 2009

    [...] James Governor wrote a post on asymmetrical follow as a core Web 2.0 pattern earlier this month. I ran across it when JP referenced it in his quest to decide if Twitter is a publishing platform. [...]



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