In this week’s Mechanic Muse column for the Book Review, I look at how vast new databases and techniques can help scholars of the digital humanities zero in on the nitty-gritty of literary style, right down to the level of individual words. An exciting development over the past few years is that many of the tools that scholars use to plumb the depths of literary usage are now publicly available online. These resources aren’t locked up in an ivory tower, accessible only to an elite band of researchers. Call it the democratization of digital scholarship.
Garner now puts “literally’’ at stage three, which is defined as “being used by a majority of the language community.’’ However, Ben Zimmer, executive producer of the Visual Thesaurus and Vocabulary.com, believes “literally’’ has already slipped dangerously close to stage four, which means that it has become ubiquitous and only a few diehards reject the new meaning.
Zimmer has a simple solution: Rephrase your sentence.
Ben Zimmer runs the web site Visual Thesaurus, which maps words and their relationships to each other. On Friday’s Morning Edition, he talks with host Mary Louise Kelly about the special vocabulary that’s arisen from Harry Potter books and films — the last of which, Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows Part 2, opens this weekend. He compiled this quick guide to Potterisms.
On Monday, New York’s Coney Island will host Nathan’s Famous annual hot dog eating contest. The contest is in its 96th year. But, the origin of the popular summer food is still cloudy. Ben Zimmer, executive producer of the online magazine Visual Thesaurus, says there are a lot of myths about the name ‘hot dog.’