Category Archives: language

The blue lotus

Ici, on dirait que le ciel est plus grand.

This observation was made by a friend during a schooltrip to Russia a long, long time ago. I couldn’t help thinking of this again when I went to China earlier this September; the sky looks bigger over there as well. Along with quite a few other things, but that is to be expected when visiting Shanghai, the world’s “largest city proper” according to Geohive. Large city, disorienting Orient, patchwork of colourful impressions, mind-blowing experience — this is what I shall fail to capture in the next few Entries.

First a disclaimer. The following haphazard account is merely an attempt to describe my first impressions of China gathered during a very short visit in a very specific location. For this reason, it is quite subjective and more likely to reflect my own flawed perception of things rather than providing a deep insight into Chinese civilisation. But honestly, would you be reading this if you were looking for boring objectivity? So there.

Very unusual: a regular-sized sky.

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Head in a cloud

Before a more substantial post hopefully some time next week, here is an update on last week’s quizzes, plus five brand new Word Cloud Puzzles!

Quiz #1 – the word cloud was correctly identified as from the Arabian Nights. ‘Vizier’ and ‘Sultan’ were “a bit of a giveaway”.

Quiz #2 – not the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, not Stevenson, but interesting guesses nonetheless.

Let’s reprint it for convenience. The following haikus (actually, ordinary sentences which happen to be breakable into groups of 5, 7, and 5 syllables) are found in the same book. The question is: which one?

Who was I? What was
I? Whence did I come? What was
my destination?

Who can describe their
horror and consternation
on beholding me?

On that night he had
determined to consummate
his crimes by my death.


And now five brand new Word Cloud Puzzles! The following word clouds have been created from famous texts; the size of words in the cloud increases with their frequency in the texts. This time, to avoid another viziergate and make things trickier, I also deleted the more identifiable words (mostly proper names).

Good luck! Continue reading

A quick one, while he’s away

I will be away over the next two weekends, and won’t write any new post during that time. So to keep you amused a little bit during that time, let me show you a few text processors to play with. Processor here is to be understood as in “food processor”, not “word processor” — you input the text and something comes out at the other end. Continue reading

To the great men, teh grateful interwebz

je n’écris pas pour passer le temps

mais pour me rendre intéressant

(after H.F.T.)

Since the end of November I am officially the author of a novel. A fifty thousand words novel. All written up within one single month, no less, and with a cat on the keyboard. But why, and how did I do that?

For those in the know, November is NaNoWriMo — National Novel Writing Month. The point is for participants to write a 50,000 words novel between the 1st and 30th of November. There are few actual requirements: the novel has to be written from scratch (preparatory story outlines are allowed), and repeating the same word fifty thousand times is forbidden. Apart from that, you can do more or less what you want:

We define a novel as “a lengthy work of fiction”. Beyond that, we let you decide whether what you’re writing falls under the heading of “novel”. In short: If you believe you’re writing a novel, we believe you’re writing a novel too.

It is not a competition, except possibly against yourself, and there are no real prizes, except for kudos and a pretty certificate. Anyway, this is not the place to discuss the general whats and whys of the whole event. I just want to give my own experience of it.

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Museing on the limits

Having a brand new blog is a good thing, but every now and then one must find topics to write about. This is time to let loose something which has been sitting on my mind for a while. For this I first need to quote two poems by oulipian author Francois Le Lionnais. They are referred to as ‘Tentatives à la limite’ (‘borderline attempts’) by their author.

The first one is a poem reduced to one word:


which translates into English as:


The second one is a poem reduced to one letter (the inspired reader will provide their own translation):


Now beside the amusing student-joke character of these poems, they actually raise an interesting question. Namely, what minimal amount of text is required to obtain something which can reasonably be referred to as poetry? How many words are needed to convey some feeling, to carry sufficient emotional charge and be recognised and appreciated as poetry? Continue reading