I really enjoyed this FT review of a few books on the origin of words and misspellings. Especially interesting was this note on how dictionaries came to represent current language:
Why did the editors of Webster’s Third drop this lexicographic A-bomb (another addition to the dictionary)? Because views on dictionaries, indeed on language itself, had changed. Instead of laying down rules on how people should write and speak, dictionaries became records of how people did write and speak. And that meant all the people, not just those who spoke the educated language of New England. The new trends in lexicography went along with the growth of scientific method and Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution: lexicographers observed what was happening to the language, rather than handing down precepts.
Earlier this year I remember reading this short article from MIT on some research that showed word length had more to do with information being communicated than frequency of occurrence. Ran across it again and thought it was worth sharing:
Why are some words short and others long? For decades, a prominent theory has held that words used frequently are short in order to make language efficient: It would not be economical if “the” were as long as “phenomenology,” in this view. But now a team of MIT cognitive scientists has developed an alternative notion, on the basis of new research: A word’s length reflects the amount of information it contains.
The article goes on to explain, “For English words, 9 percent of the variation in length is due to amount of information, and 1 percent stems from frequency.” Not entirely sure what to do with this yet, but seems worth knowing.