Vaguely sinister, possibly offensive nonsense

1: How new words are born

As dictionary publishers never tire of reminding us, our language is growing. Not content with the million or so words they already have at their disposal, English speakers are adding new ones at the rate of around 1,000 a year. Recent dictionary debutants include blog, grok, crowdfunding, hackathon, airball, e-marketing, sudoku, twerk and Brexit.

But these represent just a sliver of the tip of the iceberg. According to Global Language Monitor, around 5,400 new words are created every year (Oxford Dictionaries Online, evidently using different criteria, reckon 1.8bn). It’s only the 1,000 or so deemed to be in sufficiently widespread use that make it into print. Who invents these words, and how? What rules govern their formation? And what determines whether they catch on?

2: Passweird

This website will create for you a password that is not only secure, but is also so utterly repulsive that not even the most hardened criminal, identity thief, NSA agent, or jealous boyfriend would ever want to use it.

3: Sarah Palin’s English

In fact, a lot of what Sarah Palin says sounds like it’s been poorly translated from the Latin. With her “he who” and “one who,” she’d sound almost Ciceronian if it weren’t for the holes in her logic and the way those complicated sentences sometimes dribble off into vaguely sinister, possibly offensive nonsense.

See also The Elements of Eloquence by Mark Forsyth, an excellent book about turning the perfect English phrase.

4: Everything About Everything: David Foster Wallace’s ‘Infinite Jest’ at 20

“Infinite Jest” is a genuinely groundbreaking novel of language. Not even the masters of the high/low rhetorical register go higher more panoramically or lower more exuberantly than Wallace — not Joyce, not Bellow, not Amis. Aphonia, erumpent, Eliotical, Nuckslaughter, phalluctomy! Made-up words, hot-wired words, words found only in the footnotes of medical dictionaries, words usable only within the context of classical rhetoric, home-chemistry words, mathematician words, philosopher words — Wallace spelunked the O.E.D. and fearlessly neologized, nouning verbs, verbing nouns, creating less a novel of language than a brand-new lexicographic reality. But nerdlinger word-mongering or “stunt-pilotry” (to use another Wallace phrase) can be an empty practice indeed. You need sentences to display-case the words, and here, too, “Infinite Jest” surpasses almost every novel written in the last century, maintaining a consistent and mind-boggling descriptive mastery, as when he portrays a sunset as “swollen and perfectly round, and large, radiating knives of light … It hung and trembled slightly like a viscous drop about to fall.”

5: The Fermi Paradox is not Fermi’s, and it is not a paradox

Two big ideas often come up in discussions about the search for extraterrestrial intelligence, or SETI. One is the Drake Equation, which estimates the number of civilizations in our Galaxy whose signals we might be able to detect—potentially thousands, according to plausible estimates. The other is the so-called Fermi paradox, which claims that we should see intelligent aliens here if they exist anywhere, because they would inevitably colonize the Galaxy by star travel—and since we don’t see any obvious signs of aliens here, searching for their signals is pointless.

The Drake Equation is perfectly genuine: it was created by astronomer and SETI pioneer Frank Drake. The Fermi paradox, however, is a myth. It is named for the physicist Enrico Fermi—but Fermi never made such a claim.

6: From Berlin’s warehouses to London’s estates: how cities shape music scenes

Most modern music is an urban animal. Cities regularly birth music scenes, and artists often claim to be inspired by “the streets”, or by their neighbourhood. Yet the actual link between the music they make and the built environment where they do so is generally underplayed – spoken about as a matter of mood, or a source of lyrics. Music historians generally cite a critical mass of musicians as being crucial to the birth of a scene: classical composers in 18th century Vienna, for example, or modern metal bands in Helsinki. But the city itself? Well that’s mainly just credited as a convenient place for the musicians to hang out – though David Bowie’s residency in Berlin, for one, took that relationship to particularly intimate levels. But what if a city’s role isn’t quite so one-note?

7: Frinkiac

Frinkiac has nearly 3 million Simpsons screencaps so get to searching for crying out glayvin!

8: Winona, Forever

 Like [Holden Caulfield], teen Ryder was the smart, ambivalent outsider searching for a place in a society that opposed those very things. Even into her twenties, in Reality Bites and Girl, Interrupted, she was more of a delayed adolescent than an adult. Ryder was unable to move on because of what moving on meant. And we weren’t either. Our Nonistalgia keeps her cloistered to this day in adolescence, alongside then-boyfriend Johnny Depp, before he cashed in on his eccentricity. But despite our attempts to resuscitate the past—Beetlejuice 2, Heathers: The Musical, Marc Jacobs—and as young as Ryder continues to look, she is no longer that ‘90s ingénue. In that sense she and Holden really are a team. “[Caulfield’s] central dilemma is that he wants to retain a child’s innocence, solipsism, and clarity,” wrote Harold Bloom, “but because of biology he must move into either adulthood or madness.”

My time as a cheese

A guy complained no one had wished him happy birthday on Twitter and things got weird. “On 13 January, Daniel was a bit miffed because people hadn’t wished him a happy birthday.” This gets super weird.

I tweeted to kids as a piece of cheese for a year. “My time as a cheese taught me that the internet is run by pre-teen girls (they were clearly that young, from their profile pictures and dodgy spelling), and that their fandoms demarcate the geography of Twitter. That social media, all its self-promotion and factions and bitching, was made not for childish adults so much as for actual children.”

Architects I work for just gave the best reactions I’ve ever seen in person. “I work as an intern at an office for a few architects as a draftsman. I make 2D drawings and 3D visualizations. I came with the idea to make one of their project into a VR experience and they liked the idea. They gave me a project to work with, which was a perfect fit for VR (a brand new college in Amsterdam with beautiful inside and outside spaces).”

An obsession – brutal, beautiful bus stop design of the former Soviet states.

The gorgeous typeface that drove men mad and sparked a 100-year mystery. “Over the course of more than a hundred illicit nightly trips, this man was committing a crime—against his partner, a man who owned half of what was being heaved into the Thames, and against himself, the force that had spurred its creation. This venerable figure, founder of the legendary Doves Press and the mastermind of its typeface, was a man named T.J. Cobden Sanderson. And he was taking the metal type that he had painstakingly overseen and dumping thousands of pounds of it into the river.”

A new index to measure sprawl gives high marks to Los Angeles. “There is perhaps no more vexing issue for urban policy makers than sprawl. And yet, there’s little consensus on how best to accurately measure it. It’s one thing to impugn the phenomenon for contributing to everything from long commutes, congested highways and worsening air pollution to growing segregation, poverty, obesity and mounting health problems. But it’s another to actually gauge the connection between sprawl and that daunting list of social and economic ills.” The curious and surprising thing here being that the ‘high marks’ in the article title refer to LA’s low levels of sprawl.

Influenced by. Ryan Boudinot (among other writers) on David Foster Wallace: “I don’t think I’ve ever had such a strong feeling that a book was going to change my writing so thoroughly. And of course it did, to the point where a lot of what I wrote for years afterward sounded imitative. That’s always the scary thing—we want so badly to be considered sui generis and hide our influences, but I go back to what Stevie Wonder once said about being afraid of not being influenced by great art. Infinite Jest seemed to me to continue the project that Pynchon was working on, to marry erudition to verbal looseness.” I’m slowly working my way through IJ for the second time. My first was a cold read, not really prepared for its density and length. Coming at it after having read so much about the book, its author, genesis and cultural reception, it is a very different experience. It feels like we’re nearing a Jeff Buckley-type situation, where DFW is over-romanticised to near-cliche by melancholy straight white males, but I’m hopeful his brilliance will outshine any such dismissal.