you say routing, I say routing…

Let’s call the whole thing off. One might say the enemy army was “routed,” but do we ever use the word “routing” in that sense? It sounds wrong to me — does it only appear as a participle?

In the networking context though, people say “routing” either to rhyme with “pouting” or with “tooting.” I’d use the latter for “route 66” but I usually use the former for networking.

In case these linguistic musings bore people, fear not — I will write about other things soon.

sequences and series

I think that learning math has colored my ideas about the connotations of words. In particular, the words “sequence” and “series” have the meanings “a set of related things that follow each other in a particular order” and “a number of things of a similar nature coming one after the other.” They appear to be mostly interchangeable. But consider the phrase “in a sequence/series of of papers, Csiszár and Narayan proved…” Is there a difference in meaning?

To me, “series” connotes a cumulative effect — the set of papers build upon each other, as in the summation of a series encountered in calculus. The word “sequence” is milder — these are set of related papers that follow chronologically, but may look at different angles of the same problem rather than building on each other. Clearly this difference is leaking in from the technical definitions into my writing. Does this happen to anyone else?

The Phrontistery

Via the NPL mailing list, I learned of The Phrontistery, a collection of “lost words” which are non-spelling-variant, non-regional Modern English words with entries in the OED that do not (obviously) appear elsewhere on the web. There are some great words in there — I highly recommend them the next time you need to fulfill your hemerine serving of traboccant verbiage.

(I hope blogging with these words doesn’t remove them from the list!)

Update: Missing E (for Erin) added in title.

those crazy Brits

So I was reading the science news over at the BBC when I came across this article:

Although there are still those who argue over the US and “former UK” definitions of figures such as a billion and trillion, according to Michael there is now basic agreement that a trillion is a thousand billion and a billion is a thousand million.

Maybe it’s my American-centric upbringing, but was there really a debate about this? I went and consulted a few dictionaries. Merriam-Webster says:

1 — see NUMBER table
2 : an indeterminately large number

The “number table” gives the following (American, British, integer) triples: (billion, milliard, 109), (trillion, billion, 1012), and (quintillion, trillion, 1018). Apparently 10n where n = 3 (mod 6) and n > 14 don’t warrant their own name — they can be a “thousand 10n – 3.”

The regional bias is clearer in the American Heritage versus OED. The American Heritage Dictionary puts 1012 first:

1. The cardinal number equal to 1012.
2. Chiefly British The cardinal number equal to 1018.

The OED has its own bias:

The third power of a million; a million billions, i.e. millions of millions. Also, orig. in France and local U.S., a thousand ‘billions’, or 1012 (i.e. the traditional English billion: see BILLION): this sense is now standard in the U.S. and is increasingly common in British usage.

maximum versus maximal

So I know I learned this at one point, but I can’t rederive the logical argument explaining when to use the words “maximal” and “maximum.” Certainly maximum is both an adjective and a noun, and maximal is just an adjective.

One explanation I remember was that there can be many maximal things, but only one maximum thing. I know that you call it a maximal ideal in algebra, and it need not be unique (unless it’s a local ring?), but then why say “local minima” if a minimum is unique?

I just noticed I’m a bit inconsistent in my usage in this paper I’m writing, and I can’t tell if I should call it the “maximum probability of error criterion” or the “maximal probability of error criterion.” I was leaning to the former, but now thinking about it has got me all muddled.

spelling “lose”

I know that I’m the last person that should complain about spelling (thank you, Rhode), but there’s one spelling mistake which is so common that I wonder if the language is actually changing. I refer, of course, to spelling “lose” as “loose.” As in “you have nothing to loose,” which, although perfectly grammatical and even appropriate in some contexts (fishing, for example?), does not convey the meaning of the idiom as it is commonly understood.

Am I hallucinating, or has anyone else noticed this?


Today I ended up looking up the etymology of the word “galley” to refer to page proofs in publishing. I’m reminded of why I love the OED:

5. Printing. a. [F. galée.] An oblong tray of brass, wood, or zinc, to which the type is transferred from the composing-stick.

1652 URQUHART Jewel Wks. (1834) 182 His [the setter’s] plenishing of the gally, and imposing of the form. 1683 MOXON Mech. Exerc. II. 25 Our Master Printer is also to provide Galleys of different sizes. 1777 HOOLE Comenius’ Vis. World (ed. 12) 118 He putteth these in a gally till a page be made. 1864 Daily Tel. 28 June, Three or four compositors..bring up their various contribution of type to the long ‘galley’ in which the article is put together.

b. A galley-proof; = SLIP n.2 10d.

1890 in WEBSTER. 1934 T. R. COWARD in G. Gross Publishers on Publishing (1961) 149 When the corrections are made, the galleys go back to the printer and are made into page proofs. 1951 S. JENNETT Making of Books I. vi. 88 The page proofs come to the reader, and must be checked against the corrected galleys, to see that all the corrections have been carried out. 1971 Times Lit. Suppl. 20 Aug. 999/1, I have had galleys from Penguin Books, but more usually the finished product, fresh misprints and all.

Unfortunately, I don’t know where the word galée comes from, or if it has any relation to the maritime use.