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Diabolically Arcane

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11 October, 2012

Ben Schmidt is a Princeton history grad with a bent for pop culture. Ben in fact has a very cool job, as fellow at the Harvard Cultural observatory: a bit like Gotye meets Galileo.

Though the stuff to really catch my eye is Ben’s work with words out of time, in particular the language used on Mad Men and Downton Abbey. Check out his blog Prochronisms to admire the degree of scrutiny.

Ben will feed each episode’s script through a time-senstive piece of software to create an inky language-cloud, where the density belongs to period phrases, while the outliers are historical booboos. Focus group, say, was not a thing of 1965. If they did exist, they went by another label. Same goes for on hold, or callback, or big deal.

Subtle stuff too, like huge favour, you OK, say hi and wearing makeup‘ Even Ben’s own station in life – grad student – was not a said thing in 1965. Mouse around and marvel at the mishaps, and proof of how quickly English can evolve.

What about you? Enjoying a show lately? Heard a phrase that seemed out of place? Our out of class, or culture? When Lady Crawley utters bad hair day on Downton Abbey, you know Ben Schmidt will be all over it.

Welcome to the new forum. Looks scary? It’s not. Feels iffy? It ain’t. The DisQus platform is here to block spam and lend us more chat options. That’s all. Please note, you don’t have to create a DisQus account to make a comment. If you do, however, it will speed your future visits. Be assured no details are abused, misused or reused. Let’s fight spam as one, and get back to the grand conversation. Thanks, DA

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Welcome all puzzle-lovers, including any chompers of the Wordburger book or app. (Check them out if you enjoy words & trickery.) And if you still crave more alphabet mischief, click on the burger icon above for a fresh serve.



Packed with games, pickles, codes and cheesy puns, Wordburger is your chance to be a champion puzzler in 20 quick bites. Ideal for wordy kids keen to open a new language door, or grown-ups who want to cut their cryptic teeth. Click here. 

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Riddles in song, in code, in pictures. From Ireland & Wonderland, Einstein & Pompeii. Riddledom reveals 101 wry questions from 50+ languages & shares their secrets. A book to unlock culture via conundrum. Order here.

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Cluetopia roams the planet – and century – to find fresh crossword stories in 30+ languages. From shipwrecks to hoaxes, Cluetopia is a holiday for the head. Buy here.

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If you missed my riddle chat with Richard Fidler, then feel free to slurp the podcast at http://ab.co/1I9t1x5

Text-speak is creeping into Scrabble. Where do you sit?
OBVS I'm fine with it
Entrenched stuff - like LOL and OMG - but no more.
Words With Friends, maybe. Scrabble, no
Let the 'real' dictionaries decide first
Just the handy stuff, like FAQ and EUW
I mean, WTF?! No way
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