October 23, 2003

Economist blender blunder

Of all the magazines and newspapers that have declined to publish letters of mine, I am bitter about only one. In March 1997 The Economist declined to publish a letter that would have been a true first in natural language text: a normal piece of prose containing a meaningful contiguous minimal word quintuple. Yes, we're talking about a grammatical and meaningful sequence of five consecutive words in a natural context that are differentiated from each other by just a single character. And in the case at hand these were 7-character words, no less, and the differentiating characters were vowels, all in the same position.

This could have placed the Economist permanently in the linguistic book of records. (Well, there isn't one, actually, but there could have been, and they could have secured a place in it.) What a myopic, blinkered clod their letters page editor must be. The letter was, at the time, fully topical. It was a response to an article about Russian oil pipeline problems that appeared in the magazine the week before. It deserved to appear in print. Read it. You be the judge. Here it is.

Stevenson College
University of California, Santa Cruz
Santa Cruz, CA 95064

March 20, 1997


"Connections needed" (March 15) reports that Russia's Transneft pipeline operator is not able to separate crude flows from different oil fields: "they all come out swirled into a single bland blend." This is quite true. And worse yet, the characterless, light-colored mix thus produced is concocted blindly, without quality oversight, surely a grave mistake. In fact, I do not recall ever encountering a blinder blander blonder blender blunder.

------Geoffrey K. Pullum

Posted by Geoffrey K. Pullum at October 23, 2003 11:42 PM