May 26, 2004

A simple apageslication

A logician friend of mine mailed me yesterday with a linguistic question:

What does "apageslication" mean? None of my dictionaries at home has an entry for this word and an internet search did not help either.

He certainly came to the right linguistic detective. I solved this puzzle without reference works in 2.83 seconds. I wonder if you can do the same. You know my methods, Watson; apply them!

The occurrence of "apageslication" he was looking at, I immediately told him, resulted when the writer most unwisely did a global change to alter sequences like "pp 29-32" to "pages 29-32" throughout.

I was basically right, though in the first version of this post I set out a more complex and detailed hypothesis than the simpler and dumber truth. Someone had indeed done a careless global edit that said "replace pp by pages everywhere". The original word was "application".

At the time of writing this revised post (May 26, 8:35pm EST) you can see the evidence here: a page of details on nasty military books about killing people in which "88 pp" has been changed to "88 pages" by someone so careless with the editor that they also changed "an opponent's ability to fight" to "an opagesonent's ability to fight", and "Poisons & Application Devices" to "Poisons & Apageslication Devices", etc.

My professional combination of observation, deduction, and specialist linguistic knowledge enabled me to see immediately that something like this must have happened, before I even looked for "apageslication" on the web. Elementary, Watson. Normally customers have to pay for this kind of puzzle-solving service at my minimum rate of $150 for an hour or any part thereof, but my logician friend will merely be paying for our next lunch together.

Posted by Geoffrey K. Pullum at May 26, 2004 10:37 AM