April 03, 2006

Professor Pullman, in the library, with the candlestick

The April 16 issue of Psychology Today has an item about eggcorns, which quotes someone identified as "Geoffrey Pullman, a professor of linguistics at the University of California-Santa Cruz".

At first I thought this must be an example of the Cupertino Effect. However, MS Word's suggested replacements for "Pullum" are "Plum", "Peplum", "Pullet", "Pulley", "Pulled", "Pullout" and "Pull-up". And since the item's author was Mark Peters of Wordlustitude, I think we have to assume an old-fashioned editorial malfunction at Psychology Today.

I'm reminded of research by Mirko Tavosanis of Pisa University, presented at the recent AAAI symposium on Computational Approaches to Analyzing Weblogs under the title "Are Blogs Edited?" Mirko looked at the frequency of common Italian misspellings in Italian weblogs (from blog.excite.it, clarence.com, splinder.it and splinder.com), compared to Italian newspapers (Corriere della sera, Il mattino, La repubblica, L'Unità). For his chosen set of 19 words, the rate of misspelling in blogs was 0.74%, whereas the rate in the newspapers was 0.68%. By comparison, the rate in Italian-language web sites overall, for these same words, was 4.28%. In the Pullum → Pullman case, Google indexes 11 instances of "Geoff Pullman" as against 18,100 instances of "Geoff Pullum", suggesting a base error rate as low as 0.06% for the web at large.

[Update: Stephan Hollah points out by email that amazon.fr has a listing for Geoffrey K. Pullman, author of The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language, among other works.]

Posted by Mark Liberman at April 3, 2006 11:26 AM