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the Complete Review
the complete review - linguistics

Virtual Words

Jonathon Keats

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To purchase Virtual Words

Title: Virtual Words
Author: Jonathon Keats
Genre: Non-fiction
Written: 2010
Length: 166 pages
Availability: Virtual Words - US
Virtual Words - UK
Virtual Words - Canada
Virtual Words - India
  • Language on the Edge of Science and Technology

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Our Assessment:

B : fairly entertaining essay-collection on words in the computer age, and how and why they do (and don't) catch on

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
New Scientist . 13/10/2010 Samantha Murphy

  From the Reviews:
  • "Keats's survey of the ways in which science and technology shape language is clever and humorous, but he also has a deeper point to make" - Samantha Murphy, New Scientist

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Virtual Words is a collection of twenty-eight "dispatches", each an essay focused on a word that has arisen in our technological age, most flourishing (and some failing) due largely to the widespread dissemination possible in this internet-age. Keats' examples are of the "remarkable symbiosis between scientific and lexical innovation" -- and he suggests:

The language of technology and science illuminates the science and technology of language. Virtual Words captures the internal workings of language from this technoscientific vantage.
       Grouped into six different sections -- 'Discovery', 'Innovation', 'Slang' etc. --, each with a brief summary introduction, Keats uses the words as a springboard for discussion of related matters as well: a piece on 'Bacn' looks at why spam caught on and bacn (referring to automatic e-mail notifications) didn't, 'Tweet' looks at the success of Twitter, 'Mashup' the variety of mashups and corporate attempts to embrace the subversive concept.
       Keats also looks at how the words developed and how their use has evolved -- and how (and why) they have caught on, or failed to gain currency. It is an often interesting exercise, and for the most part Keats' short overviews -- the pieces are at best four or five pages -- are quite interesting (including some of the incidental observations, such as the difficulty of introducing new punctuation -- "exponentially more difficult than the coinage of new language").
       Keats provides good background and discussion, but language is, of course, difficult to pin down, especially in these times. In the final essay Keats looks at the neologism 'Panglish', and compares it to Jean Paul Nerrière's (trademarked !) Globish, explaining that:
With a fixed vocabulary centrally regulated like French, Globish is proprietary, whereas English is ubiquitous and open-source. This is how it became Panglish, or rather why it has always been Panglish.
       Yet for his recent book on Panglish Robert McCrum chose the (catchier ?) title Globish (and makes only one passing mention of the term 'Panglish'), and Globish -- understood to mean Panglish and not Globish™ -- looks to be the term that will catch on. (Keats does not mention McCrum's book.)
       An entertaining and (lightly) thought-provoking tour, Virtual Words is a fairly superficial survey but certainly of interest to anyone concerned with language. Presented in bite-sized morsels, it's certainly an enjoyable volume to dip into -- but there's only so much to it.

- M.A.Orthofer, 26 October 2010

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Virtual Words: Reviews: Other books by Jonathon Keats under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       American writer Jonathon Keats was born in 1971.

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