Sunday, 22 April 2007

Mousetrap - 99

Making it up
Languages change, evolve, morph, live and die out. That is the natural order of things. But there are other languages, constructed deliberately, for reasons that may include dissatisfaction with some elements of an existing language, or to communicate across languages, or just for very elaborate works of fiction. Examples include Esperanto, Klingon, Tolkien’s Elvish tongues, Nadsat, and so on. This site is a massive database of these “Conlangs.” It also includes neographies (invented writing systems), neologisms, Babel texts, resources and books.

This is a great site for anyone with the remotest interest in languages. It has scripts for “most alphabets and other writing systems currently in use, as well as quite a few ancient and invented ones.” There is heaps of information as well, about these languages and writing systems, a large essay section, tips on learning languages (put together by the site’s creator, who speaks and reads, oh, a dozen or so), and even some unsolved language puzzles.

Habeas corpus
An exquisite corpse
Have you ever played the Exquisite Corpse game? It uses, usually, a folded piece of paper, where participants each draw or write something, continuing on from the previous participants contribution. The catch is, he or she can only see what the person immediately before did. The results can be fun, and sometimes even pretty good. If you’ve wondered why it’s called that, it was created by the artists and writers of a surrealist group during the 1920s. One of the works read: “Le Cadavre / Exquise / Boira/ Le Vin / Nouveau” (“the exquisite / corpse / will drink / the new / wine”). This site is a collaborative experiment that brings the game online. You can enroll, and then wait your turn, while software (a delightfully named “Corpse Management System”) takes care of the mechanics. Of course you could just go there and check out the existing corpses, some of which are truly exquisite.

In a manner of speaking
Cliche Finder
A wee bit of fun. Enter a piece of text, hit the button, and you get all the cliches marked out for you in bold type. The application uses a list form the Associated Press Guide to News Writing as its base. There’s also a bookmarklet version, which you can add to your web browser’s menu bar. (You’ll be relieved to note that I ran this column through the Cliche Finder before sending it off to the edit desk. I passed. Maybe I should syndicate with AP, hm?)

Reader suggestions welcome, and will be acknowledged. Go to for past columns, and to comment, or mail The writer blogs at

Published in the Times of India, Mumbai edition, 22nd 23rd April, 2007.

This column was scheduled to run on the 22nd, but the Times Trends page was dropped that day, and ran on Monday, 23rd April.

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