Six Tuscan Poets, by Giorgio Vasari, 1544.

Six Tuscan Poets, by Giorgio Vasari, 1544. Minneapolis Institute of Arts, Minnesota.


Volume V, Number 2 | spring 2012


Word Order

By Lewis H. Lapham

The Internet is blessed with undoubtedly miraculous applications, but language is not yet one of them. Technology cannot displace the primacy of words.


Word for Word

By Ben Zimmer

Peter Mark Roget’s Thesaurus was the creation of an obsessive list-maker that became a tool and a temptation for generations of writers.



Using symbolically coded messages hidden in beer barrels, Catholic conspirators communicated with the imprisoned Mary, Queen of Scots, about a plan to kill Elizabeth I. Francis Walsingham, the queen’s spymaster, obtained a message, employed a codebreaker, and found evidence that Mary approved of the assassination. She was beheaded for treason in 1587.

Methinks the human method of expression by sound of tongue is very elementary and ought to be substituted for some ingenious invention which should be able to give vent to at least six coherent sentences at once.

—Virginia Woolf, 1899